When people think of Poland, the world often pictures a grey communist bloc country, bad weather and black and white cinematic images of WWII. Yes, it's a cold region of the world, and times have been tough here, but it's not always so gloomy. When Summer hits Poland in late June every year, there are a few signs that are typical of any European city - beer gardens are in full swing with umbrellas up, street performers are out in force and tourists finally outnumber pigeons in the main square. But in other regards, life is completely turned on its head and a lot of eccentricities in Polish culture are brought out in full force!
Wianki - Flower Garlands let loose!
If you've ever visited Poland, you'll know they have a bit of a preoccupation with flowers. It's the dominant motif on most of their folk patterns, a furnishing in every business and home and something you won't find a plastic alternative of, unlike elsewhere in the world. But it's summertime when flowers really come into full force. Look towards the balconies and windows of homes and the landscaping in your local city and that's a good start. Traditionally, the start of summer is marked by Wianki (ENG: wreath) a pagan celebration that ultra-catholic Poland is yet to shake off. In Kraków, you can watch large floral flotillas being set-off into the Vistula near Wawel mound and up in Gdańsk and Gdynia, Cuda Wianki is accompanied by big parties, concerts and other beach-located events. A wianki also refers to the flower garland symbolising blooming youth, vitality and virginity. Traditionally, it is worn by young girls and unmarried women, though these cultural restrictions are virtually non-existent now. Garland-making takes place all over the country and colourful young women can be seen out in public with a fresh-headpiece! Outside of summertime, it is not uncommon to see these as a part of formal attire for women or as part of a bridal dress.
For the majority of the year, berries and other small fruits have been sweetening in the cold climate of central Poland. By the time summer comes around, everything is ripe and ready to sell! And one fruit above all others dominates the market - Strawberries. You can get them everywhere - every supermarket, grocery shop, street corner and even in dark unsuspecting alleys of your polish city. On a further point, Polish Babcias go crazy with cooking Strawberry Pierogi as a dessert treat. Skip Breakfast and Lunch!
There are lots of cold dishes that are whipped up in summer, but none are a real hit like Ogórki Małosolne. The expression 'Cool As a Cucumber' is very relevant in the Polish summer, however if it's not picked in salt there's something wrong with yours. It's ironic that something so salty could be so popular in hot weather, but then again - this is Poland.
Sunbathers on the Vistula
You don't have to live on the Baltic coast in order to sunbathe! The Vistula is the next best thing to the seaside and you will see plenty of locals stripped down on riverbanks all over Poland around this time of year. The Vistula around Warsaw deserves a special mention here: ample amounts of sandy flats and considerably less wind than the baltic, which makes it a reasonable compromise!
Ice Cream shops on every corner and stupidly long lines...
Anyone living in Poland knows that a stop by the ice-cream shop on the weekend is obligatory. Naturally, in summer, this is very popular and patience in queueing (a national past-time) makes it all worthwhile in the end. If you want to try a distinctly polish ice cream, look no further than the Truskawkowy (ENG: Strawberry) flavour that is, of course, in season! Aside from ice cream, Poles are also mad about gofry (ENG: waffles)!
We know that the national symbol of Poland is the white eagle, but did you know that a third of the Europe's stork population ends up in Poland during the summer? We won't criticise their choice, as we love spending summer in Poland too! Poles still see storks as a sign of good luck, especially if they nest near your home. They've been alleged to offset lighting strikes! The stork capital of Poland is a town called Żywkowo on the Polish/Russian border. Population: 150 (120 storks, 30 humans).
In the English-speaking world, this is most often referred to as a shandy - a drink comprised approximately of half-beer / half-lemonade. In Central Europe, this is known as Radler, which comes from a southern-German brand called Radlermass (ENG: Cyclist Litre) first produced in 1922. Preceding the market explosion of 0.0% alcohol beers in Poland, a radler was a way of assuring that you didn't blow over, especially if you're on a bicycle! Naturally, cold beers and ciders are more popular in the summer as opposed to vodka and other spirits, which are very effective at keeping you warm in the cold of winter.
One-use Grill Sets in all the shops and Kiełbasa!
To top-off the DIY aspects of summer outdoor activities, no picnic would be complete with a Zestaw Grillowy (ENG: Grill Set) and a pack of Kiełbaski (ENG: sausages). Of course, we could just make sandwiches beforehand, but dad says NO, I never eat cold sausages! These grill sets are, essentially, foil trays (much like you would find when you buy lasagne from the supermarket) plus a chicken-wire grill and coal stones inside. All you need is a cigarette lighter or matches...
Socks and Sandals
We see this uncanny summer fashion sense all over the world, but none do it quite like Poland. The motivation behind the socks and sandal fashion statement is unclear. Our theory is that Poles never quite got used to wearing sandals, therefore the socks are some sort of a compromise. For those hitting the Baltic Coast in the summer, socks are a great way of keeping sand off your feet.
Socks and Sandals are particularly phenomenal, but the Paravan easily takes place as a uniquely Polish summer phenomenon. The heshen holiday wall makes its most frequent appearances on the Baltic coast, however, you can also spot it on the banks of the Vistula, in parks and even at multi-day music festivals. Poles are a fiercely independent people and this mentality extends into everyday life, including a trip to the beach. In times of pandemic and the emphasis on social distancing, the paravan is in full force like never before. We're even seeing paravans popping up elsewhere in Europe. After pierogi and vodka, the paravan may be the 3rd wonder of the Polish world.