Poland is a young parliamentary democracy. It rejoined the international community as a full and independent partner following political changes in 1989. It acceded to NATO in 1999 and to the European Union in 2004, and has become a committed member of other international organisations such as UN, OECD or WTO.
In accordance with a three-tier administrative system, the territory of the Republic of Poland is subdivided into 16 voivodships, 314 counties and 2,478 communes.
Poland (Polska) covers an area of 312,679 sq km. Its shape is almost square, with dimensions of ca 650x690 km. The highest peak is called Rysy and has 2499 metres above sea level. The longest river in Poland is Vistula, crossing the country vertically from mountains in the south to the Baltic sea in the north. Despite the fact that Poland is a lowland country, with areas under 300 m above sea level covering 91.3% of its total area, the distinctive feature of the country is its varied landscape. It has beautiful and rocky mountains, extensive lake districts, primeval forests, mysterious caves, mighty rivers, the sea and the only desert in Europe (Błędów Desert, 32 sq km).
GMT + 2 (summer time), GMT + 1 (winter time: between the last Sunday in October and the last Saturday in March).
Poland has a moderate climate, in between marine and continental one. Six seasons of the year are distinguished in Poland: autumn, early winter, winter, early spring, spring and summer. The temperature in summer usually ranges from +20°C to +30°C, but may also reach +35°C. The temperature in winter ranges from -10°to 5°C. The warmest month is July and the coolest month is January.
Rysy, Tatra mountains
Even though about 90% of Poland’s population is baptised into the Roman Catholic faith, the state remains secular (there is no state religion). The Polish Constitution guarantees freedom of conscience and religion also stating that all churches and religions have the same, equal rights. The Greek Catholic Church has slightly more than 55,000 members. Among other well-established Christian denominations in Poland, the largest ones are the Orthodox faith with at least 500,000 followers, and Protestantism which is divided into more than a dozen confessions, bringing together almost a quarter of a million followers. Jehovah’s Witnesses have over 120,000 members. Followers of Judaism, a large group before World War II, are a small community of several thousand members today. At present, there are almost 200 officially registered churches and denominational associations in Poland.
Catholic Church in Cracow, Polish Touristic Organization, Foto Polska
Eastern Orthodox Church in Chotyniec
The Polish Constitution states that there is freedom of religion and beliefs, as well as media. Polish citizens have the right to organizing and participating in peaceful gatherings. The Constitution also guarantees healthcare and social security.
The Parliament in Poland is composed of two legislative bodies, the Sejm, the lower house (460 deputies), and the Senate, the upper house (100 senators), which are elected by universal suffrage for a four-year term.
Compared to other European countries, the current Polish economy is doing well. In 2015, in terms of the GDP value, Poland was on the 25th place in the world and ranked 8th in the EU. The annual GDP growth amounted to 3,6%, exceeding the average rate in the EU. The main component of the Polish GDP was domestic demand, while the influence of the international trade was neutral. The newest research papers and reports indicate that Polish economy will be experiencing a sustainable growth for sure until 2020 and maybe later on.
Poles cherish tradition and maintain close relations with their immediate and more distant relatives. Since Poles are also very hospitable and open to new acquaintances, you should not be surprised when your Polish colleagues invite you to their place for a family dinner or supper. Once you have come, you should, however, be prepared to see a table laden with food and drinks in accordance with the traditional Polish motto “Whatever we’ve got, you are welcome to it” (Czym chata bogata, tym rada) or “What’s ours is yours” (Gość w dom, Bóg w dom). At the table, your Polish companions will often make toasts, and the first one will usually be “to the guests” (Za zdrowie gości). During various social events, you may be put to a linguistic test: foreigners are usually asked to articulate a few Polish sentences, in which the sequence of sounds is by no means easy to pronounce even to a Pole.
Poles greet each other by saying Dzień dobry (“Good morning” or “Good afternoon”, the same Polish phrase for both) or Dobry wieczór (“Good evening”) in a formal way or by Cześć (Hi, Hello) in an informal way, and shaking hands. Poles usually greet each other by kissing on the cheeks one time, especially friends or families. In more serious situations and always when giving their best wishes, those who are on familiar terms kiss each other on the cheek (usually 3 times). When on familiar terms, Poles address each other by their first names. Otherwise, they address each other by Pan (Mr) or Pani (Mrs/Ms) followed by the surname or, in a less formal way, by the first name. A woman may be kissed by a man on the hand as part of a greeting ritual, though this tradition is gradually disappearing, in particular among younger people. However, it is still customary for men to step back to let women go through the door first.
Poles are attached to their traditions and celebrate ceremonially various holidays, in particular Christmas, Easter, the Corpus Christi Day and the All Saints’ Day. Christmas is a special occasion for every Pole. Traditionally, Poles spend these days at home with their closest family. A decorated Christmas tree, gifts, 12 fasting dishes (each to be sampled), the table set for all expected guests plus one unknown lost wanderer, and singing carols jointly – are all indispensable elements of a cherished tradition. Among public holidays, the most important ones are the Independence Day and the 3rd of May Constitution Day, when official celebrations and concerts are organised. Poles love celebrating various occasions; thus, you will find dates such as the Mother’s Day (26 May), the Women’s Day (8 March) or the Children’s Day (1 June) marked in the calendar. Moreover, Poles celebrate their name days, and birthdays are usually celebrated as a popular occasion until young people turn 18 and enter adulthood.