Poland versus the USA - The Culture Clash

Let us look from a deeper perspective into Polish-American relationship. As everybody knows Poland is not anymore in the Soviet influence zone. This article is a continuation of a series of articles about The Place of Poland in Europe and in the World.

Read about Recent Developments in Polish-American Relationship and Poland, Hungary & Czech Republic versus War in Iraq.
Below is a deeper look at the cultural differences between both countries

First of all - the USA is much bigger, more powerful country than Poland is. There was a time in the history that Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom was a biggest state in Europe. But the size was not really equaling a political power. Polish kingdom was not considered powerful and imperialistic - except having interests to the East. Poland never had colonies, as England or Netherland, which were smaller in size but had a strong navy.

Polish-American relationship is uneven and probably it would remain this way until America would be a superpower, especially one and only superpower in the world. The USA is a country that nobody can ignore. Americans dominated Polish technology. American businesses are conquering Polish market - starting with Amway and fast food chains. American entertainment industry dominate Polish radio, movie theaters etc. American fashion, styles are later copied by Polish fans. On the contrary, American market, already over-saturated with cheap goods mainly from Asia and monopolized by Hollywood culture is very difficult to conquer for Polish products. People in America know usually very little about the outside world, mass media here concentrate on domestic problems. But people in Poland and all over the world outside the USA need to watch carefully, although sometimes with jealousy and hate, what is going on in America.

In Poland American history is seen as a fight for freedom and prosperity. Polish Americans (Polonia), quite sizable, does not have political influence as some other minority or ethnic influence groups. Poland is seen as a small country (although in European scale Poland belong to the larger), not having oil or particular tourists attractions and under a Soviet influence. In recent times only "Solidarity" made a big and positive impact into an image of Poland as a country that struggle for freedom from communistic oppression. Poland is also criticized by the oppression of Jews and a term "Polish concentration camps" is commonly used in American press. Poland's wellbeing was always of the marginal importance to the USA that had to think globally. Poland is important only if it plays any role in this global international scene. Poland is commonly compared in size to New Mexico. Still it is incomparable in landscape, climate, population and history.

The negative image of Poles goes deep into the history when the first Polish immigrants came to America. Since they were usually from the poorest areas of Poland and uneducated, therefore desperate to leave their homeland - the image of Pole as a simple and uneducated person, one who does not fit the Anglo-Saxon model. You can read more about it in the article about Restrictions against East European Immigration, 1880-1920. Thus Polish jokes were created or some peculiar movie characters like Stanley Kowalsky, Polish American, a drinker and a brutal from "A Streetcar Named Desire".

Outlook towards the world is different therefore the cultures sometimes clash. This point can be stretched to European attitude in general as different from American. Do Poles really look at themselves as Europeans? This is still questionable although the recent results in referendum about joining European Union (majority said YES) suggest that they slowly start identifying themselves as a part of big European community. Since Poland had such an uneasy history with our direct neighbors, especially Germany and Russia, we never wanted to be identified with these countries, which are surely European, Russia in part and Germany in a whole.

Europeans especially Poles live under heavy burden of their history and heritage. Poles especially are aware of the suffering their country was going through the history. Read more about this in the next article. Please, read the next article of this series:
The Attitudes of Poles towards the USA: Why Poles love America?

*This article is losely based on a couple of articles. The most important, at least to this part of the article is a lecture of Piotr Wandycz

copyright Jagoda Urban-Klaehn, written: 1 July 2003 (article #112)

Please, look at the recommended books below. Maybe you would find something for yourself!

The first one bestseller was written by Robert Kagan, and is entitled:
Of Paradise and Power: America Vs. Europe in the New World Order

The next one: Polish Immigrants, 1890-1920 (Blue Earth Books: Coming to America) by Rosemary Wallner, John Radzilowski

We were talking about difficult Polish history. Here is one of the books that I recommend for the beginners. This overview of Polish history was written by Adam Zamoyski and it is entitled:
The Polish Way: A Thousand-Year History of the Poles and Their Culture
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