Did you know that? Interesting Polish facts for May 2008

*** According to Polish folk wisdom, only marriages concluded in months that contain the letter “r” (in Polish) are said to be successful. That would exclude maj (May), as well as styczeń (January), luty (February), kwiecień (April), lipiec (July) and listopad (November).

*** As seen in the preceding entry, months of the year are not capitalized in Polish. Neither are days of the week, the names of religious orders (franciszkanin, felicjanka), city-dwellers (londyńczyk, gdańszczanin) and cars makes (ford, fiat, mercedes), unless they happen to be the first word in a sentence.

*** Poland’s national anthem is called as “Mazurek Dąbrowskiego” (“Dąbrowski’s Mazurka”) and is better known to many by its first words: “Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła…” (“Poland has yet to perish…”).

*** Nearly 97% of Poland’s 38 million people are ethnic Poles. Te remaining three percent are accounted for by Germans, Belarussians, Ukrainians, Gypsies, Russians, Lemkos, Lithuanians, Slovaks, Jews, Armenians, Czechs and Tartars.

*** Poland’s military personnel, police and other uniformed services salute one another with two fingers, and only two fingers are raised when taking an oath.

*** Kevlar, the DuPont fiber first marketed in 1971 and used in bullet-proof vests, was invented by Pol-Am chemist Stephanie Kwołek. Seventy years earlier, the Chicago police had tested a silk-based bullet-proof vest devised by Pol-Am Resurrectionist monk, Father Kazimierz Żegleń.

*** Warsaw International Airport is named after composer Fryderyk Chopin, Kraków has John Paul II International Airport and that in Gdańsk bears the name of solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa.

*** The Polish-American Symphony Orchestra, based in suburban Chicago, is the only professional Polish symphonic ensemble outside Poland. Contact: 1056 North Mill Street, Suite 206, Naperville, IL 60563-2543; tel/fax: (847) 303-6285 or phone: (630) 548-0978; fax: 360-4657.

*** The Polish flag displayed upside down (with the red field at the top and the white one at bottom) is exactly the same as the official flags of Indonesia and Monaco.

*** The “pierwsze piętro” or first floor in Poland is the one directly above the ground floor which is called the “parter”.

*** Starka, a brandy known in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth since the 15th century, is made from thrice-distilled grain spirits, aged in old oak barrels with the addition of linden and/or apple leaves. Traditionally a father would distill a batch when he sired a son, and roll out the barrel on the boy’s wedding day.

*** Poland’s largest cities are: Warsaw, Łódź, Kraków, Wrocław, Poznań, Gdańsk, Szczecin, Bydgoszcz, Katowice, Lublin, Gdynia, Białystok, Częstochowa, Sosnowiec, Radom and Kielce.

*** The statue of a fire-breathing dragon is a major attraction outside the Dragon’s Cave at the food of Kraków’s Royal Wawel Castle. Less than a third of the 270-meter-deep cave is open to tourists, and its inaccessible corridors include five tiny subterranean lakes.

*** Hippocrene Books is America’s foremost publisher of Polish dictionaries, phrasebooks, cookbooks, folk art, legends and fiction including Henryk Sienkiewicz’s famous “Trilogy” in English. See what’s available at: http://www.hippocrenebooks.com/browsecat.aspx?id=1081

*** Poland, which is on Central European Time, switched from winter time to summer time (known in the US as daylight-saving time) on March 30th by pushing the clock ahead one hour.

*** America’s biggest Polish festival is the Polish Fest held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It differs from the typical “mainly polka” events in that its entertainment often includes a folk-music, classical, jazz, rock and youth stage. See: www.polishfest.org

*** Poland’s tallest peak is Mount Rysy in the High Tatra Mountains which soars to a height of 2,499 meters above sea-level.

*** Snuff-taking has long been a part of the heritage of the Kashubians, an ethnic subgroup of farmers and fishermen inhabiting Poland’s Baltic Coast. When the government banned snuff production, the Kashubs took to growing and processing their own according to age-old recipes.

*** The closest thing Polonia has to Ireland’s fabled Riverdance and similar performing groups is the Chicago-based Lira Ensemble. This talented, multifaceted performing group includes a women’s, mixed chorus and children’s chorus, a chamber orchestra and the colorful Lira Dancers. Contact 6525 North Sheridan # Sky 905, Chicago, IL 60626; phone: (773) 539-4900; or e-mail: [email protected]

*** A distinctly Polish piece of headwear is the visored four-cornered hat which is part of the regulation dress uniforms of the military and other uniformed services. It is based on the traditional “rogatywka” which forms part of the men’s Krakowiak outfit.

*** The world’s largest oil painting is the “Crucifixion”, painted by Polish artist Jan Styka and first displayed at the 1904 St Louis World’s Fair, may be viewed in a specially built pavilion at Los Angeles’ sprawling Forest Lawn Memorial Park (cemetery).

*** On the control panel of a Polish elevator 1 is the American second floor (the floor above the ground floor), the P is the ground floor (parter) and the 0 is the basement. If you see 00, that means there is a below-basement level such as an underground parking garage.

*** Officially the hue of red specified for the Polish flag is vermilion (in Polish: ”cynober”) which is a bright-red pigment made from mercuric sulfide. The flag with a crowned white eagle on a red shield in the white upper half is flown by the President of Poland, Polish diplomatic legations broad and Polish ships at sea.

Compiled by Robert Strybel, Polish/Polonian Affairs Writer

Do you know what your Polish name means?

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