There are some words in different languages that might look the same and sound the same…but they don’t mean the same! That’s why they’re called ‘false friends‘.
While learning Polish, I’ve been tricked quite a few times. Here’s one of the worst (because it meant passing on wine):
I was having dinner with a group of colleagues from work. The waiter approached the table and offered wine to the guests. He came to me last.
„Dziękuję” I said and waited for him to pour the wine into my glass…but he had already left.
Learning by experience is powerful especially when you feel deprived of something! At first I didn’t understand. I assumed the waiter had misheard me. The next time he came around with the wine bottle, I observed a Polish companion put her hand on top of the wine glass (to block access) and say ‘Ja dziękuję‘.
Ah-hah! In Polish ‘dziękuję‘ means ‘no thanks!’ When the waiter offered me wine, I knew what not to say, but wasn’t sure what to say, so I just held up my glass as if I were begging. That did the trick.
In English, if you respond with the word ‘thank you‘ to an offer, it means ‘yes please‘. To decline, say ‘no thank you‘. In Polish, ‘dziękuję‘ means ‘no thank you‘. You need to say ‘poproszę‘ if you want to accept the offer.
It seemed strange to me that the word ‘thank you‘ could have a negative meaning (to decline an offer). In the UK, we say ‘thank you’ to the waiter because he is doing something for us (i.e. pouring wine). In Polish you need to say ‘thank you’ in order to stop him as if you should thank him for keeping you sober!
Another time I remember a business meeting during which we were discussing a supplier who wasn’t performing according to our expectations. One participant suggested that we should thank them (trzeba im podziękować).
I was confused. „They’re not doing their job properly and you want to thank them for it! Maybe we should send them some wine and flowers as well?”
I hadn’t yet learned that ‘podziękować‘ can mean to fire/dismiss/end cooperation. In English we can say to ‘thank someone for their services‘ meaning to end cooperation, but it isn’t nearly as common as podziękować in Polish.
I learned that in Polish the verb dziękować often signals the end of something. Thanking is the final action before the end of any interaction, the last thing you need to do. In this way, in English it means something like ‘we’re done!‘.
About the wine thing: it’s not exactly true. If you say ‘dziękuję’ before pouring it means ‘no, thank you’, but after your glass is full, you supposed to say ‘dziękuję’ and then it means ‘thanks for your service’.
I’ve seen it before- my friend said dziękuję to my mom when she offered a cake and was very dissapointed when he didn’t get any 😉
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You could imagine how I, Polish, was confused when I did my first job as a waiter in Scotland. On offering a glass of wine I’ve heard “Thank you”. So I still didn’t know whether to bring one or not and usually followed the customers answer with another question like “Do you really want? Yes or not?” :))) Great blog!
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Yeah, you’re right…this is even more confusing for the waiter!
The most basic solution for this linguistic confusion – if you are not convinced about the actual meaning – is not to use “dziękuję” alone. If you want to refuse an offer, say “nie, dziękuję” (meaning: no, but thank you for asking); if you want to accept it, say “tak, dziękuję” (meaning: yes, please). And this illustrates, what actually is the source of this confusion – negative “dziękuję” is just a kind refusal, with thanking concerning the act of receiving of the proposition as such; while positive “dziękuję” is thanking for execution of the action the proposition is about. Or maybe it is always a thanking for the proposition alone, not for the action, because the offer can be refused or accepted nevertheless.
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