False Friend#2 – Dziękuję

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):

thank you

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.

Wino?”

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!‘.

Dziękuję.

False Friend#1 – Ewentualnie

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 waiting for beer):

Myself and two friends once took an overnight train from Warsaw to Dresden. Before we left the station, the conductor came to our sleeping compartment, checked our tickets and said ‘if you want anything to eat or drink, just come to the last compartment where you can buy snacks, water, juice …’i ewentualnie piwo’.

Our ears pricked up at the word piwo – it was the start of a long weekend and we fancied a beer or two – but what did the conductor mean by ‘ewentualnie piwo‘?

None of us spoke Polish very well and we assumed that ‘ewentualnie‘ means the same as ‘eventually’ in English, meaning ‘after a period of time’ or ‘at the end’.

‘So we can buy beer eventually. What does that mean?’ asked one friend.

‘Maybe it means that we can buy it after a certain time or point in the journey?’ I replied

‘Yeah, they’re probably picking up the beer in Wrocław and we’ll be able to buy some after that,’ another friend agreed.

So we waited a few hours, checking our watches every few minutes and looking out of the window.

‘Any sign of Wrocław?’

‘No, we’re in somewhere called Leszno.’

‘Are they loading beer onto the train?’

‘Can’t see any.’

The journey was agonizingly slow, but finally the train passed through Wrocław and we went to buy three beers.

In a cruel world, there wouldn’t have been any beer left…but the train was quiet that night. Strangely, the beer was from Elbląg and it wasn’t even on the route!