Drinking beer through a straw. Almost every female bar patron we saw drank their beer out of a straw. The reason behind this was that they weren’t just drinking plain beer but rather piwo z sokiem, beer with juice or grenadine in it.
A few squirts of syrup would be dispensed into a glass before filling the rest from a beer tap. The straw allows you to sip the sweet stuff first. I tried the drink twice and it wasn’t really my thing, but I can’t say it was all that horrible either.
Merlin and I also drank from straws when we ordered “hot beer,” which basically took the mulled wine recipe of liquor plus sugar plus cinnamon and an orange slice plus heat. I think I enjoyed that strawed drink better.
Colorful Fiats. Without a doubt, this particular model of Fiat (anyone know exactly what it is?) was the most ubiquitous vehicle in cities and countries alike.
Almost always, they were painted some wonderfully vibrant color. For about the first eight days in the country, I would go "Look at THAT cute car!" and Merlin would respond, "it's the same one again." It's probably because they were so common that people went out of their way to add their own personal flair.
(Poland is also the car theft capital of the world, so the paint jobs may just be a brilliant method of dissuading anyone from swiping their completely conspicuous automobile).
Roadside Altars. No matter how small a town we passed through was, there was always at least one church, if not two. However, the true testament to the religiousness of Polish Catholics were the altars and shrines all throughout the countryside.
Sometimes, it was simply a clump of prayer candles, other times it included a statue of Mary or a saint. Most often, they were crosses adorned with colorful ribbons and a sort of fenced off pedestal where people could place bouquets.
Mushroom Cheese. Mushrooms in general were featured in soups, sauces, even deviled eggs, but it’s to be expected in autumn a.k.a. forest forage season. However, mushroom cheese took the fungi loving to a whole new level.
If you’ve ever had Laughing Cow or some other soft cheese that comes in small foil packages, just imagine having little bits of mushroom mixed right in. Not only were there different brands of mushroom cheese, we also saw more than one billboard touting the product along Polish highways. (for the record, we also saw salami cheese, onion cheese and pepper cheese, made by the same companies, but mushroom cheese was definitely the most widely available).
KFC. When it comes to chain restaurants, KFC definitely reigns supreme. Kentucky Fried was everywhere and easily outnumbered McDonalds and Burger King.
Pizza Hut, which had been pretty popular in every other country we’ve visited, didn’t pop up once in Poland on our travels. But that, of course, is because they have zapiekanka.
Drinking things other than vodka. We read, over and over again, vodka is what people drink. We brushed up on the correct way to order it, the correct way to drink it, the different varieties in different regions, etc. and then found that everywhere we went, all anyone drank was beer. Maybe vodka is just something people drink in the comfort of their own homes?
High Heels. All around Europe, high heels have mostly been shorter and stumpier than the city stilettos I’m used to. This, of course, is due to the cobblestones which are next to impossible to walk on in three-inchers. Polish women, however, have mastered the art of wearing high heels in any and all terrains. Even when we drove into the countryside, middle aged women walking along the side of the road with bags of groceries would still be wearing high heeled boots. I tip my hat to you, women of Poland.
Over-the-Knee Boots. I’m not entirely sure why, but Merlin and I have found it amusing that over-the-knee boots, which were the toast of the fashion world about a year ago, never really caught on in New York. Well, they definitely swept Poland by storm. Any pair of shoes that weren’t high heels were over-the-knee boots. I think part of the reason they’re more popular here is because most women also wear short skirts or shorts over brightly colored stockings. So, the more of their leg they can protect against the cold, the better.
Jesus. Polish people really really like Jesus. The population is more than 90% Roman Catholic and you’re likely to see JC looking down serenely anywhere you go.