11 phrases only Polish people understand

1. Do I have a train / tank riding here? | A jedzie mi tu pociąg/czołg?

Accompanied by this gesture, it is a great reply when someone tells you something totally unbelievable. For example, “I’m going to run a marathon without even training for it” — to which you pull down your lower eyelid and retort, “Right, and do I have a train riding here?” It’s the Polish equivalent of “not gonna happen.”

Sometimes we say, “And do I have a cactus growing here?” and show the palm of one hand. It means the same thing (obviously, there is no train riding in your eye and similarly, no cactus growing in the palm of your hand).

2. It’s after the birds | Już po ptakach

I think this one is fairly simple. “After the birds” means that it’s too late, and nothing can be done about the situation.


“Okay, now I’m ready to go grocery shopping.”

“No, don’t even bother, it’s after the birds. The shop’s already closed.”

It’s quite similar to the English phrase, “That ship has sailed.”

3. Hands are dropping |Ręce opadają

This is used to describe situations that are basically hopeless. It’s when you surrender, lose all hope, just give up. It’s similar to the English expression, “To throw one’s hands in the air.” The meaning is the same, the direction of the movement is different. In English it’s up, in Polish it’s down.

4. Be wise, write poems |bądź mądry, pisz wiersze

If you find yourself in a quandary and you have no idea what to do, say this. I’m not sure it will provide a solution to your situation, but at least it might make you smile. You can also use it in any confusing situation: “First my boss tells me to finish this project, and then he tells me it’s not necessary. Be smart and write poems.”

5. To be in powder |być w proszku

If you’re expecting guests and they arrive 10 minutes early while you’re still in the shower, well then you’re still in powder, which means you are unprepared or not yet ready for something. I think all mothers will relate to this one: It’s time to leave and the kids are still undressed and in a total mess. To cut a long story short, you’re in powder.

6. Without two sentences |bez dwóch zdań

If something is without two sentences, it means it is without a doubt, or without unnecessary discussion. For example, without two sentences, traveling is a great way to learn about other cultures.

7. To feel mint for someone |czuć miętę do kogoś

If you’re feeling mint for someone, it means you’re attracted to them, that you fancy them. Or just, very simply, that you have a crush on them. It means any positive feeling that isn’t just liking, but isn’t obsessive love either.

8. Throw peas onto a wall |rzucać grochem o ścianę

If you’re trying to persuade someone, or explaining something to someone who won’t budge or even listen to you, then you’re throwing peas onto a wall, which is to say you’re engaging in the senseless task of arguing with someone who is very much convinced of his superiority and will not change his mind.

9. To chase a heel |gonić w piętkę

Someone who is chasing a heel is behaving in an illogical, unreasonable manner. This image makes me think of a dog who is chasing his own tail, but since humans don’t have tails, they’re chasing heels instead. Again, when your kids pose demand after demand on you, or are crying without a reason, they’re chasing heels. And in all likelihood, so are you.

10. To be not in the sauce | być nie w sosie

In English, you’d say that you’re out of sorts, queasy, or upset. In Polish, you’re not in the sauce, which means that you’re in a very bad mood. My mother used to say that to me when she woke me up for school. And it’s true; I’m very not in the sauce when I’m sleep deprived.

11. To walk on one’s eyelashes |chodzić na rzęsach

This one has two meanings. One is to be very, very drunk. The other one is to be exhausted. As in, “The baby cried the whole night, I’m walking on my eyelashes.” And sometimes, these two meanings walk hand in hand.

Featured Photo: Alf Melin. This article was originally published on March 11, 2015.