I can’t stand it anymore! So often here I hear that Polish people keep whinging about everything, they make conversations out of it and so on. But how can we not? The UK weather is really not the best, the flats are so expensive here, tube is so crowded (and always broken! So please spend 1,5 hour instead of 30 minutes on your commute) and the queues at Tesco’s during lunch – ridiculous!
Wait, wait, am I complaining now too? 😉
I guess there is some truth in the stereotype of a whining Pole. Not everyone is like that of course, but I can see there is a tendency to do it for sure. It’s a good conversation starter, not only in Poland. Talking about how bad the weather is today could also be classified as whining, don’t you think?
I’d love to list a couple of functions that complaining/whining/whinging (however you want to call it) can have, either for a stereotypical Pole or for any other national that needs to complain about something. Note that I’m referring to complaining and whining in a situation which actually is not that bad, where you have sufficient money, don’t starve and have a roof over your head.
Sometimes it’s enough to understand what’s going on below the surface to really get to the bottom of why people behave certain way!
Why do people complain?
1. To start a conversation. Imagine you’re waiting in a queue for 30 minutes and you really need to deal with it today. It doesn’t seem like you will be out of here within the next hour… What do you do? Well, one of the things you might try is saying to the person sitting next to you something like “Oh this queue is moving so slow isn’t it?”. The person might either say “Yeah yeah, it is indeed” turn away and go, but they also might say “Yeah yeah, true. It’s always like that here!” and start telling you why they’re here. And there you have it – a conversation!
Maybe you will have something more in common than just sitting and waiting in the same queue? Maybe you can make some new work contact? Or maybe that will be just exactly the type of person you need help from right now? Or maybe you’ll never meet again, but you have managed to kill some time with a nice conversation instead of sitting and waiting. Either way, complaining in that case was a conversation starter which led to (but of course didn’t have to) some nice connections.
2. To vent. That’s actually an important one. We often negatively perceive people who vent that way, they spoil the atmosphere, they’re hard to talk to then and so on. But the reason is they just want to share their emotions, their thoughts, release their frustrations and they need it to be able to work effectively later on. To be honest, from the psychological perspective it is better to spend a minute releasing the negative energy than keep suppressing it. The suppressed one always comes back twice as strong in the least expected moments. Of course I wouldn’t recommend releasing this negative complaining energy in front of a client 😉 But it’s good to be surrounded by people either at work or privately who help you deal with negative emotions instead of simply not accepting them and suggesting yoga or vacation to “chill out”.
Example? You’ve had a terrible day, you’re late everywhere, back to back meetings, there’s only two more hours left until you can go home. When you are just about to finalize some of the tasks your computer crashes. You start cursing, you tell your colleague that sits next to you that this stupid machine is just not working, that there’s no one who can help you now cause the IT guys have finished work already, that this whole day was already shitty enough and basically you just want it to be over. Complaining? Yes. Helpful? Somewhat, but not fully yet. Full venting experience needs to be met with understanding of the person you are ‘venting’ to. In that case, your colleague might say something like “Hey, sorry to hear you’ve had such a bad day! How about I call Hannah from IT? I know her well and I know she’s still in. Maybe she’ll be able to help?” Then most probably you’d have a huge ‘Thank you and apologies’ moment, where your colleague would reassure you that it’s alright and we all have these days. That’s an ideal scenario. That’s a scenario when you know you maybe could have suppressed it, but you can’t any longer. And you know there’s a person next to you that will be supportive and empathetic, who will let you spit out all those bad things that happened to you and spend these 3 minutes just talking to you.
3. To bring attention. That can also work in either work or private environment. Let me give you a work example, when you’re completely crunched at work, too many projects, too many tasks, too many meetings, too many working hours. You might drop a line here and there when talking to the colleagues around you that “There’s just too much, but it’s ok, it’s ok” or “Sorry I haven’t done this yet, I just have too much to deal with at the moment”. No one likes to be perceived as unable to deal with their duties at work, so very often you won’t even directly say anything to your manager until they take action to deal with your workload. Especially here in UK, where there is a tendency to speak indirectly and use a lot of qualifiers. That indirect complaining might actually bring people’s attention to the fact that you indeed have too much tasks and maybe the work can be distributed slightly differently to release some pressure from you. This works both ways, so if you see someone crashing and complaining – stop and think if they are indeed genuinely sad and whiny people that you don’t want to deal with or they are just having a tough time with everything else going on and their complaining is a silent ask for help.
4. To find an excuse or present yourself in a better light . I’m sure you know at least one person from school or uni who after every exam went out saying stuff like “Oh it was so difficult, I didn’t know the answer to half of the questions, that’s going to be a disaster!” and then got a 90% score. That’s quite clever if you look at it closer. If they really didn’t pass or scored low, everyone gets it – it was suuuuch a hard test, right? But if they score very well, then they nailed it, d e s p i t e that it was so difficult. Is it manipulating already? 😉 No, it’s a well-known phenomenon described in social psychology as attribution, which is the process by which people explain the causes of behaviour and events. It has been shown in research that we are more likely to attribute successes internally (to ourselves, our talents, our hard work etc) and the failures externally (to others, to bad circumstances, to bad weather, bad day etc).
5. Because that’s just how they are. And well…in some cases people might just be like that and be negative. Some of us just are like that and don’t see nothing wrong with it, are not into all the ‘gratitude’ and ‘positivity’ exercises and mindset. And that’s ok. We all have the choice of which people we want to hang out with and we can either make a decision to try and ‘convert’ them to the positive psychology attitudes or leave them as they are and let them be their way.
What’s also useful to consider here though before making the final judgement is the culture the people were brought in. Coming back to the Polish stereotype, for example, as it’s the one I understand well, being Polish myself – many of today’s 30 year olds in Poland still remember how it was in the times of Polish People’s Republic (Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa, PRL) in Poland where there was barely nothing in shops, where they had to share everything with everyone, where life was generally tougher than it is now. Many people were complaining back then because they had an actual reason to do so. And it kind of… stayed in the culture. It actually still is a very good conversation starter in Poland! At least from my experience.
I’d love to know your experiences with whining Polish people – do you see them that way as well? Is it still so popular that the stereotype has the right to persist?
Are there any other reasons that come to your mind on why people complain? Do you have any examples where the whining turned out to be a convoluted ask for attention or help?