This excellent little series of compact guides is enriched by Joanna Sell’s particularly well-crafted content. It is rare that I review German language books, though I am relatively fluent in the language, so this was a treat, particularly since I'm shortly to be on my way to Poland once again, and the country has resonances in my ancestry. At least on the surface, things change quite quickly and how deep values are manifest in the fashion of the day is always worth a new look when traveling and working abroad or virtually with colleagues at a distance. Sell provides a “quick fix” without promoting stereotypes.
Sell has packed as much as possible into this short format, and while there are the requisite tips, cultural dimensions, and behavioral comments, what I found richest was the fact that the description of the historical and political contexts and its cultures, and the author's ability to be as up-to-date as possible with current tendencies, trends, and generational differences. History is a Polish concern, today highlighted by the trepidation experience in the face of the Crimean crisis. Poles have maintained their identity better than their borders over the centuries, a reality echoed by the complaint of my Polish immigrant grandfather who was wont to say, “Poland was crucified between two thieves.” This is not paranoia.
I do believe that culture has staying power, and that values are relatively consistent over time, but that can be an illusion unless one is fully aware of how values regenerate themselves in new contexts and manifest themselves in new ways. To the outside and casual observer, it may seem like there is a revolution going on between generations. This is rarely the case, but one in fact finds that the same values have taken on totally new applications and adapt themselves to the needs of the current moment. The author is fully aware of this, and points it out to the reader comparing behaviors of more West-focused Generation X and Y with those of the elder generation who entered the workforce before 1989 and retained both the imprint of socialist dynamics and creative strategies for circumventing them.
Speaking of up-to-date relevance, there is for example a very short but incisive section on contemporary businesswomen in Poland and their relationship to traditional male chivalry. There is also a good awareness of the fact that culture is about but not simply about “kiss a bow and shake hands," and knowing how to do these things in other people's worlds. Thus there are pages acquainting us with important Polish personalities in world affairs and culture at various moments in history from the 15th century to the present age, from Sobieski and Chopin, the recent pope (of significance in this traditionally Catholic country), even to today’s sports idols.
Europe’s fastest growing and one of its most thriving economies, Poland was the only European country to avoid recession in the wake of the 2009 downturn which in fact slowed the brain drain of young talent westward. One of Poland's challenges will continue to be moving forward in shaping successful multicultural teams and working in global environments despite its being such a very monocultural country. Fortunately, it is my experience that the younger generation of Polish professionals is intensely interested in talented when it comes to doing the requisite work for success in our international environment. SIETAR Poland is one of the most vitally active groups in this worldwide organization of interculturalists. Joanna Sell, who serves on the board of SIETAR Europa as well, is strong testimony to Poland’s new outward-looking confidence.