Mind the gap – 5 things you should know before you talk to Polish audience

On May 14 2013 I’ve spoken at Atmosphere Conference 2013 in Poznan – first (to my knowledge) polish conference dedicated to web performance and scalability and DevOps culture. Yay! This year Atmosphere Conference 2014 is going to take place in Warsaw, on 19-20 May. Check it out if you haven’t yet.

Topic wise it seemed to me that they wanted it to be something similar to Velocity Conference. That’s surely direction I like. Topics in Atmosphere’s schedule were mixed from quite different worlds, so that only some talks were about performance, scalability, monitoring and such. The conference was worth going to anyway, I’ve enjoyed at least couple of talks. From the talks I remember I liked the most, I’d like to recommend watching “Monitoring at scale” from Lorenzo Alberton.

Organization was brilliant. Food was the best I ever had on event like this. There’s also interesting review of the conference on Shelly Cloud Blog.

Two things I didn’t like was that Polish speakers (with 2 or 3 exceptions) gave their talks in Polish (there were two tracks and often both was in polish – imagine you came to attend from UK or Germany and you naturally don’t speak polish) and that 2/3 of speakers were Allegro employees. I felt kinda like if I was attending Allegro meeting.

What this post is about is something I realized attending foreign speakers talks siting within mainly polish group of listeners. I’ve seen people on stage looking kinda puzzled by reaction different from what they expected. Brian McCallister for example, in his second talk, demoing Docker, surprised by almost no reaction to some simple questions he went asking (like “raise your hands who is familiar with chroot”) he tried something like “raise your hands who of you is human”. Did he saw the audience laughing? Nope, this is Poland.

So what you can expect from Polish audience. What is so different about us?

1. Poles don’t smile. Period. Or at least they don’t smile for the same reasons Americans do. Yes we know it’s not good, we’re trying to change it. So don’t be surprise polish audience don’t laugh when you make a joke. Unless the audience is drunk, but that’s another story. Or you can try looking up some hints on what makes poles laugh.

2. Poles are taught at school to sit down and listen. We are not encouraged to interact with a teacher. Conference presentation, for some, reminds the class. Asking questions is asking for trouble. Again, it starts in school. Asking question means you were not paying attention to what teacher was saying. Bad. That’s why you may be surprised by how short the Q&A part after your talk was.

3. English is not Poles mothers tongue, so it’s possible that polish audience will not follow to all of details of your talk. And we try to avoid asking questions, when it’s uncertain for us, if the question wasn’t answered before (see point 2).

4. Poles are shy (unless we’re drunk). Shy and uncertain of their language skills. This is why you should expect less interactions. Take Filip Barański’s advice and make some fun of yourself as an icebreaker.

5. The other gap you should mind is money. No, we don’t earn $100k as Paul Hammond may think Polish developers do (see his Infrastructure for Startups talk).


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