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Traces of Poland in American movies

19 Jun 2012

Today we have an interesting article from Marcin at, which offers language courses and camps abroad. It's a mix of tourism and language learning. :-)

(Note #1: I don't receive any kind of payment for publishing this article or the links to their page - I only received this awesome article!)

(Note #2: I translated this article from the original Polish version.)

We all know that watching films in English helps us learn the language. We also know the surprise that comes with seeing traces of Poland in them!

Any reference to Poland in American films usually suprises Poles... postively or negatively. Here is a quick overview of Polish references found in American films.

Read more to find out about them!


A very visible Polish reference - although, in the background - can be found in various scenes of "Beginners." The apartment of the main character, played by Ewan McGregor, is decorated with several Polish posters.

Where did the character's love of Polish poster art come from? Privately the director, Mike Mills, is a graphic designer and lover of the old Polish poster.

It's a nod to the Polish poster makers and their works which are visible in the film: "Siedem razy kobieta" by Andrzej Krajewski and "Wielka majówka" by Maria Ihnatowicz, which decorate the walls of the character's stylish apartment.

If you ever find yourself in New York, you must take a look at PHILIP WILLIAMS POSTERS, the biggest museum of posters in the world, located in Manhattan.


Do you remember the movie "City of Angels" with Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan? When the main character, Seth, an angel, falls to Earth by jumping from a sky scraper in Los Angeles, in the background you can hear music and the Polish prayer "Zdrowaś Maryjo." It's not just a prayer but an entire composition, created by the Polish composer and film score creator, Wojciech Kilar.

If thanks to this movie you like the city of angels, you should think about an English course in Los Angeles and find your own angel!

Also in the thriller "Stormy Monday" you can find Polish references. The owner of the jazz club, played by Sting, introduces the Polish band Cracow Ensemble as "the Pope's favorite band."


After art and music it's time for Polish food. This is one of the most commonly repeating motifs (besides swear words and the phrase "Na zdrowie!") in many movies and shows all around the world.

The characters in "ER" eat hot dogs and Polish kielbasa on their breaks. "The Men in Black" order pierogi in a bar and "The Sopranos" - despite their love for their own Italian food - have Polish kiełbasa in the supermarket.

So if you're visiting the USA and you miss Polish food, in every big city you can certainly find Polish stores offering native delicacies which are also popular among Americans. (From David: that's true even in our small city, Milwaukee.)

Names and the national symbols

In connection with the Euro 2012, it's time to talk about Polish national symbols. In the comedy "The Break-up" with Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn, the main character is of Polish descent and has a Polish last name - Grobowski - and wears t-shirts with the Polish emblem and colors - one with the coat of arms and the other with the words "Polish and proud."

Also, Wiktor Nawarski, the name of the main character in "Terminal", played by Tom Hanks, sounds Polish. The country he's from is fictional, however it sounds very familar: Krakozja.

The character is presented as an exceptional, unselfish man as opposed to the citizens of the USA, which a beautiful American woman recognizes. Scenes for the movie where shot in Los Angeles, Montreal and New York.

If you want to feel the climate of the film, choose an English course in the USA and get to know the biggest airport terminals in the world, just like Tom Hanks.

These are only a few of the hundreds of examples of Polish motifs in American films. It's also important to note that these expressions of Polishness are usually presented positively, which breaks stereotypes and provides a pleasant surprise.

What do you think about these examples? Do you know any more? Please write a comment!

Anonymous's picture

Hello David, I thin there would be so many examples that go unnoticed and the people don't pay atention.

Posted by: Nicole (not verified) | Saturday, June 23, 2012 - 17:26
David Snopek's picture

Actually, there are a lot more examples than I thought! On the Polish version of this article, someone gave a link with 258 examples. ;-) Thanks for your comment!


Posted by: David Snopek | Monday, June 25, 2012 - 11:19
Anonymous's picture

Ciekawy artykul. Calkiem niedawno mialam przyjemnosc ogladania "Beginners" i musze przyznac ze bardzo zdziwily mnie polskie plakaty w tym flmie. Fajnie, ze ktos to wyjasnil. Pozdrawiam!

Posted by: Monika (not verified) | Saturday, June 23, 2012 - 19:09
David Snopek's picture

Cześć Monika!

Bardzo się cieszę, że spodobał Ci się ten artykuł. :-) Czy zobaczyłaś wersję po polsku?

Jest tam o wiele więcej dyskusji na ten temat!

Pozdrawiam serdecznie,

Posted by: David Snopek | Monday, June 25, 2012 - 11:22
Anonymous's picture

Vince Vaughn has been horrible to the Poles and Polish-American. I don't know why he is so insensitive and thoughtless in his awful and hurtful negative stereotyping against Polish-Americans, but he is one of the worst.
Vince Vaughn is primarily Of Lebanese decent, and has never degraded his Lebanese ancestry as he has degraded the Polish.
Vince Vaughn is, again, one of the top anti-Polish bigots in the film industry. He is very aware of the hurt his demeaning depictions of Poles has in his movies, as he writes them. breaking Up was a prime example - will he degrade Polish-Americans "again," in Internship? we'll see?
His bigotry really hurts everyone, especially himself. Did Vaughn learn his hatred in his home from his parents.
More sensitivity needed in movies and the world. Vaughns insensitive anti-Polish bigotry is conducive to a lot of hurtful bullying against children of Polish descent... Everyone loses.
Vince Vaughn stop being such an insensitive bully.
Psychiatry world today...

Posted by: MDRetired (not verified) | Tuesday, June 4, 2013 - 13:09
Anonymous's picture

I completely AGREE with MDretired, I WILL NOT watch anything with Vaughn in it.

Posted by: MotownBabe (not verified) | Sunday, April 6, 2014 - 06:55
Anonymous's picture

Yes, There are more and more positive images of Poles in cinema today that is true. Anti-Polish bigotry in movies is basically gone, thank God!
A suggestion that I feel most people would agree with: Be no part of bigotry, racism or hurtful stereotyping of any kind... Be no part of it, and your life will be that much better to look back on:)
On a lighter note, and about a very Polish Positive Cinema moment, watch and read: "Water For Elephants, by Sara Gruen... Beyond amazing!!!!
Water for Elephants is a deep, meaningful and surreal classic that will withold the test of time, as it continues to do.
vaughn's junk movies will come and go in a week, make a quick dollar, and on to the next exploitive piece of garbage:(
Water for Elephant was translated into "44!" different languages, with 5 million copies in print!
The main character is Jacob Jankowski a nice Polish-Catholic man who transcends tragedy with true integrity.
Watch the movie... You will remember it forever.
Psychiatry world....

Posted by: MDRetired (not verified) | Tuesday, June 4, 2013 - 13:29

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