Q: When is it OK to use someone’s first name, with or without Pan/Pani? For example, if someone older than me addresses me as “Pani Aniu”, could I say “Pani Elzbieto” or would I have to say pan/pani and their last name?
A: The very first thing to know is that when in Polish you say “Pani Kowalska”, using their last name in conversation, it is very rude and demonstrates superiority. The only place you can hear people being called that way is a waiting room, for example at the doctor’s, and in such a place it is appropriate. The kind, polite and everyday way to address a stranger is “pan/pani”.
However, you can add the person’s first name to it, e.g. “Pani Kasiu” (a vocative case is needed here!), when you are equal or superior in age and position to that person and you’ve known him/her for some time. To see if a person likes being called that, try it and if the person replies, adding your name to “Pan/Pani” as well, it means he/she liked it. If not, go back to “Pan/Pani” only. It is not recommended for men to call women “Pani + first name”, nor should we do this with people senior to us.