Consider another nice Polish saying "Chłop ze wsi wyjdzie, ale wieś z chłopa nigdy" that literally means "A yokel can leave a village, but village will never leave yokel". Could you please help me find equivalent?

This very ironic and self explanatory among Polish society saying is mostly used to describe a person that was born in rural area and has moved to a city but despite the time that he has spent in civilization he has still some very vulgar, annoying and sometimes awful habits. This also relates to the way of dressing, behaving among society, talking and general view on the world.

On the other hand this saying can be used very carefully as playful description only if this kind of person has lived for a long time in a city and sometimes still makes minor mistakes and saying this will not humiliate him.

(walking on a sidewalk)
- Eww, how can a man burp so loud and so insolently?
- Just look at him. A yokel can leave a village but village will never leave yokel.

For curious ones
Believe me, in Polish there are a lot of words that can be pronounced very specifically so that one word can be enough to recognize whether a man is a boor or not! And it's very annoying way of pronouncing.

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    The English version is "You can take the [ ] out of the [ ], but you can't take the [ ] out of the [ ]." Possibly the original / most common is "You can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy." (Here, country means bucolic.)
    – Fattie
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 13:38
  • A similar common one is simply "Once a village boy, always a village boy."
    – Fattie
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 13:45
  • There is a nice opposite that I heard in a radio interview with a long-time inmate of the infamous Angola prison in Louisiana explaining how he survived mentally... "You can be in Angola but Angola doesn't have to be in you" (wbur.org/npr/89698695/…)
    – BlueWhale
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 20:49

9 Answers 9


The Polish phrase itself is actually fairly well known, albeit slight re-worded. I've heard it for various regions: "You can take a man out of the [south|north|country|city], but you can't take the [south|north|country|city] out of the man."

I think I've even seen it on a T-shirt.

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    Apparently this works for the word "woods" as well. Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 20:36
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    @PatrickRoberts I've heard it used with the word "ghetto" more than any other variation, though I live near Detroit... typically "man" is traded for a more colloquial alternative. "You can take the ho out the ghetto, but you can't take the ghetto out the ho" for instance. Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 20:42
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    I remember the comedian Ronnie Barker in drag with enormous breasts, doing a spoof of Dolly Parton: "You can take the little girl out of the mountains, but you can't take the mountains out of the little girl!" Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 21:10
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    I think this phrase has been used in so many variations that it may be easier to simply qualify it as "You can take the A out of the B, but you can't take the B out of the A," where A is an individual and B is a word describing their home, environment, upbringing, etc... Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 22:05
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    In Ireland, the word used would probably be bog.
    – TRiG
    Commented Mar 15, 2016 at 10:12

According to Oxford Dictionaries, “Once a _______, always a _______” is another way to say that

A person cannot change their fundamental nature: once a whiner, always a whiner

In your contexts the blanks could be filled with whatever captures the nature of village, non-city-dwelling that you’re after: country bumpkin or country gentleman, for example, or maybe the word used for people from a particular village (Podunker, for example) or even just the word "villager."

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    Whiner is a horrible example, completely unrepresentative of common usage. The expression implies that one crosses some clear line (once a cheater, always a cheater) and whining doesn't fit at all.
    – A.S.
    Commented Mar 15, 2016 at 23:34
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    @A.S. You have been lucky enough not to have known perpetual whiners.
    – ab2
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 1:19
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    @A.S. & ab2 I hear you both! I wouldn't have picked that example myself but it's part of the (block) quoted Oxford entry for the phrase and mixing/matching a suitable definition from one source with a better example from another source would be borderline shady, in my opinion. (who knows, maybe it was just a typo by Oxford and it was meant to be "winner" or better still "wino"!)
    – Papa Poule
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 18:45
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    :). I did check the entry you referenced and found the examples under "more examples" to be much more representative, that's why I somewhat surprised by the main selection.
    – A.S.
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 20:25
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    +1 This is actually probably better than the other, superficially more similar answer, because this has a negative connotation like the asker's example, saying that people can't improve themselves in certain ways (similar to "A leopard can't change it's spots"), whereas "You can take X out of Y but not Y out of X" is more often used by people in a positive way, often about themselves, to show pride in their roots (essentially, "I may be living in the city but I'm a country person at heart and I'm not letting the city change who I really am") Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 17:19

A slightly more generic term would be 'a leopard cannot change its spots' which means that the way you're born is unalterable.


I'd suggest,

[what's] bred in the bone [will come] out in the flesh

Lifelong habits or inherited characteristics cannot be concealed (a similar idea is conveyed by blood of Chancery). The saying is recorded from the late 15th century, and in earlier usage often contained a negative (as in John Heywood's Dialogue of Proverbs (1546), ‘It will not out of the fleshe, that's bred in the bone’, which altered the form and emphasis.

Oxford Reference

- Eww, how can a man burp so loud and so insolently?

- Just look at him. Bred in the bone, out in the flesh.

you can't make a silk purse out of a swine's ear/you can't turn a swine's ear into a silk purse

you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear

Inferior raw materials cannot be turned into something valuable; said of people (quot. 1672) as well as things. □ 1518

Oxford Reference

You 'll be near me, and perhaps you'll be able to teach her manners, though you 'll never make a silk purse out of a swine's ear. The Wooden Hand: A Detective Story

- Eww, how can a man burp so loud and so insolently?

- Just look at him. You can't make a silk purse out of a swine's ear.

you can't polish a turd (but you can roll it in glitter)

(vulgar) something inherently bad can't be improved



you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig

a pig can't change its squeal

deck a hog in silk and it will return to wallow in the mire

- Eww, how can a man burp so loud and so insolently?

- Just look at him. Deck a hog in silk and it'll return to wallow in the mire.

you can take the [hick] out of the trailer park, but you can't take the trailer park out of the [hick]; you can take the [hog] out of the [sty]; but you can't take the [sty] out of the [hog]

Word Reference

Trailer trash (or trailer park trash) is a derogatory North American English term for a small percentage of poor people living in a trailer or a mobile home. It is particularly used to denigrate white people living in such circumstances and can be considered to fall within the category of racial slurs.

The term is mostly used as a pejorative to imply poor hygiene, low-level language skills, limited education, slovenly or sexual style of dress, sexual flirtation and promiscuity, and aggressive social behavior of some small percentage of people that live in trailers.


  • I would add the variation on dress: "A hog in a silk waistcoat is still a hog", and many similar ones.
    – Law29
    Commented Mar 15, 2016 at 7:51
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    Of course, you can polish a turd. Commented Mar 15, 2016 at 22:34

I would say old habits die hard which means:

Prov. People find it difficult to change their accustomed behavior. 'Joan retired last year, but she still gets up as early as she used to when she had to go to work. Old habits die hard.'

Your example:

Eww, how can a man burp so loud and so insolently?

Just look at him. Old habits die hard.

[McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs]

  • Hmm I find given example positive while Polish one is very rarely positive
    – Colonder
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 19:02
  • @Colonder It depends on context. The proverb or idiom is usually used when you see people with bad habits that they can't get rid of even if they are in a new environment.
    – user140086
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 19:07
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    "Once a thief, always a thief."
    – The Nate
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 19:32

English has a number of almost direct translations of this, following this pattern:

You can take the boy (off the farm / out of the country), but you can’t take the (farm / country) out of the boy…

Google autocomplete actually suggests variations involving "the hood" and "the ghetto" ahead of these, and many others (the jungle, the island, Ireland, England, etc.)

At least for the rural versions, I have usually understood them as having an intent that is friendly, nostalgic, or to gently tease. There's often a trace of what is discussed here in the notion of "redneck pride": someone has committed an unusual/inappropriate behavior in their current life context (either a faux pas or just an idiosyncrasy). Rather than taking offense, those around them associate it with the person's background — maybe sometimes in a sense of "old habits die hard", but maybe instead with some actual respect/sentimentalism for the original context where the behavior would have been appropriate.

I'm not sure on the more urban variations. I suspect they could be similar within the right context, but to be honest they sound a bit more negative to my ear, like "once a delinquent, always a delinquent" fatalism to my ear. But this is probably my background, since I did not grow up in a city and so have the opposite perspective of what I miss/reminisce vs what still feels a bit new/foreign to me.

The use of such phrases certainly depends on context. They could be used to bring up a common bond (two people who both sometimes still feel out of place in a different culture, teasing each other when that comes to light in a particularly obvious way) or to widen a division (if a person wants to emphasize that another will never "fit in" completely and "doesn't really belong" where they are now). My suspicion is that if you studied it you would see each variation emanating mostly from within the social group it names, and primary used in a bond-forming fashion.


English speaking expats in Southeast Asia say

You can take the girl out of the bar, but you can't take the bar out of the girl.

when referring to the prospect of taking on a bar girl (prostitute) as a girlfriend. Meaning - she will always cheat on you, will act as spoiled and entitled as possible, and will suck your money dry, so before you choose to do this, you'd better be ready and aware of that.

I think this is a pretty universal formula.

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    This is thematically similar to another (not very nice) saying that I've heard: you can't make a ho a housewife. This, however, is not very generic. Commented Mar 15, 2016 at 14:13

Essentially it equates to 'A leopard cannot change its spots'.

One possible way of putting it (as from your imaginary dialogue):

He's a yokel — and a leopard can't change its spots.

And one more, even funnier:

He's a yokel — and a yokel can't change its spots.

Or — this one somewhat cryptical but for the connoisseur who can sort it out:

A yokel can't change its spots.

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    Pointless editing which carries no additional information whatsoever — not even 'meta' information. What is more, the use of italics between quotation marks could be justified only if the citation were in a foreign language. Trifles will get you full marks, won't they?
    – Brice C.
    Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 20:20

You can take city folk to the country but they will always be lost. Or You can take city folk to the country but you can't make them take a cr.p.

  • Or you can take a bicycle to the shop, but can't remove the handles of the bicycle cause then it won't be a (working) bicycle anymore. Think about it.
    – Bizmarck
    Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 18:45

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