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June 28, 2016 | | Poland
The Uneasy Truth About Being an American Student in Poland During Communism

„Dad, I think I’m going back home. Poland's Lublin is not that bad, nor is uni. I’ve even learned a lot, but I’ll try to go more to the West, maybe back to the States altogether. Nobody’s picking on me, my buddies are very nice and helpful, do not call names on "capitalists" and are able to score goods on the black market… And the problem is exactly with that weird scoring.

I got the money you’ve sent, thank you. The bank exchanged the dollars you have sent me for zlotys on the national exchange rate, so I'm short of cash again, and I ran out of ration stamps as well. Next time please send me some jeans instead – I would live like a king with a pair! There are a few enterprising guys in our dorm. They can get virtually anything. Recently they’ve been trying to explain to me how they do it, but I don’t think I quite got it. They’ve made a deal with the dairy and every morning milk gets delivered to anyone who’s ordered it on our floor. They don’t want any money for it, though. They say they don’t breakeven this way. They want a glass or a few toilet rolls for every bottle of milk. I don’t know what are the glasses for, but the paper gets exchanged for coffee in the neighboring dorm. Next they take the coffee to a hospital, where they know a hospital orderly. This orderly can get a whole day pass from the head nurse for good coffee. They say this orderly is the key to the whole operation, as he has family in the countryside, which means ham, meat, I mean really luxurious goods. My dorm buddies can get a lot done for meat exchange, but they didn't explain to me what exactly.

And now back to what I’ve asked you for – please, send me Levi’s! Several pairs, if you’d be so kind. This commodity will get me far, as most Poles are able to buy pants twice a year at best. Recently Levi’s pants popped up in special stores, but they are crazy expensive. If you send me even one pair, I can exchange it for a whole crate of glasses which I’ll be able to exchange for milk, meat and, if I’m lucky enough, maybe even toilet paper!




When a foreigner reads this text, they probably think it's some kind of science fiction. Unfortunately not! In countries ruled by communists, such as in Poland years ago, everything was lacking. Meat, bananas, clothes, shoes, cosmetics, cars and anything else you can think of, including toilet paper. People went to the loo with a newspaper, which obviously was not very comfortable or hygenic, but at least there was no waste in using it, as it was full of communistic propaganda. In the country ruled by communist authorities, everyone was supposed to get what they needed, but in reality not enough products were being produced. 

Currently, Poland is a democratic country where you can buy everything, but I can help you visit the places that remind us of the communist past of Poland.

Ready to go there? Contact me

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