Historical story

You won't believe they traded it. The strangest business ideas from the times of the Polish People's Republic

The pilots of Polish trips organized during the communes saw many things. Years later they remember above all that almost none of the "holidaymakers" had time to rest. Instead of calmly filling out the excursion program, they filled their pockets with foreign currency. They had crazy ideas to get them.

Everyone traded, almost like during the Second World War. The scale of international smuggling was such that a show trial of 12 Poles was organized in Zagreb in 1972. At that time, their goods and money were confiscated. As emphasized by Jan Głuchowski in the book "Na saksy i to Bulgaria" , this verdict did not deter amateurs of getting rich. In the same year, the canoeing trainer took 75 hairdryers with him, the wrestlers tried to bring 265 lamps for TV sets, and gold and dollars were detected in the Legia basketball players.

With garlic from Romania

The garlic stocks on the long-distance coach back from Romania did not mean that the passengers had just battled against Transylvanian vampires. The reason was completely prosaic - in times of empty shelves and eternal shortages, Poles bought spices abroad.

Garlic (photo:public domain)

Anyone who has dealt with decent garlic knows that the aroma experience is unforgettable. Pouches with his wholesale quantities were stuffed into bags in train compartments and even in the luggage compartments of airplanes. Although it was garlic that could not be hidden by its smell, other victuals were also transported. As described by Jan Głuchowski in the book "Na saksy i to Bulgaria" :

In 1972 there was an individual case of carrying 103 kg of raisins, 45 kg of margarine, 145 kg of coconut shrims, among other things. There were also larger purchases of textile goods, an example of which is a bale (95 m) of material "for your own suit".

En garde!

Poles are known for their genuinely uhlanic fantasy, but even an exceptionally cunning nobleman, Onufry Zagłoba, would not have come up with that. One of the Polish fencers decided to sell ... his blades in the West. Those made in Poland enjoyed a considerable reputation and cost quite a lot. The player received ten from the club, which he was to fight at the tournament in West Germany. Instead of smashing them in subsequent duels, he fought so that he could… sell all his supplies.

The clever swordsman had to fight very carefully (CC0 license)

He bought a supply of nylon jackets for them, which he then sold at the next tournament, which happened to be held in the USSR. He bought cameras from merchants of his "brotherly nation". These, in turn, were traded in Turin, where he bought himself a fashionable Lambretta scooter for the money, and he still had to bring the machine home.

One man in three sleeping bags?

Camping equipment imported from Poland was very popular in southern Europe. Greek and Macedonian customs officers were well aware of this when they saw cars with Polish registrations unpacked to the roof with gas cylinders, sleeping bags or tents. As described by Jan Głuchowski :

We carried several sleeping bags, beach umbrellas, hammocks, folding chairs, mattresses for lying down and inflators, radios and tape recorders, high-quality bedding, crystals. Three gas cylinders were delivered for seven days, which, moreover, guaranteed cooking 24 hours a day non-stop. the offer thus surpassed the Bulgarian or Romanian ones.

How much is the course fee?

Many trade tourists chose the USSR as the destination of their trips. Large amounts of gold were bought on the spot, which could be sold in Poland several times over, as well as electronics and household appliances (cameras, irons, etc.). A great deal was also done on ... Soviet taximeters, although due to their considerable weight, it was possible to carry only a few.

On the plane not only amused and happy girls, but even their friends put as many rings and wedding rings on their fingers as they could to present part of the collection. Its added value was that it was light. Only a few people were charged with taximeters for taxi drivers, which ran like water in Poznań, and gave five or seven times a puncture.

Hey Johnnie Walker, this world is small!

Poles coped well with alcohol trade on various routes. Many of them loved trips to India precisely because of the percentages. Of course, for the cash register to be correct, it could not have been a direct flight. The transfer was in Dubai, which is reminded by Jan Głuchowski in the book "Na saksy i to Bulgaria" has been a shopping paradise for decades. Paradoxically, it was in this Arab city that Poles did business on alcohol on their way to India.

Polish tourists, regardless of their age and sex, have chosen one of the hundreds of articles on offer - Johnnie Walker whiskey. Foreigners looked in amazement at our seniors, covered in gray, who bought three bottles, sometimes five. Liter!

Warsaw was often used as a taxi (photo:Marcin Chady, CC BY 2.0 license)

It resulted from a simple calculation. In Dubai, a liter of whiskey cost $ 5. In Delhi, they could easily sell it for ten times as much. Considering the fact that the average salary on the Vistula River was around $ 20 at that time, they earned a small fortune.

How many furs will I get for my ass?

The vast majority of Poles going on trips to the Bosphorus went there not to admire the temple of God's Wisdom, but for mercantile purposes. Arab merchants already knew that they could buy good goods from our countrymen, and they also managed to trade many. Polish customers were respected to such an extent that the clever Turks even learned a few sentences in Polish, greeting with our words "Shadow dopry to the state" or "We are drinking coffee?".

They showed particular service to women, especially those who had mascara and blonde hair. They often suggested to such clients that they should come after closing the business, and the price for a specific product ... need not be mentioned at all. While the majority rejected such offers with complete indignation, there were others who gladly accepted them. Jan Głuchowski in the book "Na saksy i to Bulgaria" he even cites a joke based on this practice:

One of my compatriots wanted to buy a fur three-quarters long. The seller did not understand this term. Then she said, indicating that "he wants fur on his ass." And she heard the answer:
- For ass is my friend on the other side of the street. For me only for sleep
e nimdze.

The Great Bazaar in Istanbul was the place where Poles used to come to sell their goods (photo:public domain)

Cruises smelling of OMO powder

In the seventies and eighties, the Scandinavian countries were a fashionable destination for trade expeditions. Interestingly, the people going there on the "trip" did not even bother leaving the port and sightseeing. Instead, they liquefied articles from Pewex brought from Poland. Among them were American cigarettes and our native rye vodka. With the crowns they earned, they bought insane amounts of OMO powder and toothpaste.

No wonder then that the director of the Sports-Tourist branch in Gdynia who described these practices remarked:

- If this ship sank, the water in the entire Baltic would froth like a tub.

Speaking of swimming, it is impossible not to mention what the sailors smuggled in. They bought highly desirable goods in the ports of the world, and then sold them on the Vistula River at appropriately high prices. Jan Głuchowski in the book "Na saksy i to Bulgaria" describes the case of a sailor who, having an order from several colleagues, went to a warehouse in Montreal, where he bought ... several thousand lipsticks and creams. In addition to a solid salary, the crews earned quite a good salary on the side, while delivering scarce goods to their compatriots.


Trivia is the essence of our website. Short materials devoted to interesting anecdotes, surprising details from the past, strange news from the old press. Reading that will take you no more than 3 minutes, based on single sources. This particular material is based on the book:

  • Jan Głuchowski, For Saxons and Bulgaria , Bellona 2019.