History of Europe

There were no Halinek ladies in pre-war Poland?

How many times did each of us complain about these mean shopwomen, straight from the previous era. They will not smile, they will not advise you, and they serve the ham with their bare paws. And all at a turtle or snail's pace. It wouldn't have passed before the war!

Many things were missing in the Second Polish Republic, but the trade ethos was not one of them. Pre-war merchants valued their work and valued customers. They knew very well that the customer is you and that it is he who makes the salesperson profitable.

Maria Barbasiewicz, author of the book "Good manners in pre-war Poland", gives a whole list of rules and customs that the seller at that time had to follow.

First of all, the goods were presented as far as possible by the head of the company - the most helpful, but not servile, with impeccably mannered, most kindly devoted clientele of shop assistants . Each client was titled "honorable gentleman", "gracious lady", "president" and the shopkeeper bowed low to him. That was how politeness and professionalism were understood back then!

Pre-war saleswomen had to be polite and fully professional.

It was good that the seller should not try to trick the customer in any way. The pre-war savoir-vivre guide by Mieczysław Rościszewski instructed:

The buyer is obliged to present whatever the buyer wishes and must not show dissatisfaction if the goods are not purchased (….). On the other hand, the buyer should never persuade the buyer to buy more expensive goods than the ones he came for or he should not be tempted to buy a product that is obsolete or completely inappropriate to his requirements and taste (...). In general, every trader transaction should be based on absolute honesty.

A confectionery, drugstore, quilt store or a watchmaker ...

These rules may sound unreal, but they were taken seriously! For example, a textbook for students of the Warsaw Confectionery School warned: Sometimes a guest wants advice - should be remembered under pain of losing his job that the advice must be honest .

The seller was to be not only a model of honesty, but also (or maybe most of all?) Of personal culture. The "Bulletin" issued by one of the main department stores in Warsaw warned employees against unacceptable behavior.

Before cleaning your nails at work, looking at yourself in the mirror, keeping your hands in your pockets, walking around with dirty hands, correcting your hair, gossiping with other salespeople, standing at the window, eating and drinking in front of a client, touching food with your fingers, but also (who with this!) before staring at a client and watching him like a thief.

On the other hand, it was expected (again an excerpt from the Confectionery School textbook) that the sellers would behave polite and respectfully. Their speech was to be clear, understandable and gentle. Angelic patience was also required in listening and fulfilling all demands, even the most demanding, the most boring, and even not always quite polite guest.

There must be culture in every shop!

As you can see, there were plenty of rules, but they all boiled down to one basic one: The guest is the most important person and our benefactor, because thanks to him we have our existence!

Of course, not every store and not every merchant followed it. However, in big cities, along well-known shopping streets, these were the rules. Eh, there is a tear in the eye ...


  • Maria Barbasiewicz, Good manners in pre-war Poland , Polish Scientific Publishers PWN, Warsaw 2012.