Thursday, 29 November 2012

Street Cries of Old Poland

"Piwo! Piwo jasne! Piwo!" The magical words put me in mind of the start of long-distance train journeys in bygone Poland, uttered by a man hurrying along the corridors hawking beer to the thirsty traveller. In the old communist days, beer was almost non-existent and the guy who'd scored some bottles or cans could fetch a tidy mark-up by selling it to the captive audience on a train.

Later, in the aftermath of transformation, beer was available but banned on Polish state railways (the non-alcoholic variety being on offer in the Wars restaurant carriages). So the beer hawkers continued their trade.

These days, Wars restaurants sell beer (I like the Starodawne from Konstancin brewery), and most large railway stations will in any case have a Carrefour or generic Alkohol 24h window within walking distance.

And yet the cry of "Piwo! Piwo jasne! Piwo" is still to be heard to this very day, though not as frequently as in the late-80s and early-90s, when every train journey would begin this way. Yesterday in Warsaw, the guy was still selling as the train pulled out of Centralna; he'd jump off at Zachodnia, board an east-bound train to Wschodnia and do it again, safe in the knowledge that tickets on long-distance routes are not checked until the trains have cleared Warsaw's outermost suburbs.

A typical price  for a beer is 5zł - unchanged in years. The beer hawker buys, say, 20 500ml cans at 1.89zł each, lugs 10kg around in a shoulder bag, making 3.11zł on each transaction. I didn't see him making any sales yesterday - it is late November, after all, so this is a hard way to make a living. He runs through the corridor, not making any attempt to hard-sell to any vacillating punter. If you hear his cries, you have seconds to make your mind up and stop him.

I was surprised to see this still happening, this relic of the late '80s. It would be more in keeping with the times if he were to say "Wino! wino czerwone  lub białe gronowe! Wino wytrawne, chilijskie, kalifornijskie! australijskie! Cabernet Shiraz! Merlot! Sauvignon Blanc!" and flog Lidl's excellent 250ml mini-bottles (retail 4.99zł) for ten zlotys. A larger mark-up, less carrying - he could concentrate on client service than on low-margin low-volume business.

Suffice to say, if you were to buy a beer from one of these chaps, there'd be no chance of a paragon fiskalny let alone a faktura VAT!

This time last year:
The gorgeousness of Warsaw at dusk

This time two years ago:
I'm so glad I'm living in Warsaw

This time three years ago:
Candid photography

This time four years ago:
Archival photos of the Rampa in action

This time five years ago:
Red sky in the morning...


Anonymous said...

Michael, may I point you in the direction of my new blog and request a listing?

Updated pretty regularly, so far at least!

If 20 east is still on your links you should remove it and replace with above.


Michael Dembinski said...

Ian - done. And now - some reciprocation? :)


Anonymous said...

Good point!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, that was me, scatts, and thank you!