What is the most self-destructive Polish characteristic? Is it the perpetual re-imagining of yourselves as victims of cataclysmic history? It certainly doesn’t help. If you live too much in the past, the future dries up. But there’s worse. Your propensity to follow to the death any shiny-suited seat-sniffing politician who’ll whore you out to the highest bidder, for a potful of dollars or yen? An Irish friend visiting here remarked on there being an absence of sheep. I wouldn’t be so sure on that I told him, but as bad as your docile subservience is, the worst trait among certain Poles I have met is Fuck You Economics.
Fuck You Economics comes in many forms. It is most obviously evident during business interactions when one side chooses to make a once-off profit over the other. They con, they scam, they take any advantage they can find, even if it means the other party will never do business with them again.
I’ve been on the receiving end of Fuck You Economics a few times here. Years ago, a theatre manager in Poznan told me I could only do a show at his venue if I paid him two thousand zloty up front. I say ‘theatre manager’; the guy was so shifty you could have put a hat on him and called him a weasel. Most theatres divide the takings, the performer gets 70%, the venue gets 30%. It’s called A Split and it happens after the show when the money is all counted. It’s very fair and it puts the onus on the venue to properly market the touring show/performance. This theatre manager in Poznan convinced me that’s not how they do business in Poland. I believed him, he got his easy money and a few weeks later I got an empty theatre.
Fuck You Economics, spiraling through Poland’s DNA, dictates that having found a sucker, you squeeze one big egg out of him, grab it and run. I doubt any alternative crossed the theatre manager’s mind. Build up a relationship with a foreign performer and have him coming with his show five or six times over a few years? Charge him an honest rate and help him put on an entertaining show, so everyone comes out feeling golden? No. Fuck You Economics means one side gets easy money, the other is left with shit on their bib.
It’s happened a few times since, albeit in smaller ways. It’s so prevalent here that no matter how vigilant you are, you’re guaranteed to get pinched at least once a year.
Fuck You Economics has many faces, some less overt, less surreptitiously bludgeoning, like the smiley face of the antique shop owner I used to go to. Threw a lot of business his way, I was what you might call ‘a loyal customer’ and coming from Ireland where such small businesses regularly reward good clients with discounts I felt confident enough to ask for a discount. A deal. You might be familiar with this concept. It’s when both parties come away from the transaction feeling good. Their heels click the pavement and buy themselves an ice-cream.
I gave the smiley-faced owner an offer on some furniture – ‘I’ll pay full price for the two most expensive pieces, but can you knock a few zloty off the third piece?’
His smile slipped through the cracks appearing in his face. He said No. The way an executioner says No. ‘Aww come on,’ I said. ‘I could go to other antique shops, but I always come here to you…’ It didn’t matter. He closed his eyes in such an awful way, as if to say, ‘how could you Mr Irish? How could you ruin the trust we had with your petty haggling?’
There is no haggling in Poland. There are no deals. There are winners and losers, gods and monsters and everyone’s looking to get their retaliation in first.
In Ireland we have a saying; ‘nobody wins unless everybody wins’ and sometimes I really miss that.