Poland in Small Ads

Mariusz Szczygieł

Illustration by Andrea Popyordanova

Earn a million in a minute, Stargard, PO Box . . .

I pick up my advice on how to earn a million złoty in a minute at the post office, packed in a gray envelope. But before I can get my hands on it, I have to pay for it, and the post office will deliver the money to the sender.

Here’s the advice: “You need to have the right sum of money, which you deposit in a bank at a percentage that will earn you interest of a million per minute. How much should it be? You’ll have to work it out for yourself. Lucyna from Stargard.”

We pay Lucyna 42,000 złoty for her advice, cash on delivery.


Please help a single mother in financial difficulties. Ola, Drohiczyn

She is twenty-eight years old and has two little angels, Maciek and Elwira. Her husband died two years ago, he was a heavy drinker. Her benefits plus the family allowance come to just over a million. She received three letters: one to be paid for—the “million a minute,” and two free ones, from women. They both wrote that she shouldn’t be under the illusion that people would help her. They were in a similar position, and no one had given them a hand.

“Nobody will give you anything either,” the first one consoled her.

Did anything nice happen to Ola as a result of this ad? “Yes,” she says, “those two women weren’t entirely indifferent to my fate.”


Attractive young man seeks work as a turner or as a male escort

“My name is Krzysztof Łokietek, I am twenty-two years old and I am a turner by profession. After military service I was on benefits because here, in Mińsk Mazowiecki, the labor exchange didn’t have a single job to offer me. I placed the ad, and it brought your letter, which appears to contain nothing but journalistic curiosity. In your life, this incident is just another experience, but for me it’s a letter that won’t change my fortune. The ad did not bring me anything remarkable, except that I lost hope, and with it the desire to go on living.”


Attractive unemployed female, age 25, seeks work

The “attractive female” is tall, with graying hair and a moustache. “She” is a man who lives in Kędzierzyn-Koźle. He published several ads such as: “Thirty-five-year-old guy, reliable, with driver’s license...,” but he never got any interesting work. He wanted to find out what opportunities he was missing out on by not being an attractive girl.

Here’s what he was losing:

a)     “Posing naked in Germany,” from 350 to 700 marks a session. The offer came from a man in the Kwilcz district in the county of Poznań, who is expecting him to send twenty-four nude photos of himself;

b)    “A carefree life of luxury”—marriage to a rich German;

c)     A job as a barmaid in Belgium, “but,” warns the man making the offer from Lublin, “no one forces anyone to do anything, and every barmaid does everything of her own free will;”

d)    A job as a masseuse in Poznań—“a typical whole body massage with emphasis on certain areas, going all the way, twelve hours every third day;”

e)     Work at an escort agency in Holland: “24 million złoty in the very first month, and once the girl gets used to the job, she earns twice as much. Right now we have several Polish and Hungarian girls working for us, but we need more. There is a qualification required: the candidate must be from eighteen to twenty-five years old. Once she’s over twenty-six she’s no longer quite so desirable. It is entirely legal and gives the woman job satisfaction.”


I have suffered a financial crash, I will do anything for money

The man who has suffered a crash is fit and good looking, with fair hair. He is twenty-five years old and has two achievements: once he escaped from prison in Racibor, and once he crossed the border illegally. He has seven sentences behind him. In fall 1992 he was released, but his family told him to find somewhere else to live; the labor exchange wouldn’t give him a chance, but the social security agency gave him 500,000 złoty. He knew he had to think in a modern way, so he published the ad.

“Nothing came of it,” he wrote, “I’m a recidivist and only a sprinter—I could never be either a salesman or a bodyguard. Please understand that there’s no future in sight for me. But it doesn’t matter that nothing came of it. The greatest thing about the ad was looking forward to becoming a normal person again. The day you wrote to me, at 5:40 p.m, I was arrested again in Karpacz for stealing a gold ring.”


Earn a fortune by selling your gallstones

Adam P. from Prusice has obtained a letter from Peter Zuzek of Windhagen, West Germany. Peter Zuzek buys up dry gallstones. They have to be brown, because the color in the russet ones runs. For one gram of whole gallstones he pays eight dollars. He doesn’t buy stones that are coated in white mold, or bile ducts. Personal deliveries can only be made by appointment. Windhagen is just under twenty miles from Bonn, leave the freeway at Bad Honnef and turn right, go another hundred yards and then turn right again, keep going straight for half a mile or so, and about 300 yards past the bank, there’s a yellow house, number 65. Peter Z. speaks Polish.

Of course it’s not to do with human gallstones, but those of cattle.

Adam P. from Prusice will provide a photocopy of Peter Z.’s letter for 59,000 złoty, cash on delivery. “Don’t complain to me, just go ahead and take action,” he adds a note of his own to the German letter.


There’s money all around you. I’ll tell you how to find it

This advice comes from a female librarian at the Central Agricultural Library.

She sends the following instructions: (1) “Technical and financial guidelines for the home production of a coffee table set: a runner and eight napkins” (the colors that sell best in the provinces are sky-blue and green, beige is too much of a cliché); (2) “Make a lampshade in a simple way and sell it;” (3) “How to earn money by reading the small ads.”

The librarian collects 45,000 złoty for her advice, cash on delivery. (“Please try to guess what a librarian’s salary is like,” she complains.)

The librarian’s bits of advice are superhuman. To raise the money, which she says is all around us, by producing a coffee table runner, for example, we’d have to learn how to build a weaving frame, how to use an oilcan, how to thin varnish correctly so it doesn’t glue the threads together, and other such things. She herself graduated in geography and likes to travel. She gets about twenty replies to one ad. It’s mainly unemployed people who write, who have run out of ideas on how to make a living. “I know they’re on the edge,” she says.

No, the librarian does not think that by sending out such unsatisfying advice she is cheating those poor people. “I am helping them. In my life,” she stresses, “I have known a lot of kindness from people, and now I’m doing a good deed in return.”


I’ll tell you an honest way to improve your financial situation. K.A., Sokołów Podlaski

“I am extremely eager to receive this unusual piece of advice,” I wrote.

“Dear Sir,” replied K.A. “Please say what advice you are hoping to receive from me. I place a large number of ads making various offers and I don’t know which one you mean.”


For sale: bulk quantities of used envelopes. Szymon Stosik, Żnin.

“Please let me in on your secret,” I wrote to him, “what does anyone want used envelopes for?”

“You needn’t think you’re onto a sensation,” replied Szymon Stosik. At one time he conducted a great deal of correspondence, which left him with 5000 envelopes. In a television program about America he heard that people there try to sell absolutely anything, even garbage. So he placed the ad, and there was a big response. He has already sold 2,500 envelopes for 150-200 złoty apiece. What happens to them? Szymon Stosik has two theories: a) collectors in Israel buy up carefully opened envelopes, and pay in dollars; b) apparently in Germany you can buy a liquid that removes the postmarks from stamps . . .


Your own personal set of jokes for 10,000 złoty

“On the tram: ‘Excuse me, are you changing at the next stop?’ ‘No, I’m staying like this.’”

Two hundred and thirty jokes, laboriously typed out. “There’s no profit in it,” complains senior citizen L.S. from Warsaw. “Of the ten thousand złoty I receive, four thousand goes on postage. Add the journey to and from the post office, the envelope and the handling, and you start to lose faith in the whole enterprise.”


Something that needs doing in Wrocław? No need to make the journey—I’ll do it for you. Leszek R.

“I have business to be settled in Wrocław that I might entrust to you, but first I need to know two things: do you speak German, and can you smile on cue?” I wrote to Leszek R. using a false name.

“Unfortunately I don’t know German, but I can take care of your business,” he wrote back. “I believe I can smile on cue, or not, as well.”

I wrote to Leszek R. a second time, as myself, asking him to tell me why he placed the ad. He’s twenty-nine, and his old business went bust, because he never got a breakthrough—he had no contacts and no money, and wasn’t getting any tax relief. So now he was trying something else: he’d placed the ad as an experiment, without registering the new firm.

A month had gone by, during which time he had received just one letter, from someone asking him if he knew how to speak German and how to smile.

So he had sent a message back to ask how his service could help, but the customer didn’t respond. Leszek R. thinks he sold himself badly. He should have written back in a firm tone: “Yes, I speak foreign languages,” and “Of course, I have a beautiful smile,” and not just give a vague answer saying: “The matter can be settled.” “But I only realized that afterward,” he says regretfully.

“My enthusiasm for self-employment has gone,” he ends his letter. “I’ve found a job, I’ll be getting a regular salary and, as God is my witness, nobody in this country will ever persuade me to take matters into my own hands again.”


Advertise your firm on my satellite dish, located on a balcony in the center of Babimost.

No response.


Erotic club seeks boys who speak German, Sulęcin, PO Box . . .

From Sulęcin came an almost illegible scrawl:

“The club is in Germany, and you can guess what I’m helping with. Excuse my handwriting, but I’ve got a god-awful hangover and I’m heading out for a beer, but I’ll drink the first one to your health and to the success of your report. If you have any other questions on the topic, please write, but do it before payday, because after payday it’s hard to decipher my handwriting.”

The signature is illegible.


I can care for your graves and provide photos. C. Nawrocki

I didn’t think C. Nawrocki would be quite so enterprising: “I’ll answer the questions for your report,” he wrote back, “but for a fee equal to the price of an advertisement in Gazeta Wyborcza.”

So I sent him 100,000 złoty.

“I’ve been in the business for three years,” he told me. “The care I provide includes locating the grave, then carrying out thorough maintenance, planting flowers, fixing the metal parts, and so on. The price for a one-off service ranges from 500,000 to five million złoty. The people who commission me are usually well off and advanced in age. In two cases the grave I was asked to find wasn’t there. Sometimes my customers demand confirmation that work to be done by a sexton or a priest has been completed. I have no assistants, I find it more convenient to drive about the country on my own. I undertook this service because there was no other work on offer.

“If in the future there are expeditions to Mars, it may well be me that will organize them.”


I’ll tell you the secret of how to grow taller. Max from Skierniewice

“An almost fail-safe method for increasing your height is to go hiking in the mountains. That’s what many doctors say. If there aren’t any mountains in your region, I suggest walking up the stairs in multi-story buildings instead.”

This advice is the cheapest of all—25,000 złoty.


I have a large supply of Lego to give away to a deserving person

They’re a family from a town called Czeladź: he’s a policeman, she’s a care attendant. They didn’t realize that wanting to give away some ordinary Lego bricks would reveal so much human injustice.

They received thirty letters, and it was very hard to make the choice; they chose a letter from a boy called Jacek, sent from a village outside Lublin. “My Mom’s poor,” he wrote, “but we’re doing OK. We have lots of ideas. When there’s nothing but bread in the house, I borrow a little sugar from the school canteen. Then we make ourselves a meal. You drip a bit of tap water on a slice of bread and sprinkle it with sugar, so that it sticks to the bread. It tastes better than some candies.” With his letter Jacek enclosed 5,000 złoty for postage. “And that decided it for us,” says the policeman.

He and his family have realized that they made a mistake. Their ad mentioned a large supply of Lego. What they meant by a large supply was a small cardboard box containing various incomplete Lego sets left over from when their daughter was little. But they got the impression people were expecting more than that.

Now they feel bad about it: “If we hadn’t posted the ad, maybe we’d feel all right.”


Leaving for the USA—Fiat 126p (1988) to give away

I sent a registered letter asking for the Fiat. There was no response.


I send clothes to those most in need. P. from Lubin

I wrote to P. as two different people: as a retired lady, and as a journalist. P. replied to the retired lady that the clothes were imported from the USA, so there had to be a small cost, but if the retired lady was happy with that, she should write again. To the journalist P. declared: “Human poverty is reaching a peak, but there aren’t many kind-hearted people. As a Catholic and a man of honor I cannot bear to see poverty. I myself am twenty-six and have five children. I decided to share my children’s hand-me-down clothes with those most in need. As a human being, that’s all I can do for my neighbors. I am not seeking publicity.”


If you have any unwanted clothing for boys aged 10 and 15, please send it, we’re having a tough time. Jadwiga Kocioł, Wólka . . .

Jadwiga Kocioł found out that there can still be a lot of good in people. When her ad was posted, nobody tried to cheat her, nobody tried to play tricks on her, and nobody demanded money. But she did get three lovely parcels.

A donor from Warsaw sent the boys a huge parcel, and most of the things in it turned out to be very much in fashion. Jadwiga K. always sends him a Christmas card. She wrote to the stranger: “If there were more people like you, there wouldn’t be so many tragedies, and people would place happy ads in the newspapers.”


Competitive Marathon runner looking for a firm to advertise while I run

“First of all, my very best wishes. I’ve hardly run in any races at all lately, because I haven’t had the money to pay for the entry fee and the transport to get there. What I’m looking for is a sponsor to pay for the journey and the entry fee, and then I’d advertise him on my shirt. I love marathons and I don’t want to stop doing them, but if nobody responds, I’ll have to give up running, and then life won’t be worth living. I live in the countryside, and there’s absolutely nothing to do here, so every day I train in the woods. I won a bronze medal at the national amateur cross-country running championships. But my greatest success is finishing each marathon, because that really is an achievement.

“I’ve been married since 1988, my wife’s name is Bożena, she’s twenty-five, and we have a son, Arkadiusz, who’s three. My wife isn’t working either, and the money I get in benefits is next to nothing. By professional training I’m a furniture maker, but there’s nowhere for me to work. I live in a village where there isn’t even a newspaper kiosk and you can’t buy the papers, so the neighbors don’t know about my ad.

“There are days when I put on a track suit and go out, and some of the neighbors laugh at me and say: ‘Are you off running again? What for? What do you get for doing that? You’d be better off doing some work.’ But what work? What do they mean? Are they jealous because they can’t go and run? They could do it too—why not? Nobody’s stopping them. Sometimes I wonder what’s wrong with me running, why do they laugh at me? I have one neighbor who comes home drunk almost every day—he has a wife and children, but nobody laughs at him. Does that mean he’s doing the right thing? Should I come home drunk too? Then will the neighbors say I’m doing the right thing now?

“Oh, how wonderful it would be if a sponsor did come forward—I’d soon wipe the smile off my neighbors’ faces. Kazimierz M.”


I’m looking for a sponsor. Marek, Szczytno

“My dear Marek, I am a nice middle-aged lady,” I wrote. “I could sponsor you.”

“I’m nineteen,” Marek replied. “I have no money to pay for the gas or electricity. I’m ten million złoty in debt. Some financial help would come in handy. In exchange I can come and do just about anything for you, Madam.”

I didn’t respond as Madam. “I’m a reporter,” I wrote to him a second time. “Would you be willing to answer a few questions?”

“I haven’t got a profession yet,” replied Marek, “because I’m only seventeen. I’m planning to start my own company when I finish trade school. I wanted to find out if I have a flair for this sort of thing, to see if I could get a sponsor. I’m very pleased with the result, though I haven’t taken up the offers I’ve been sent. I felt really dumb having to refuse the firm N., which immediately wanted to hire me.”


“Sex-man,” a patented device for improving your sex life, Konstancin . . .

Engineer Longin Skawiński (age 70, lemon-yellow checked jacket), makes people happy. He has patented a “device for men in ill-health who are having trouble with their sexual potency.” The device is purple in color (patent number WTO-01/90.)

The engineer likes wine, women, and literature. His wife and sister are doctors, and his late father went to medical school in Baku, in the days of the tsar. Just after the war, Skawiński shared a kitchen with a couple: he had come back from Auschwitz “physically unresponsive to his wife” who loved him very much. Now and then he would ask a friend to stand in for him. While this was happening, his wife would place a book in the window, and he would take the dog for a walk. He could only come home once the book was no longer in the window. “It was a great love and a huge sacrifice,” says the engineer. “I couldn’t bear to see it, I felt extremely sorry for him.”

The engineer is a believer. One time he received a letter from Denmark expressing deep resentment toward God; the author of the letter wrote that his marriage had fallen apart; the emotion was there, but consummation matters too. So Skawiński wants to help people, to stop them from being so quick to blame God.

He works alone in a quiet workshop and has no successor to take over; his product is in such demand that he could employ another ten people to make them, but then he’d have higher profits, and would have to come out of retirement, which he has no desire to do.

Each year he makes an average of 500 couples happy.

We’re sitting in Longin’s apartment in front of a pile of letters; above us hang the Mona Lisa and the Virgin Mary, as we read a thank-you note from an army man: “At the critical moment I was having immense problems, my partner kept losing her temper, and all our pleasure kept turning into quarrelling. You have helped us very much, I’d like to say thank you, and to order some new models.” A second letter contains a request from the countryside: “My husband and I have both been seriously ill, and he has been left impotent. Yet perhaps by this means we’ll still be able to have some wonderful experiences. We’re looking forward to receiving our intimate parcel.”


I will send you the Gospel of Saint John. 06-500 Mława, . . . 

On the cover of the Gospel there’s a meadow. It’s not clear who has sent it. It comes free of charge.

translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones