Poland was still communist.

My experience with Poland began in 1987 when I came to Warsaw to visit a friend of mine whom I had met in New York, while the two were students at Hunter College. There was something in the morning I will never forget how I to the train at the central train station in Warsaw that was and still is called "Warszawa Centralna". My friend, a girl from Warsaw whose name I do not disclose told me she would be there waiting for me at the station when the train arrived and true to her word there she was.

My first impressions of Warsaw was not particularly memorable or many for that matter in this city looked like any other, although in many respects, there was a mood of the city that reminds me of Budapest, and one of the city behind the "iron curtain". Warsaw out of the train station I noticed also the trams and cars very small with most of them from a particular model was the "Polski Fiat" (Polish Fiat), I would like to know is the best sale to Poland at that time.

My friend took me to the house she and her parents live in the center of Warsaw, near the train station on a street that was then called "Marchalewskiego" (now "Juan Pablo II"), which introduced me to his mother but not his father, who was still back in the United States. As for his apartment had a room that the rules of Poland was not bad.

I naturally offered to invite my friend and his mother to dinner with me at any restaurant they chose, but he refused, however, as the mother of my friend had cooked a chicken dinner that included simple but tasty wine that should be quitting smoking was expensive for what these people's budget. This is my friend's mother by a single physician who earned twenty dollars a month, of course, that taking into account that the Polish zloty (then the old against the new of today) had an official exchange rate of 100 dollar. However, the Poles were not allowed to buy dollars at this price, so when ever did the exchange rate they got was much higher. So what do Polish people when ever they wanted was for them to obtain dollars in the black market at a speed of 400 zloty against the dollar, which of course was much higher than the official rate of salary making this lady came $ 20 per month, although the official rate of your monthly salary would have been $ 80 a month. Black market purchases of dollars, however, were illegal, after all is what is called a "black market", which means that the Poles could be arrested for trying to buy or sell dollars on the black market, while foreigners were simply deported.

As for me I was required to exchange $ 7 for each day spent in Poland (of course, official rates), and this because I was a student if it were not I would have had to exchange 15 per day. Other things, although rare in Poland at the time. This is a communist country, for example, an overnight stay in a hotel room at a cost of $ 3 Polish citizen per night, while the same service as a foreigner at a cost of 30 USD. One could imagine that even this $ 3 was a lot of money for most of the Poles.

As for the food to my friend, but served in that afternoon that my friend and I had time to go do some shopping we've done in a shop called "Pewex". This is one of a chain of stores selling imported for "hard currency" (which means this money can be exchanged outside their country of origin) and only at surprisingly low prices. For example, I remember a pack of Marlboro cigarettes were half the price than they were in the U.S. and many other things were also cheaper. My friend told me, however, that for many people in Poland, although prices were too high.

Another thing I found odd was that Pewex stores have coupons called "Bony", that one back as change, when ever they had to repay in dollars. For example, if one pays with a ten dollars for something that cost him nine one would turn a dollar bill or piece of paper called a "bone" was really like a coupon for stores Pewex . Some people who bought dollars, which could only buy in the government, which sold at a price much higher than what you bought them, sometimes even bought bone that were a little cheaper because it could only be used Pewex stores.

After getting some things for the meal I paid for my friend and I went to his house, where we saw one of Latin America "telenovella". What I found surprising is not that a Latin American soap opera was being shown on Polish television, but the way he was called to be. In most countries, what happens is that subtitles are used or the voices are dubbed by other actors but here in Poland, was different. Narrator is used much more in the way they do on CNN (when every time someone speaks in a language other than English) to copy the entire program that sometimes is confused as to who was speaking and to difficult to hear what was said because you could still hear the original language, which in this case was the Spanish in the background. This certainly is a method still used today in Poland in relation to television, but not worry about this when you go to the movies, where the subtitles are used.

Over lunch I learned that my friend and I would spend the night traveling to a distant city called "Zakopane" (Buried when translated into the English), which was right on the border between Poland and Czechoslovakia. It was at six o'clock we arrived in Zakopane, where we went to the house had to be that to this day not sure if he owned or run only by a priest who was a very good friend of my friend that if I have not mentioned was a girl. It was in this house that she and eight friends of his (one of them is her boyfriend) had rented two rooms, which had been divided by gender meaning a space for six men (including me now) and another smaller room for ladies with my friend among them were four.

On my first day in Zakopane I remember going to the shop in a small supermarket and was amazed at how little there was on the shelves. Flour, (or what appeared to be), loaves of bread, sugar, butter, milk and other things that very few were all that one could buy. Later he would learn one of the members of this group required that certain documents called "ration cards" for the purchase of certain products such as meat and many other items. I then thought maybe this was just a small town and shopping in Warsaw would be different after all, even in America, what one might find in a small town never more so than one might find in a big city, but later, when in Warsaw the following year on another visit I would find that there was as much or as little that is located in Warsaw, as it was in this small town.

On the lighter side of this issue I remember back to the States after my second stay in Warsaw, and seeing for the first time the number of U.S. supermarkets had to offer. I had never actually stopped to think about the amount and variety of items which were available in the U.S. compared to a Communist country like Poland, which offers little substance. The observation of this difference, for the first time with the little knowledge that other countries in a way I'm still confused as to what to buy, even making me feel lost, because it was so I did not know where to start shopping. It was as if a real life scene that recalls the movie "Moscow on the Hudson" in which Robin Williams becomes hysterical when faced with everything an American supermarket has to offer. I must confess that when I first saw this film, I was of the opinion that some of it was funny, although it is not possible, but after experiencing what I did that day may very well imagine that something like this was possible to believe that if you felt that way. That I am someone who had grown in such abundance and still felt the difference, what would for someone who was seeing for the first time.

During my stay in Zakopane, the food I had with my newly met acquaintances were simple, consisting almost exclusively of cold cuts of ham with bread, butter, some apples and little else. I thought then that these people were eating well because after all we were on vacation and maybe this was what they ate at home where there was more food to cook for their parents, but this was not the case even for food in the house of these people ate were basically the same.

One thing though all this could not have escaped anyone's attention that the girl who was my friend, although I would like to make clear that ours was not and had never been a relationship that includes sexual intimacy of any kind, although this applies more to his friends that was a novelty. Most of them had never been outside Poland and I think that was the first American he had seen in person that made me leave the subject of a look at some. Of course, it was clear to many given my slightly darker complexion than the Polish average person that I was not Polish, but once I learned that I was from the United States did to those who have always found so eager to know as much as I could from that small detail to the most intimate. What I did? What part of the states that was? How much money I have earned? These were the most frequently asked questions, some of which I was not willing to answer, but can tolerate. I still remember how some people, men and women as he could not speak a word of English or any language that could, went to the house I was staying just to watch me, "The American." Somehow all this attention made me feel like a circus attraction or perhaps a fish in a tank.

Naturally, my Polish is now fluid, but in the early days of my knowledge of this language are only two words I had collected in a book on Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, who said that in Poland were the most frequently the words "nie ma", which is roughly translated "do not have any." I at the time of reading this book did not pay much attention to what I read, thinking that everything could be possible, but after a few days in Poland I realized that the answer to everything was "nie ma ".

For example, with respect to what most people did not have, apart from items not easily buy in the shops of mobile era. There was even a list that some had to wait up to 10 years. However, this for me was nothing new since I knew from the time he spent in South America that some people had to wait the same time for a phone, even those with strong financial resources. Referring to Poland phones later found when he moved to Poland in October 1989 and lived there until August 1991 that the lines do not always work. For example, many times it would happen that I pick up the phone and there were signs or I hear a conversation on the line and would have to ask the line for just and contact each other once more. The quality of the services may have been low but so were the prices as a call to the states was much cheaper in those days to make from Poland to the United States after the reverse.

As for the people of Poland, which were relatively friendly and warm to me, perhaps because most of them had never seen an American and I would say that women were attractive, more then in the States but I do not really up to me brand moved to Poland in October 1989. Women in Poland, as well as being more attractive to states tend to put more of an effort to look their best despite having more limited means to do so, not only in terms of money, but the availability of cosmetics and clothing that could get. I even found it odd that most women wore the clothes in the U.S. tend to be used by women of an older age, such as long skirts with socks and blouses mostly a gauze strangely did not look bad. Their was also something about their Slavic ethnic group that gave these women an old fashioned type of beauty as the one I use to describe Gosia (the main character of the New York Opera Society) that made his features face smoother and better then the women I had known Saxon in the United States or other countries like the United Kingdom.

Restaurants during the time of communism, though limited in the variety of foods could be achieved, since very few foreigners were extremely cheap for people like me, who brought money from abroad. I particularly remember one occasion in 1988, which unfortunately does not repeat that saw me get five people (including me) to a three-course dinner in a restaurant rather elegant. As for the food itself was roast duck was had by all over with a soup and dessert and coffee. All that came to a total of $ 12 (a black market prices, although the officer would have been four times that amount) with a good tip included.

Hotels however, were a different matter because hotels anti restaurants forced me to pay in dollars (or any other currency), this eliminates the possibility that I could change my dollars on the black market and then pay for the hotel. There was even a system that has allowed me to pay for a hotel in local currency, but had to have a receipt that verifies that the Zloty I was using to pay the hotel had been purchased legally and not on the black market after the receipt is marked that he had spent some of that money in a hotel for others to know how much money he had left in exchange he had done.

Hotels however, as I said were much cheaper for foreign Poles were for making this the case that some of the guests at the hotels were Poles who still maintain the permanent galleries that mostly commercial. For "commercial purposes" that I have in mind especially when not only the prostitutes who lived in hotel rooms only pay three dollars a night for as long as it took about thirty dollars a night for their services. It is through word of mouth and personal experience that I discovered as a night a lady knocked on my door saying, "sex, money." As this is an offer that he refused to take advantage though this was a pack of cigarettes for their problems.

In October 1989 I moved to Warsaw for a stay that would last almost two years in which to rent an apartment in a street called "Trebacka", which unlike many has not had its name changed. It was during this time in 1990 was to enroll at the University of Warsaw, where I made a special course for foreigners in Poland, which was at least within my budget, as well as any other western what could be considered "very cheap ". Twenty dollars was the price of the course of three months in which the lessons are held daily from Monday to Thursday from 8 am until noon. This was particularly cheap to me that he had taken private lessons in New York Polish costing them $ 20 an hour for each hour of 60 minutes.

As for the course itself was taught by a teacher named Gosia (as the character of "New York Opera Society"), whose English was good enough to be understood by us, and whose teaching students, I that was not bad as your lessons gave me the foundation of what my Polish is until today. For my part, twice registered in their lessons in a time period extending from January 3, 1990 until the first week of June.

Naturally, with this being a very basic Polish course, all students were foreigners like me in a class that includes students from Ireland, Norway, France, Yugoslavia (which is before the separation), the Soviet Union (also before the break), Austria (for some reason unknown to me the German students had there own group), Japan, Italy, Mexico with me and another man who had spent 18 years in Spain are the only Americans in the group. There were many nationalities represented in our class, but none as large as Libya had nine, with four men who share the name of Abdul. Not that I had something personal against the people of Libya, but this was in the days when relations between our two countries were not exactly at his best but all would be well that the Libyans were in my group to stop using ; especially at a time when a classmate of mine defended Libya Gosia is screaming because he could not pronounce the Polish g.

By the start 1990 many things have changed, as I was no longer necessary to change money at official rates of every day that I was in the country, now the official exchange rate had gone to meet the black market, which for then had gone up to $ 10,000 Zloty. By then it was not illegal to sell U.S. dollars or other foreign currency, for the case in private, so it is possible that the currency exchange places called "Kantors" to appear in Poland.

Life had definitely changed in Poland in early 1990, as more things were available in stores, although most people in Poland, this made little difference, as they still could not afford them. I even remember a comment that was made during the World Cup in Italy in 1990 by a television broadcaster that Adidas is sponsoring the World Cup and show their ads before the games, but how many Poles had enough money to get a pair of Adidas ?

As for my time in Poland during 1989, which lasted from October until the end of the year saw an episode of purchase I'll never forget one day I went out and I went to all the stores in search of something known and no matter where I heard the now famous at least for me the lines of "nie ma". At the end of the day, after not having found the luxury item I was looking for a friend called and asked where I could find that was in real need was "toilet paper", to which she told me that this was Warsaw which could not be found. I, of course, but said "some people have it, I have seen people's homes, there must be a way to do it!". My friend, Iwona (whom he first met in New York) laughed at my despair and simply say that people have it, but nobody can buy. The next day, with this in mind I went to a hotel called "Victoria" (at one point the best hotel in the city, where Reagan stayed in 1991) and simply stole two functions of this precious commodity. Not that I did not have the financial means to obtain this issue but could not find what made me fall in crime, although I gave the lady outside the toilet, one pays for this service using a longer than the standard tip.

I do not think I would have had serious legal problems if it had been caught stealing toilet paper, but in those days when what is now called the Police (Police) was called militia was better to have no dealings with them as well. However, I remember one occasion when I was taking pictures of trees next to a militia station (unknowingly at the time) and was asked inside my passport, visa documents and check before was allowed to go about my business with my film even came back to me once asked me right out of the camera. I must say in all this that the militia was gracious to me in your treatment.

During his stay of almost two years of the mine in Poland do not forget to include the fact that I made several trips outside Poland. Two of the United States and one of them to Italy, but it was during a trip to the States that my mother told me that whenever I met a Polish person told them that I was living in Poland, which requested if I was actually living there or maybe just visiting. It was when it was confirmed that these people lived in Poland, Polish, he was asked as politely as these people can manage if there was something "mentally wrong with me?" not even ask my mother if she knew that this was a country where most people wanted to go out and do not move. Even when my sister came to live in Rome from 1989 in 1991 met the then Polish pope "John Paul II," but I asked my sister to a similar question when faced with the fact that he was a American wanted to live in Poland.

Life was very different in Poland in the days of communism; maybe for me it was a newness of life in the country where things were so different from what he had known all my life I wanted to go to Poland in 1989 or maybe it was the fact that one can actually live a life almost luxury with as little as $ 500 a month, which was what had to happen then. This is how much higher the purchasing power of my money was back then or maybe it was the desire to live in Europe and in Poland, its use as a base to travel around which he often did in those days that also included two trips the Soviet Union and other Eastern bloc countries, along with several in the West, but what ever was an époque that in my life I will never forget, and although my daughter is growing in Poland is very different than ever in a strange way to feel sorry for the days ago, when Poland was still communist.