Communism, or at least the Polish brand of communism, was a centralized system where all decisions were made in Warsaw via Moscow. Maintaining such a monolithic system and ensuring all decisions were carried out as per the wishes of the Communist Party required more bureaucracy than had ever existed before in the history of the human species. As the years went on, bureaucracy piled on top of bureaucracy to grind the country to a standstill, where the only thing able to move was the paperwork, crawling from one office to the next slower than a Polish Fiat 126.
Then in 1989 Poland became a democracy, and everything appeared to have changed. However, as a bad smell lingers in an elevator long after its perpetrator has departed, so too do the habits of communism linger in the minds of those who toiled under it. Unfortunately, habits stay with people for a lifetime, and a country is capable of changing its ideology much faster than it is capable of changing its people. (There are some notable exceptions: in 1917, Russia switched from a monarchist state to a communist state faster than naturally possible by sending every person involved in the monarchy not to the unemployment lines, but to their maker. Mao Zedong did the same thing for China on multiple occasions. Democracy generally employs a softer touch – the one person one vote idea frowns upon the technique of mass extermination for political gain.) Therefore, when a country switches from communism to democracy, or from a monarchy to democracy, or from any system to any other system with minimal bloodshed, the people who stamp the papers under the old system are the same people who stamp the papers under the new system.
To put it simply, the old, inefficient and inexplicable rules of the communist State of Poland are alive and kicking in the democratic Republic of Poland. Here is an example:
I have an American friend who lives in Wroclaw. He has lived in the city for four years. He lives with his Polish girlfriend and together they own an apartment. He still has no permanent residency visa. He may not receive a permanent residency visa until he has been living in the bureaucratic Republic of Poland for at least ten years. All he can get is a three-month temporary visa. Therefore, every three months, he applies to renew his temporary visa. His visa has just expired, and now he must apply to renew it once more. There is, unfortunately, as always, a catch. He has already been in the country for three months and he cannot renew his visa without first leaving the country. How long must he be out of the convoluted Republic of Poland before he is able to renew his three-month temporary visa? Ten seconds is long enough. All he must do is cross the border to another country, buy something from that country and return to the immigration office with the receipt as evidence of his having left the Byzantine Republic of Poland. So last weekend we went to the Czech Republic for a beer run.
The Czechs are proud of their beer, and with good reason. The Czechs make damned fine beer. Beer is to the Czechs what wine is to the French. It is to the Czechs what whisky is to the Scots. It is the drink of choice for any self-respecting Czech and it is available anywhere and everywhere in the Czech Republic. It is not as strong as beers from other countries, but it tastes great, it goes down easy and you never regret drinking a Czech beer.
My American friend planned for us to cross the border, eat lunch, hike in the mountains and return to Wroclaw before dark. My plan was something else. My plan was to cross the border, eat lunch, hike in the mountains, eat dinner, drink large volumes of delicious cold refreshing Czech beer, sleep in a mountain hotel, get up in the morning and hike some more, buy a car-full of Czech beer and return home sometime before Monday morning. We therefore took two cars and we each carried out our own plans.
Both our plans involved step one – eat lunch – which proved more difficult than we imagined. The hotel we had checked into was in the middle of an afternoon rush and would not be able to serve us for two hours. Furthermore, the hotel accepted payment only by cash or by credit or debit card, and only if the number on the card was embossed. My American friend and his Polish girlfriend only had credit or debit cards of the flat variety. None of us had Czech currency. The restaurant beside the hotel did not accept credit or debit cards of either the flat or embossed variety, but it did accept Polish currency, of which we had a small amount. We ate at the Pole-friendly restaurant. Unfortunately for my American friend, the restaurant was unable to issue him with a receipt and after a meal of fish complete with head (though the restaurant had kindly removed the eyes from their sockets), he was still without a receipt. Furthermore, he was now also without cash.
After lunch and the failed attempt to procure a receipt, we walked in the mountains. The walk was beautiful, spectacular, breathtaking and refreshing; it was all the things a walk in the mountains should be. It just was not very funny, so I will not write any more about it.
Back at the hotel, my wife and I launched into the beer at the bar while my American friend and his Polish girlfriend departed to the next town in search of a Czech receipt. We did not hear from them again, but with sore, tired feet and delicious beer in our bellies, we cared little. Several days later we received word that they had successfully obtained a receipt, though the immigration office requires other obscure information my American friend still does not have – his attempt to remain in the desirable Republic of Poland is ongoing.
The next day we awoke very early after a full nine hours’ sleep. There is little to do in the mountains in the evenings except drink – you cannot walk because it is very dark – and if you begin drinking at six o’clock in the evening, you will be in bed early. We drove to another town called Spinderluv Mlyn (translated as ‘Spinner’s Mill’). There are many Czech diacritics above most of the letters in the name, but WordPress fonts do not like non-English languages and refuse to cooperate with them.
Spinderluv Mlyn is the Aspen of the Czech Republic, in as far as the Czech Republic has anything resembling Aspen, which it does not. The town does, however, have many beautiful small hotels with delicious Czech beer and a store with what seemed like an infinite selection of Czech beer. We stocked up on one of each type of beer and returned home to try them. We discovered that the more beer you drink, the more difficult it is to discern a difference between them. I began by telling the difference between the beers that are slightly bitter and the beers that are slightly less bitter. I like the beers that are slightly less bitter, but the difference disappears after the third bottle and they all taste great.
I particularly liked the beer with the green label, while my wife preferred the one with the red label. We forgot to note the names of these beers so we will soon need to make another beer run. I will ask my American friend to let me know when his new visa expires.