Excluding the few (then) foreign brands at the stores, I had never heard of or seen any of these product brands before. It was all so exciting. Morning Fresh, Bakoma, Blend-a-med, Żywiec, Wedel, Vizir. Which ones to choose?
Of course, when I could find a brand that I knew, I usually chose that one over the others. I remember trying to buy Colgate toothpaste in the small town where I was teaching. I was a regular (a regular pain , I think) at the shops near my “home away from home” at PZU. The ladies at the store knew that I couldn’t speak the language and did their best to accommodate me. I did my best to accommodate them by not doing my shopping during rush hour thus blocking the whole line and driving impatient customers to the competitor. Through a series of pointing and nodding and later speaking, pointing and nodding, I was able to get what I needed, more or less. That was not the case with my Colgate toothpaste. I had learned how to say toothpaste - pasta do zębów - and now I just needed to add the brand, Colgate. I tried and it didn’t get me anything. The shop assistant asked me ,“Która?” (which one). I replied, “Colgate”. “Która?” she asked again. I tried a new tactic and said, “Tsoul-gat-eh” a Polish phonetic pronunciation of the letters which make up the word Colgate. Bingo! I got my toothpaste, paid my money, proudly exited the store and realized I had forgotten to buy toilet paper which I was out of thanks to sharing my bathroom with all the folks of PZU.
Drink a lot tea(usually mine) = make a lot of visits to the loo = use a lot of toilet paper (also mine).
Speaking of toilet paper, I had found my new favorite in Poland and I always bought the same one back then. It was yellow with butterflies on it. I don’t know what brand it was because it was sold by the individual roll (unwrapped), but I remember that it was more than 3 times more expensive than the cheapest roll. The cheapest roll resembled party streamers and was an unhealthy gray color. The gray TP also had that kind of stretchy quality that party streamers have. One of my students informed me, “We know what kind of toilet you buy. The most expensive one with… (pause for a consult with the dictionary) …butterflies on it.” What could I say to that?
Over the year, I grew fond of Polish mustard, Polish sweets by Wedel back when Wedel was still owned by Wedel, Polish yogurt, Polish pickles…Wait, about the pickles. I thought that Krakus brand “Polish” pickles were the be-all and end-all of pickles until I discovered ogórki kiszone which are well kiszone and so good.
When I had to buy washing powder, I became a true marketing victim. I was influenced by the overwhelming marketing campaign of Dosia. Dosia will get your clothes the cleanest whilst leaving a bit of change in your pocket. Not an exactly untrue claim, but I quickly changed to Vizir. Dosia was cheap, that is true and your clothes were clean, so clean that they were damaged. No thanks Dosia. You won’t get me again.
PS Later when I worked for an American company, we used to get updates from the American Embassy in Warsaw. These updates included data about crime in Poland, new tax regulations, things we should look out for and the most important one-the introduction of American products onto the Polish market. I remember one report which warned about a popular (as was reported by the American Embassy) Polish brand children’s toothpaste which not only contained no fluoride but also contained sugar. Cool for kids, not so cool for their teeth.
PS2 I also remember an advertising campaign for milk, I think it was Łaciate that was a kind of lottery. You won if you opened your milk carton and found water instead of milk. Gotta say, I’d be pretty P.O.-ed if I was preparing my kids kasza manna (Cream of Wheat) in the morning with the last carton of milk only to discover that it was water.