Kolejka English Rules
There is a great game called «Kolejka» from the Polish Institute of National Remembrance. You can read about it on their web site or the English language Wikipedia page. It even won Poland’s “Game of the Year” award in 2012. I found acquiring the game a bit difficult, because I could only find it sold in Poland. Secondly, getting the game’s rules and cards in English is a little tricky, too. I learned to play by reading a scanned version of the English manual at BoardGameGeek. While this is handy if you want to print and then read paper, it’s not very handy if you want to search.
All the individual cards in Polish also need to be translated so that you know what they do. I have also created a printable spreadsheet that you can download and print for reference while playing.
If you want to read the English rules with the pages in order, one page per page, I have also created that version of the PDF. The images were quite large, so the PDF is also quite large (60Mb).
I am very grateful to the Institute for creating this game. I think it is important to actually read the history behind the game to appreciate its value. The game is fun, but we should learn its lessons when we play.
Below, are the English language instructions in a format you can search and scroll.
Teaching and popularizing history has three basic goals: to provide knowledge about the past, to exercise the skill of drawing conclusions, and to cultivate the memory of those who lived before us
means having the necessary information on past events, their causes, and effects.
is a way to control our conduct so as to avoid mistakes made in similar situation in the past.
means committing to memory those who have worked for the generally understood good (of humanity, a nation, or a local community). Such remembrance is a way of expressing gratitude for what they achieved during their lifetime.
In 2009, a team of educators at the Public Education Office of the Institute of National Remembrance started publishing a series of historical board games. Like all educational games, these are designed to teach by entertaining. The games published so far – “Promotion: Become Poland’s Marshall” (“Awans. Zostań Marszałkiem Polski”) “Memory 39” (“Pamięć ‘39”) and “303” – recalled the heroic deeds of Poles during World War II, in order to preserve them.
The Queue board game has a different educational objective. This time we want to familiarize players with the effects of an experiment imposed on Poles by the communists who backed by the Soviets, took over power in Poland 1944. The economic system they introduced in Poland was patterned on the Soviet system. Based on the principle of central planning, this economy was supposed to guarantee greater prosperity than that enjoyed by the citizens of countries with a market economy. Instead, the system proved inefficient and functioned in a permanent crisis. Yet for ideological reasons alone the authorities refused to change it.
Although playing the game is great fun, it is worth remembering that Queue reconstructs a reality which, for the people who lived it, was no fun at all. The hours spent standing in line, the often humiliating attempts to secure indispensable items of everyday use, and the widespread corruption did not make life any easier. We hope that Queue creates a vivid impression of those times and becomes a sort of memento against irresponsible economic policy.
We have attempted to recreate as realistically as possible a life dominated by queuing at the tail-end of the communist era. Needless to say, the plot of the game required certain simplifications and a schematic approach, but we hope these have not distorted the image of the times. We believe that this game, like its predecessors, will meet your approval.
Dr Andrzej Zuwistowski Drector of the Public Education Office Institute of National Remembrance
QUEUE BOARD GAME
Please be aware that upon opening the box
you have entered the 1980s. You now have
entirely different goals and ambitions,
and very down-to-earth desires. Unfortunately,
the fulfillment of those desires is tied up with
the delivery of goods to the neighborhood
stores. The good news is that you do have some
savings tucked away. The bad news, however,
is that due to shortages, the merchandise is
delivered in very limited quantities. Please
do not panic and quietly take your place
in the queue. A delivery is on the way and
there might actually be enough for
establishments only persons with special
rights are served without queuing. Before
embarking on the game, you are advised
to carefully study the instructions below.
Strict observance of rules is crucial when
having fun with family and friends. It is our
unpleasant duty to inform you that the subject
matter at hand may evoke negative emotions
in sensitive individuals. Rare instances
of tears of exasperation, the gnashing of teeth,
as well as manifestations of gratuitous malice
have been observed. The authors take
no responsibility for unwarranted uses
of the game.
NUMBER OF PLAYERS: 2-5
PLAYING TIME: 60 minutes
ELEMENTS OF THE GAME
- GAME BOARD
- DELIVERY TRUCK BOARD
- 30 PAWNS in 6 colors (5 of each color)
- 50 QUEUING CARDS in 5 colors (10 of each color)
- 5 SHOPPING LIST CARDS
- 60 PRODUCT CARDS in 5 colors (12 of each color)
- 15 PRODUCT DELIVERY CARDS in 5 colors (3 of each color)
- 5 PLAYER ASSISTANCE CARDS in 5 colors (1 of each color)
- 1 GAME OPENING MARKER
- 1 MARKET TRADER MARKER
THE AIM OF THE GAME
The aim of each player is to acquire all the items on the shopping list. The first player to acquire all the listed items wins. In order to win, you have to use your queuing cards skillfully.
PREPARING TO PLAY THE GAME
NB: The instructions below explain how to set up the game for 5 players. To set up the game for 4, 3, or 2 players, please read the subsection titled “Variations for a smaller number of players”.
- Wash your hands.
- Place the game board at the center of the table so that it is within easy reach of all the players.
- Place the truck delivery board next to the game board, within easy reach of the oldest player, who will be the Manager.
- Shuffle the product delivery cards and put them face down on the marked field at the center of the board.
- Sort the product cards by color. Put one card of each color on the outdoor market. The order in which you stack these cards will remain unchanged until the end of the game. Put the remaining product cards in the appropriate places on the delivery truck board.
- Put the market trader marker in the outdoor market, in the first field (marked with the letter B).
- Pick the colors of your respective families and distribute the pawns, queuing cards, and player assistance cards among the players. Black is reserved for the speculators.
- Each player shuffles his/her own queuing cards, forms a stack, and draws the top 3 cards.
- Each player draws one shopping list card and places it face up in front of him/her. The player whose list has the highest number gets the game opening marker.
- Clockwise, starting with the player who opens the game, the players take turns placing their pawns, one at a time, in front of the stores of their choice, until all the pawns are lined up. The first pawn in line stands on the field marked with the letter K. The pawns should stand single file, touching one another.
- Once the queues are in place, put a speculator (a black pawn) at the end of each one. You are now ready for the first merchandise delivery.
DAILY SEQUENCE OF ACTIVITIES
The Queue Game is divided into days (rounds);
each day is divided into 6 activities (phases):
- Queuing up
- Merchandise delivery
- Queue jumping
- Opening of the stores
- Exchanging merchandise at the outdoor market
Phase 1. QUEUING UP
(NB: Since in the first round all the pawns are already lined up, pass directly to the merchandise delivery phase.)
Clockwise, starting with the player who opens the game, the players take turns placing their free pawns, one at a time, at the end of a line in front of a store of their choice or outside the outdoor market. When a player has positioned all the free pawns or has no more pawns, once during this phase he/she is allowed to move a single pawn from one queue to the end of another queue or to the outdoor market. Players who choose not to use their turn to take a place in the queue say “pass” and cannot change the positions of their pawns until the end of the phase. Once all the players have positioned their pawns in the queues or said “pass”, the next phase begins.
Phase 2. MERCHANDISE DELIVERY
The Manager takes the top three cards from the delivery card stack and puts them face up on designated spots at the center of the board. According to the information on the delivery cards, the Manager transfers the appropriate quantity of merchandise from the delivery trucks to the stores, as long as supplies last. The merchandise should be displayed in the stores so that the printed names are visible.
Phase 3. QUEUE JUMPING
This phase consists of 3 rounds. At the beginning of the first phase, the player who opens the round chooses one of the queuing cards in his/her hand, puts it face up on the designated spot in the center of the board, and proceeds to carry out the action described on the card. The next player in a clockwise direction plays a queuing card in a similar manner. When all the players have played one card each, the first player opens another round of playing the queuing cards. The following (third) round ends the queuing card phase.
The cards that have been played remain on the board until the end of the fifth round of the game (i.e., until Saturday). Consequently, there may not be enough queuing cards to last the entire five rounds. If a player cannot or does not wish to play a card held in hand, he/she says “pass” and places the the queueing cards face down on the top of his/her stack. NB: having said “pass” the player cannot play his/her queueing cards until the end of the phase. Unused queuing cards can be drawn again during the PCT phase. If all the players have said “pass”, or if all the available cards have been used up, the “queue jumping” phase is over.
Phase 4. OPENING OF THE STORES
When the stores open, the players buy all the available merchandise. Since one pawn can only take one item of merchandise, getting a good place in the queue is crucial. Carrying the merchandise card, the pawn leaves the queue and returns home. At home, each player displays the merchandise cards so that they can easily be counted by the other players. Having collected all the cards of a given type from the shopping list, the player stacks them face down so that the other players can easily see his/her progress in buying merchandise.
If an item of merchandise has been bought by a speculator, it should be displayed on a designated field at the outdoor market (i.e. merchandise from the kiosk should end up on the same field where, preparing for the game, we placed merchandise from the kiosk), while the speculator should be moved to the the store until the next round.
Phase 5. EXCHANGING MERCHANDISE AT THE OUTDOOR MARKET
The players who in the “queuing up” phase lined up their pawns in front of the outdoor market can now exchange any number of purchased items for items available at the market. Merchandise is exchanged at the ratio of 2:1, i.e. any two items from home are left in the market in exchange for one item taken from the market. Items on top of which sits the market trader marker can be purchased at the preferential ratio of 1:1. After shopping at the market, the pawn returns home with the purchased merchandise cards. NB: there is no rationing at the market so one pawn can return from the market with several items of merchandise. If a player does not wish to shop during this phase, he/she says “pass” and the pawn can remain in front of the market until the next round or return home empty-handed. Regardless of the player’s decision, the right to shop passes on to the next player in the queue.
Phase 6. PCT*
At the end of every round, the following activities should be carried out:
- The Manager turns over the discarded merchandise delivery cards and puts them on the waste bin field in the corner of the board.
- The “Closed for stocktaking” cards are moved from the stores to the discarded card pile.
- The market trader marker moves to the next field in the outdoor market. If the market trader was positioned on the last field in the market (marked with the letter R), move on to the activities listed under subheading “Saturday”.
- Each player draws three cards from the top of his/her stack of queuing cards. When the stack runs out, no more cards can be drawn. A maximum of 3 cards can be held in hand at a time.
- The next player in a clockwise direction takes the game opening marker.
*PCT [Polish: TePeZet] A technical term meaning preparatory-closing time measured on the basis of operations necessary for preparing and closing a given operation.
The end of the fifth round signals the end of the working week. The board must be tidied up. The “Manager” appoints assistants. The following activities are carried out on Saturday:
- The waste bin in a corner of the board should be emptied; the cards should be shuffled and put back on the merchandise delivery field,
- The queuing cards discarded in the center of the board should be sorted by color and returned to the players. The queuing cards should be shuffled and stacked, ready for drawing,
- The market trader marker should be placed back on the first field of the outdoor market. You may now move on to point 4. of the PCT phase.
THE END OF THE GAME
The first player to buy or exchange the final item on his/her shopping list wins the game. If two players simultaneously end the game (which may happen if, being first in their respective queues, they simultaneously purchased the final items on their lists) the player with the larger number of surplus items wins the game. If both players have the same number of surplus items, the game ends in a draw.
The game may also come to an end if during a particular round all the stores and the delivery trucks end up empty. In that case, after the last exchange in the open market, the player who lacks the fewest items from the shopping list wins. If the players have the same number of shopping list items and surplus items, announce a draw.
VARIATIONS FOR A SMALLER NUMBER OF PLAYERS
The Queue can be played by 2 to 5 players. The lower the number of players, the less merchandise is delivered to the stores. Information on the available quantities of merchandise is printed on the board.
At the beginning of the game, put back into the box two merchandise cards of each color and all no. 1 delivery cards. In the merchandise delivery phase only place two delivery cards face up.
At the beginning of the game, put three merchandise cards of each color back into the box, together with all no. 3 delivery cards. In addition, when drawing the shopping lists the Manager must make sure that all the drawn cards have adjacent numbers (NB: 5 is adjacent to 1). If you draw a shopping list with a “distant” number, put it back into the box and draw one of the two remaining cards. During the delivery phase, place only two delivery cards face up.
At the beginning of the game, put five merchandise cards of each color back into the box, together with all no. 3 delivery cards. In addition, when drawing the shopping lists the Manager must make sure that both the drawn cards have adjacent numbers (NB: 5 is adjacent to 1). If you draw a shopping list with a “distant” number, draw again. During the delivery phase, place only one delivery card face up. Shuffle the delivery cards on the second Saturday.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
WHICH STORES ARE ADJACENT TO EACH OTHER?
Since the stores stand next to each other in a circle, the electronics and household appliance store is adjacent to the furniture store and the grocery store. The clothing store is adjacent to the furniture store and the kiosk, etc. The fact that certain stores are adjacent to each other is significant when playing the “Delivery error” card and the “Lucky strike” card. It is the player who chooses the adiacent store
CAN YOU PLAY A CARD WHEN THE ACTION IT DESCRIBES CANNOT BE CARRIED OUT?
No, the action described on the card must cause an effect. You cannot play the “Closed for stocktaking” card when a store is empty, nor the “Friend at the Polish United Workers’ Party Provincial Committee” card when the delivery cards stacked face down have run out. Neither can you play the “Criticizing the authorities” card against a pawn standing in the last or second-to-last position in the queue, etc.
CAN THE QUEUING CARDS BE PLAYED AT THE OUTDOOR MARKET?
The queuing cards have no influence at the market. They cannot be used to move merchandise from the market, change a pawn’s position the queue in front of the market, or move a pawn to the queue in front of the market using the “Lucky strike” card.
CAN YOU QUEUE JUMP IN FRONT OF A STORE BEFORE IT GETS A DELIVERY?
Yes, all five cards that change the pawns’ position in the queue (“Community List”, “This was not your place, sir”, “Mother carrying small child”, “Criticizing the authorities”, and “Lucky strike”) can be played in any store even one that is empty or that is closed for stocktaking.
CAN A QUEUING CARD BE PLAYED SO AS TO REVERSE THE ACTION OF A PREVIOUSLY PLAYED CARD?
Yes, e.g. the “Community list” card may be played up to five times in one queue. Similarly, merchandise can be moved from store to store by means of a “Delivery error” card up to five times.
CAN I USE A “LUCKY STRIKE” CARD TO MOVE MY PAWN INTO SECOND PLACE IN THE QUEUE IN WHICH IT IS ALREADY STANDING?
No, this card can only be used to move a pawn to an adjacent queue.
CAN I PLAY AN “INCREASED DELIVERY” CARD AT ANY MOMENT?
No, an “Increased delivery” card can only be played at a store which has had a delivery during the delivery phase of the current round. It cannot be played when a particular kind of merchandise has run out on the delivery truck board.
HOW DOES THE “UNDER-THE-COUNTER MERCHANDISE” CARD WORK?
By using this card you can take your pawn home with the merchandise even during the “Queue jumping” phase. But the card only works when you are first in line and when there is merchandise in the store.
WHICH MERCHANDISE DOES THE SPECULATOR TAKE IF A DELIVERY HAS ENDED UP IN THE STORE AS A RESULT OF A “DELIVERY ERROR”?
First, the speculator always chooses the merchandise that is regularly sold at the store. If all the merchandise ended up at the store as a result of a “Delivery error”, the speculator chooses the item at the top of the stack.
WHEN BUYING ITEMS FROM MY SHOPPING LIST, DOES IT MATTER WHICH PRODUCTS I BUY?
No, to fulfill your task you need to buy any items sold at a specific store. For instance, if your task is to buy two items from the kiosk, you can buy e.g. Przemyslawka cologne or For You soap.
CAN I BARTER with THE OTHER PLAYERS?
The players can only barter merchandise at the outdoor market.
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THE SYMBOLS NEXT TO THE QUEUING CARD TITLES?
Each color has a different symbol to help those who have difficulties distinguishing colors.
CAN YOU PLAY THE “CRITICIZING THE AUTHORITIES” CARD TO MOVE BACK YOUR OWN PAWN?
Yes, you can use the “Criticizing the authorities” card to move back both your own pawns and the speculator.
CAN YOU USE YOUR CARDS TO INTERFERE IN A QUEUE IN WHICH YOU HAVE NO PAWNS?
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THERE IS NO MORE MERCHANDISE ON A DELIVERY TRUCK AND A DELIVERY CANNOT BE MADE?
When merchandise cards of a given type have run out on the delivery trucks, ignore subsequent delivery cards of that type.
CAN ANY NUMBER OF PAWNS LINE UP IN FRONT OF A STORE OR IS THERE A LIMIT?
Any number of pawns can line up in front of a store.
IS A PLAYER ALLOWED TO LOOK THROUGH A STACK OF USED QUEUING CARDS OR DELIVERY CARDS?
WHEN MOVING PAWNS DURING THE “QUEUING UP” PHASE, IS A PLAYER ALLOWED TO MOVE A PAWN TO THE END OF THE SAME QUEUE?
No, a pawn can only be moved to the end of a different queue.
“The Socialist approach to the store”:
A story of queueing in the People’s Republic of Poland
“What would there be if there were no People’s Republic of Poland? - Everything!!!”
For over a decade, this joke exposed the hypocrisy of communist propaganda (which insisted that were it not for the People’s Republic, Poles would be living in poverty). The joke also offered a clear assessment of the consequences of a system imposed on Poland by the Soviets. In the entire 45-year history of People’s Poland there was not a single moment when its citizens (particularly women, for they did most of the shopping) could easily buy everything they needed.
The chronic shortage of supplies was not the result of any deliberate actions directed at the society. No communist government intended to keep Poles poor, for that would clearly be undesirable from the political and strategic perspective. There was one fundamental problem: What should come first- “making the people happy” by raising their standard of living, or expanding the industry, particularly its non-consumer sector? We need to remember that the communist authorities were charged with the ideological work associated with the implementation of Marxist/Leninist slogans and creating a centrally planned economy. Even more importantly, the members of the Soviet Bloc had to build up their military potential in case of a confrontation with the West. This strategy required enormous financial investments which were made at the expense of the consumer sector of the economy. These problems were compounded by a misguided agricultural policy which caused the farmers to lose interest in growing and selling food. Efforts to establish state farms resulted in a spectacular failure followed by an economic catastrophe. Thus ideology took precedence over the good of the citizens. Had this happened in any democratic country, the ruling party would have been eliminated in the next election. But in the People’s Republic this was impossible so Poles were doomed to a life under a system introduced against their will.
Of course the arms race was not limited to the Soviet Bloc countries. Even today the Polish state spends a great deal on modernizing the military equipment. Where, then, lies the difference? A market economy relies on the demand and supply principle according to which the demand for goods is met by enterprises that make a profit through production and trade. Private entrepreneurs seek market niches and try to fill them so as to obtain the highest profit margin. This mechanism did not exist in the People’s Republic. In 1947 the communists waged a so-called war on trade by ousting private entrepreneurs from the market. State-owned stores replaced private ones. What they sold was determined not by demand but by a state administrator. Strict limitations were imposed on the few private businesses that did manage to survive (for instance, by limiting them to a narrow range of products). Theoretically, one could go abroad to buy some of the products that were in short supply, yet this was difficult for three reasons. Like other communists states, People’s Poland did not permit its citizens to travel abroad freely. Every trip abroad meant a long process of applying for a passport. In the first half of the 1950s getting permission to leave the country bordered on the miraculous (for example, in 1954 only 1551 people went abroad, including just 52 people to Western countries). In subsequent years, the restrictions on foreign travel eased off, but throughout the duration of the People’s Republic employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs decided who would be allowed to go abroad. The second problem with buying deficit goods abroad stemmed from the limited access to foreign currencies. Citizens could only buy foreign currencies in banks, in very small amounts. There was the black market, of course, where one could buy foreign currencies. This, however, brings us to the third problem: Polish earnings were incomparably lower than those in the West. If we take into account working time and prices, in the late 1970s meat in Poland cost twice as much as in the capitalist Federal Republic of Germany, shoes cost five times as much, a television set nine times as much, and a car ten times as much. Consequently, a Pole living in the People’s Republic could only rely on local stores in the stores. From the 1970s onwards, Poles could also shop at Pewex stores, but these sold goods in exchange for US dollars (and other Western currencies) accessible only to citizens who had relatives abroad or who bought money on the black market. This led to the absurd situation whereby one could only shop at a Pewex store after committing the crime of illegally acquiring foreign money.
Nonetheless, due to shifts in the policy of certain ruling elites, there were short periods when supplies were more stable (which did not mean that all the consumers’ needs were met). Several times after 1944 Poland’s economic policy went through the following cycle: a pro-consumer stage (when the authorities attempted to win popular support by increasing the supply of consumer goods); a pro-investment stage (when the authorities focused on speeding up industrialization and allowed the material situation of the society to deteriorate); an economic policy correction stage (when the rulers realized that their economic policy might give rise to civil unrest); and finally, a political crisis brought on by the failure of the correction. Such a political crisis would then bring about a change in the ruling elites, whereupon the new leaders would initiate a pro-consumer policy to appease the protesters and win popular support. For a brief moment supplies would increase and the cycle would start over again. This pattern can be used to analyze the economic policies of the Boleslaw Bierut, Wladyslaw Gomólka, and Edward Gierek administrations.
Gierek’s economic policy would prove the most risky. His decision to give workers substantial pay raises was not combined with any other moves to stabilize the economy. The early years of the Gierek decade were a time of relative plenty in the history of People’s Poland (partly as a consequence of foreign bank loans). But more money in a market unable to supply adequate quantities of goods led to inflation. When this happens in a market economy, the prices automatically go up. Meanwhile, the economy of the People’s Republic was still subordinated to an incongruous central distribution system. Since the state was responsible for regulating prices, they did not rise in response to the inflation. Instead, a specific form of stifled or hidden inflation emerged in Poland. With more money at their disposal, the people bought more goods fearing that they would disappear from the stores. The prices, which remained stable, encouraged such spending. This was the beginning of a process that led to a supply crisis. Incomes increased faster than supplies. The queues in front of the stores grew longer and people often bought up whatever was delivered. Although they might not need the merchandise themselves, it could always be bartered for something else, for instance, a carpet for a washing machine or a cake mixer for a bicycle. People queued up not just in front of grocery stores but at practically all retail establishments, even bookstores and gas stations.
Eventually, as a result of the irresponsible policy of the Gierek administration, the retail trade collapsed. It was the average citizens standing in the endless queues who bore the brunt of the economic crash. In the 1980s, the supply of meat and meat products as well as chocolate and chocolate products met only 75 per cent of the demand; there was only enough margarine for 79 per cent of potential buyers; only 80 per cent could buy enough cheese. By the early 1980s, 80 per cent of all consumer goods were in short supply.
Rationing was introduced to solve this problem. Special ration cards were required in addition to money when buying certain products. This was to guarantee a minimal quantity of staple products (particularly food) for all. In practice, even when equipped with ration cards one could not buy what one needed. The most elaborate rationing system existed in the 1980s, though this was not the only period of rationing. Ration cards were also used immediately after World War II (when they were also introduced in Britain). They also briefly reappeared in the 1950s as a method of inducing Poles to take up jobs that guaranteed access to ration cards, for they were only issued by designated employers. The third period of rationing occurred in 1976, when sugar became scarce. After 1981, meat was rationed, followed by alcohol, gas, shoes, candy, chocolate, butter, full-cream milk, soap, cigarettes, diapers, washing powder, grain products, vegetable and animal fats, as well as school notebooks. When the number of ration cards began getting out of hand, the authorities were forced to introduce another kind of voucher: a ration card ration card (an ID card insert for keeping track of the issued ration cards). In addition to the above-mentioned cards, throughout the period of socialist rule in Poland such goods as cars, coal, and cement were purchased on the basis of special vouchers.
Occasionally, ration cards were used to motivate people to go into designated occupations. The poorly mechanized socialist industrial sector relied on high employment. Not surprisingly, then, there was virtually no unemployment. On the contrary, the state enterprises were usually shorthanded. Therefore such workers as miners were issued vouchers that entitled them to shop in stores that were better supplied and inaccessible to people from outside the mining industry.
The supply shortages did not allect all Poles equally, for by opening special stores the authorities made sure that their functionaries would not want. In the 1950s, these were called “stores behind yellow curtains”. These owed their name to the fact that, unlike regular stores whose windows are designed to attract customers, the stores for those in power hid their wares so as not to taunt the average citizen with better quality yet inaccessible goods. While the “stores behind yellow curtains” disappeared in subsequent years, they were replaced by other retail establishments (stores, kiosks, and buffets) located within militia tary bases, and some Polish United Workers’ Party committee buildings. For instance, in June 1976 a buffet of this sort-far better supplied than general-access stores -was discovered by demonstrators in the building of the Radom Polish United Workers’ Party Provincial Committee.
From the mid-1970s onwards, queues (also known as “tails”) became a familiar feature of Polish streets. The very fact that a group of people had gathered around a store entrance signaled that something had been delivered or, as people would say then, “thrown” in the store. At a time of chronic shortages of all goods, it was not surprising to see people first join the queue and only then ask the characteristic questions of the period: “What’s available here?”, “What have they thrown here?”, or “What’s this queue for?” A full selection of goods was never available. Sometimes a delivery surprised everyone, including the store personnel, as when a shoe store received a supply of shampoo, cassette tapes, or engine oil. “Hunting” was another commonly used expression. Instead of buying the products they needed, people “hunted” for them. One could also buy goods “under the counter” or “from the back of the store”, meaning that goods could obtained by circumventing official distribution when one knew the store personnel.
Whole families used to stand in queues, taking turns every few hours. Asking for an hour or two off work to stand in a queue was the norm. When merchandise was delivered to a store, it was usually sold in limited quantities (even when it was not rationed). Consequently, every family member was recruited to stand in the queue, not just adults and retired people but also small children, for every queuer had a chance to buy the limited quantity of a given product.
In time, the institution of the professional queuer developed. Such people would stand in line (sometimes at a fee) on behalf of those whose duties prevented them from queuing up for hours or days at a time. Another kind of professional queuer was a person who bought goods immediately upon delivery, in order to then resell them at a much higher price to people who had not managed to reach the counter in time.
There were also those who would take advantage of a commotion in order to get ahead in the queue. Consequently, as the shortages got worse, the organization of queues was perfected. Queuers’ committees would form spontaneously to maintain order and sign people up on waiting lists. If merchandise deliveries took place every few days, the queuers’ committee set up a system of watches. Those interested in buying a product would have to stand for an assigned period in the queue and report several times a day for a roll call. An absence meant being struck off the list. Of course a queuers’ list did not guarantee that one would eventually get the desired product; sometimes strong elbows and legs were a better argument.
Queues also had an inherent order. Each one was split into at least two “subqueues” - one for those entitled to being served out of turn, the other for everyone else. The former group included the disabled, pregnant women, and mothers with small children. Not surprisingly, then, “borrowing” children or disabled relatives was customary. One could cede one’s place in a queue to someone else, provided that the arrival of the new person in the queue was properly announced to the other queuers.
A complicated system of this sort inevitably breeds abuses. One of the most common involved store personnel who would conceal merchandise in order to resell it at a profit. In an attempt to curb this behavior, the authorities sent out soldiers (Military Operational Groups) and so called social activists (Worker and Peasant Inspectors) to inspect the stores. The inspectors poked around the backs of stores and checked whether the customers in the queue were being served in an orderly tashion. Yet such inspections were ineffectual: speculation flourished. People who had easy access to merchandise (for instance through acquaintances) would resell it unofficially at high prices. Militia operations to track down speculators were a frequent subject of radio and television programs. In the process, typical efforts to operate small business ventures were also eradicated. One telling example is the case of a man who was charged with “speculating” because he had legally bought bread in one town in order to sell it at a small profit in another town — at the request of the local residents.
Through much of the communist era, in an effort to acquire the basic means of existence for themselves and their families, Poles were forced to participate in a peculiar game whose rules were devised by the ideologically motivated authorities. Over time, they became hardened by the game and accustomed to the daily grind. They learned where and when to buy certain goods and who to swap them with in exchange for something else. Acquaintances who had “privileged access” — store personnel, delivery truck drivers, and state functionaries - were highly valued.
The shortages of goods in Poland made many feel frustrated and powerless. At such moments of frustration the one weapon that allowed people to briefly forget the difficulties of everyday life was humor. Some historians even claim that the longer the queues in front of the stores, the more jokes aimed at the communist authorities tended to circulate (a selection is provided below). The jokes (like the one evoked in the title: “What is a queue? The socialist approach to the store”) constituted an apt, if exaggerated, reflection of the reality Poles had to confront every day. Needless to say, they were a form of laughter through tears . The laughter helped people to persevere and made their burden seem lighter, if only for a moment. Most of the time, however, people were in no mood for laughter.
- What is this queue waiting for?
- What are you in line for?
- Old age...
- What will you buy when you get there?
- What will you bring home?
- The stone of despair...
The poem “What Is This Queue Waiting For?” by Ernest Bryll, sung in a slightly revised form by Krystyna Pronko as “The Queuers’ Psalm”, became a major hit in the early 1980s, sometimes likened to Jan Pietrzak’s “Let Poland be Poland” which served as Solidarity’s anthem. Encapsulated in the poem is the bitter truth about the daily experience of the citizens of People’s Poland. We can only hope that henceforth this kind of existence will be confined to textbooks and our board game.
The domestic market in Polish political jokes from the communist era (1944-1989)
The stores in Warsaw are only open two days a week: one day they sell crap, the next day they’re aired.
At the opening of a self-service store, the secretary of the party’s Municipal Committee makes a speech: “This is a great success for our economy. We no longer have to queue up at the counter and wait for the assistant; now we can take our pick of the merchandise on the shelves…”
“And now we can also answer our own question: Not available,” adds a voice from the crowd gathered in front of the store.
Before the war, the signs above the meat shops said Butcher and there was meat inside, while in People’s Poland there are neon signs on the outside saying “Meat” and inside is the butcher.
“How do you say meat in English?”
“Then it’s the same in Polish!”
[a pun on the Polish word “mit” which means “myth” in English]
So as not to evoke unpleasant associations, sugar ration cards were called “merchandise tickets.” Some people got tickets for sugar, others-tickets for dodging the tram fare, and Gierek was called the “ticket office manager.”
“Why is there no meat?”
“Because we’re marching towards socialism so fast that even the cattle can’t keep up.”
At the United Nations forum, Poland is planning to propose the establishment of a meat-free zone in Central Europe.
“Why is there no fish in the stores?”
“To distract people’s attention from the fact that there’s no meat.”
At a meat store: “Half a kilo of ordinary sausage,” says the customer.
“Not available,” answers the assistant.
“Then half a kilo of hot dogs,” says the customer.
“Not available,” answers the assistant.
“What do you have then?”
“What you see.”
The customer looks around the store, sees the Polish national emblem-the white eagle-and says, “Half an eagle, please.”
An elderly woman enters the meat shop. “I’d like some ham please.”
“Then some cured pork shoulder.”
“Not available either.”
“What about ham sausage, pork chops, pork knuckle?”
“Not available. There’s nothing.”
When the elderly woman goes out, one shop assistant says to the other, “Can you believe it? What a good memory she has for such an old woman.”
Why was Poland split up into 49 provinces in 1975? Because that’s how many numbers there are in the national lottery and now they draw one number a week to see which province will get the next meat delivery.
A symptom of memory loss: when you find yourself standing with empty shopping bags in front of a store and cannot tell whether you were going in or coming out.
Nagasaki-the result of military rule in Japan.
Naked hooks [Polish: nagie huki]-the result of military rule in Poland.
The height of tactlessness in Poland: to wish someone bon appétit!
The height of absentmindedness: to enter a Pewex store and ask for asylum.
“If things go on this way,” says the optimist, “we will be eating crap.”
The pessimist replies: “I wonder if there will be enough to go around.”
A squabble in a warsaw tram. A distinguisned-1ooking elderly gentleman bursts out: “You have no idea who I am! I am the manager of a meat store!” A passenger standing nearby turns to his companion and says, “He is a well-known university professor. But lately he has been suffering from a superiority complex.”
What is it: a many-legged creature that is at least 20 meters long and eats meat yet has to make do with potatoes?
The queue in front of the meat store.
“When will they stop rationing gas?” “After the 20th…” " “So soon?” “After the twentieth Polish United Workers’ Party Congress.” (a joke from the mid-1980s, when the 10th Congress was held)
How is a pig different from a… store? Unlike the store, the pig has a lot of meat and a short tail.
“When will we hit the bottom of the crisis in Poland?”
“When they run out of paper for ration cards.”
A foreigner asks a Warsaw resident: “They say there are tails in front of the stores all the time here.”
“All the time?” the resident asks surprised. “No, only when there’s a bit of meat…”
Where will the monument to the Polish Mother stand? In the meat queue.
Aller spending many years in America, a gentleman returns to Poland as an expatriate. Some time later, in the street he runs into a friend who asks him, “How has life in Poland been treating you?” “You know, my friend,” replies the returnee, “In contemporary Poland I have finally recovered the joy of living.” “How can this be?” “Well, in America, when my wife wanted fish-she ate fish. She wanted ham-she ate ham. She wanted silk-she wore silk. She wanted furs-she had furs.
But yesterday, when after two hours of queuing I brought home a piece of lousy sausage-what a joy it was! That is the True Joy of living!”
Source: Andrzej Zawistowski, “Czy mamy juz socjalizm czy bedzie gorzej? Kawaly polityczne na temat gospodarki PRL i warunkow bytowych obywateli Polski Ludowej-prôba antologii.” Gospodarka i spoleczenstwo W czasach PRL-u (1944-1989), Elzbieta Koscik and Tomasz Glowinski, eds., Wroclaw 2007, pp. 531-548.
We wish to thank all those who contributed to the making of this game, and in particular:
for access to the artifacts we photographed, and for photographs of artifacts: Socland Museum of Communism, Spodlady internet store, Okazja used furniture store, as well as Robert Ciupa, Michal Ginter, Tomasz Ginter, Luiza Grzegorzewska, Lucyna and Henryk Madaj, Anna and Krzysztof Mirowski, Rafal Pekata, Danuta and Konstanty Radosz, Agnieszka Rudzinska, Andrzej Zawistowski, and Piotr Zycienski;
for patiently testing the series of prototypes and offering constructive comments on the mechanics of the game: the Monsoon Group testers-Witold Janik, Siawomir Kakietek, Ola Kobylecka, Artur Konefal, Marcin Krupinski, Grzegorz Majewski, Filip Milunski, Jacek Nowak, Lukasz Pogoda, Michal Stajszczak-Many thanks! The game would not have been half as good without you!;
for their interest, support, and generous testing: the management of the Public Education Office - Agnieszka Rudzinska and Lukasz Kaminski, as well as Institute of National Remembrance staff cross Poland, including: Tomasz Ginter, Miroslaw Jabtonski, Dominika Krzykowsku-Iworek, Michal Kurkiewicz, Jan Olaszek, Rafal Pekala, Anna Piekarska, Pawel Rokicki, Anna Sieminska, Konrad Starczewski, as well as Beata and Jan Budzynski, Maria and Jedrzej Gqsiorowski, Agnieszka and Wojciech Karwowski, Agata, Mateusz, and Lukasz Madaj, Danuta and Konstanty Radosz, Joanna and Stawomir Slowik, Tomasz Sulej, Magdalena and Tomasz Wielg, the guests of the 14th Science Picnic organized by the Polish Radio and the Copernicus Science Center, the guests and animators of the Players’ Club at the Institute of National Remembrance “History Stop” Education Center, and the guests of the 4th Polish Diaspora Encounters with Contemporary History
for bravely testing the game instructions: Grzegorz Majchrzak, Marcin Szrama, Norbert Walczak, Norbert Wójtowicz, Maciej Zuczkowski, and the participants of the gry-planszowe.pl forum: artch, FortArt, MichalStajszczak, mn3006, paweln, traxek, WRS and xenotime.
for queuing card’s text revision and product card’s watchwords: Mateusz Wata
… when I first went to
London-on an official visit,
of course - I photographed
sausages, ham, and meat
displayed in store windows.
Later, I would show these
photos to friends explaining
that you really can go into
a store and buy these things,
just like that. These were
Janusz Gajos, actor, “Przeglqd”, 2010, nr 22 (2010)