The leaflet plague

Ah, September. Season of mellow fruitfulness, misty mornings, and fistfuls of glossy leaflets. Kids are back at the chalkface and private language schools are scrambling to snare all those eager young brains and parental wallets with visions of Big Ben and Times Square. The prime weapon in this battle is the leaflet. “Your child must learn English. Then she can travel to London and become a dope fiend.”

Most of the world’s printing facilities spend the summer churning out leaflets to be distributed on the streets of Krakow. Either that or there are ranks of secret printing presses located in caverns beneath the Tatras, possibly staffed by trolls. For the first three weeks of September it’s impossible to walk down any Krakow street without acquiring at least a dozen of the damn things. It doesn’t matter if you refuse, the leaflet-handing-out people stuff them into your pockets or down the back of your shirt when you’re not looking. They are so good at this that the other day I found one in the lining of a tie I haven’t worn since 1974. An uncle in England phoned me up to see if I knew anything about an invitation to join the Megaglot School of Foreigners’ Languages and how it might have ended up in his lucky underpants.


Just some of the futile leaflets pressed into my sweaty palms by the people of Krakow in the past week

Leaflet avoidance is skill that any self-respecting Krakowian must master. It’s a simple matter of survival. Last year a friend of mine vowed to take every leaflet proffered to him and use them to leverage himself into the paper recycling business. I last saw him pale, sweating, and with every item of clothing stuffed to bursting with glossy print staggering towards a number 8 tram. He didn’t make it. Horrible sight.

Here are the top five leaflet avoidance techniques as tried and tested on the corner of Długa and Basztowa, Plac Szczepanska, and the hell that is “Leaflet Alley” along Starowislna.

1. The Blind Man

Just pretending you haven’t seen the leaflet guy or have suddenly become fascinated by an ad for slimming berries on the other side of the street is unlikely to work. Opaque glasses and white stick might just do it. No point wasting quality printing on a blind man, right? Not until they invent Braille leaflets anyway.

2. The Pass-On

Just because you’ve accidentally taken a leaflet doesn’t mean you have to keep it. Immediately proffer the offending article to your wife / girlfriend or a complete stranger. Done quickly and with an earnest expression that says: “Hey, I really think you might be interested in this,” it can be a surprisingly effective technique. Look out for the Reverse Pass-On, it’s a killer.

3. The False Flag

The only people who don’t get hassled by leaflet guys are other leaflet guys. Looking like a leaflet guy is not hard. Just wear your normal clothes but with the addition of an absurdly bright orange baseball cap or vest and an expression that says: “I have reached bottom.” Carry a stack of leaflets around with you, not a difficult thing to come by if you look in a few bins. Jerzy Sczybik, the legendary leaflet dodger of Prądnik Czerwony, spent six days in September 1997 disguised as leaflet guy before he was found out and beaten to death, but those were six days of bliss.

4. The Mormon

Another disguise-based dodge. Nothing is more feared on the streets of Krakow than the Mormon canvaser. Walking up to a Pole and saying: “Can I talk to you about Jesus” is right up there with trying to learn Polish on the scale of absurd things to do. A Mormon tried this with my mother-in-law and she was so stunned she fell over and broke her arm—absolutely true story. To be truly convincing this has to be done in pairs and there is a severe risk of meeting other Mormons.

5. The Reverse

It’s all about give and take. Carry a supply of some innocuous object with you and insist that leaflet guys take one before you will accept their offerings. Sweets, innocent-looking blue placebos, and tissues are good. I’ve provided a handy leaflet template below that could also be used. Sometimes they become aware of their own existential absurdity and simply explode. Wear wipe-down clothing just in case.


Cut this out from the Internet with a sharp pair of scissors and hand it to a random stranger on the street

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52 thoughts on “The leaflet plague

  1. Stephen Hawke says:

    Oh come on, as if in London you don’t get bombarded with 50.000 leaflets daily littered all over the building vestibule inviting you to dine at such fine establishments as Tandoori Palace, Tandoori Kitchen, Tandoori Kitchen Palace, Palace of Tandoori Chicken, Sum Yung Gai Chinese Take Away, Ahmed’s Original Kebab where you can’t get a proper tahini sauce to save your live and a plethora of sub par Pizza delivery places – and that’s just the food joints.

    Shall I continue?

  2. island1 says:

    Mmmmmm Tandoori.

    Hang on a minute. I wasn’t comparing Krakow to London! I didn’t even mention London. Why does this keep happening to me?

  3. Stephen Hawke says:

    Speaking of which, any good Indian restaurants in Wawa?

  4. Stephen Hawke says:

    Oh yeah, and i forgot to mention, I’ve spent the better part of 3 hours on here. Amazing blog! Keep it up!

  5. guest says:

    Stephen Hawking still alive ?

  6. Stephen Hawke says:

    you’d be surprised, I get that a lot.

  7. Pawel says:

    OMG I love the photo! Why am I not the black guy?:) I know I don’t post often but that’s no excuse;)

  8. Scatts says:

    There are two that are okay. Not quite the same as UK but good enough depending on which chef is in charge on the day.

  9. Scatts says:

    You mean that’s not you? I really must get these glasses changed.

  10. Pawel says:

    where are these? i want to know:)

  11. adthelad says:

    island – I see you’ve gone for the executive look this autumn. And what is that buldge at the top of you’re shirt? We’re not looking at a victim of the last cosmetic surgery leafleting campaign are we? ‘Get ’em out for the boys’ – oops – did I say that out loud?

  12. Kocureq says:

    Arti near Zawiszy square, and the cheaper but in a bit worse location Mandala at Emilii Plater 9/11. Both have delicious food and good service.

  13. island1 says:

    a) There wasn’t a publicly available photo of you,
    b) Look what happened to Microsoft when they photoshoped the black guy; I wanted to give him his moment of fame.

  14. island1 says:

    How enigmatic of you.
    The Thai by the Barbikan in the Old Town is good, can’t remember its name.

  15. island1 says:

    Really. I assumed you would never have heard that one before :)

  16. Jorge Sousa says:

    Mormons are everywhere, They are in Portugal too. Once they knocked the door. Well, I opened when i saw 2 young girls (normal look). But as soon i open the door i recognized immediatly their cloths …
    I interrupted their conversation about “jesus as indian”, to ask from where they are (Ohio, US), and how they learn portuguese? (training in US)? what they do about they working/studies while they are preaching. They seem brainwashed for me. At the end they give their book, which i putted in good use when i offered to kids searching for paper for recycling.

    Once i talk with one in Łódź (live here). But she only wanted to know from where i’am, because she was not able to communicate.

  17. guest says:

    And now let’s all feel sorry for Jorge Sousa. Poor chap has to live in Lodz.

    one, two, three….ohhhhhhhhhhhnoooooo

  18. aika says:

    In Warsaw the Mormons mainly advertise their free English courses. Serving local society – part of their missionary work.

  19. Malaysian says:

    The only time I kept those leaflets when I was in Krakow was when they featured Polish girls…. hehe

    And I still keep so many of the business card-sized ads for clubs and restaurants in Krakow as bookmarks!

    Cheers from Kuala Lumpur!

  20. Ania says:

    Ha – self-damnating! How modest, oh English Teachers!

  21. Scatts says:

    Looking at the photo again, Paweł, there’s always the possibility that you’re under the table. :)

  22. Steven says:

    Funny you should bring this up. I just had the printer print up my yearly 250 leaflets to send to Architects all over Poland. But at least I always mail mine so people can toss them away in private without being rude. I have no idea why I always choose September to do this.. just a habit.

  23. Steven says:

    Yes there is an EU petition to have them all deported back to Utah. I am sure I have that link for you some place. I will find it and get back to you, this problem must stop. They are learning languages and invading everywhere. Non smoking non drinking people passing out books ….where does it end?

  24. Steven says:

    Pawel that is you in the Photo ? OMG U R A Q T……If I was not such a straighty I would be hitting on you like a pińata on my birthday.

  25. kuba says:

    Mormons are required to do two years trying to evangelize non-mormons. Every hotel/motel, well most, in the US have a bible from them in a dresser drawer.

  26. Michal says:

    If you see any offering free Polish classes tell them that I will take them up on that offer! :-)

  27. Michal says:

    Walking up to a Pole and saying: “Can I talk to you about Jesus” is right up there with trying to learn Polish on the scale of absurd things to do.

    This is true! Really funny thing to do even if you don’t want to learn Polish! Try it.

  28. Scatts says:

    This is a classic!

    He said “The trouble with Poles is they walk in groups of four on the pavement, so you fall in the road trying to get round them.”

    I said, “I’m sure just as many English people walk in groups of four on the pavement.”

    He said, “Yes, but at least they do it in a language I can understand.”


  29. island1 says:

    Who are you calling an English teacher! I assume you pick apples on the islands :)

  30. island1 says:

    So Malaysian, why does your neighboring country of Indonesia have an upside down Polish flag? I have a theory that Indonesia is, in fact, the anti-Poland. Any information to back this up?

  31. Ania says:

    Last time we took the bus to the pub there were two guys pissed off their heads, one Scott and one Irishman, yelling at one another: ‘you’re a foreigner!!!’

    bliss… I still can’t tame the internal chuckle.

    (we took the bus because even we Poles sometimes think better of driving drunk ;) )

  32. Ania says:

    odmień ‘jabłko’!!! :]

  33. Pawel says:

    It’s not a bible from Mormons. There is a custom in Anglo-Saxon countries to have bible in hotel rooms.

  34. Pawel says:

    More people believing in fairies and spitits can’t be good can it? EU should have religion banned ;)

  35. Pawel says:

    That is Jamie, he’ll be happy to hear:)

  36. news says:

    This is actually a satirical article. The author is actually deploring the anti immigration position of the tabloids. It is the Independent after all.

  37. Malaysian says:

    I don’t know man.

    But I guess the same reason why Holland has an upside down French flag. hehe:)

  38. Malaysian says:

    Imagine if there was an Englishman in the group…guess what would he say ?

    “Guys, I’m a foreigner”


  39. Malaysian says:

    A quick read-up on Wikipedia on Polish and Indonesian flag will tell you this :

    1. Adoption of Polish flag in year 1919 (white and red adopted as national colors of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1831)

    2. Adoption of Indonesian flag in year 1945 (white and red based on flag of 13th century south-east Asia’s big bro empire, Majapahit)

    3. I think Indonesian flag could have been the Polish flag today if not because of Poland’s earlier adoption.

    And one thing worth knowing is that the Indonesian flag is exactly similar to the Monacan flag (adopted in 1881).

    Sooo, the question is…..
    (I think the Poles here will be thrilled)

    In 1945, why did the Indonesians chose this orientation of white and red, which made it’s flag similar to Monacan flag, and not the other way round, which would have made it’s flag similar to the Polish flag ?

  40. guest says:

    Here s the reason Island :D

    h ttp://

  41. MaterialGirl says:

    Paweł, yes you are on the photo! You are black, because S and I1 wanted to show you your place in the raw!
    BTW. They like (as a nation, when they are angry on you as a member from the other nation, or when you just don’t want to give them your ass) say that Slavian came from Slave!
    Nice afternoon to you!

  42. Steven says:

    Not sure what you mean, I speak Polish very well, I found learning Spanish more difficult really.

  43. guest says:

    Mrs Thatcher knew full well that her remarks would cause a row if revealed. She was already courting controversy — especially among Solidarity supporters in Poland and the West — by telling Mr Gorbachev that she was “deeply impressed” by the courage and patriotism of General Wojciech Jaruzelski, the Polish Communist leader.

    h ttp://

  44. Raúl M. says:

    It seems that Kraków is similar to Lublin in this aspect. When I was studying there I was “assaulted” everyday by those evil leaflet-handers. It was quite a “violent” advertising technique for me (that I’ve never seen in my homeland, Spain).

  45. Pola says:

    Who the hell was Szczybik?

  46. Personally I’d propose a law granting the public ciizen’s arrest powers on leaflets handouters! The only thing they would be obliged to do however is lead the arresting civilian to the culprit who put these ‘ulotki’ in their paws and paid them dirt to create more dirt on the streets. Minimum ‘mandat’ if perpetrators were found guilty would be a life time working in the Amazonian rainforest in reforestation schemes.

    Is there a such a thing as a litter cop in Poland?

  47. Not too much leaflet here in Ukraine, and when someone stop us and give them we either store them up for toilet paper, or boil them with carrot any our old shoes, makes the tasty Ukrainian soup, but shush, need keep the receipe the secret ;-)


    Marina – Ukraine.

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