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