In 1968 my brother and I toured Europe, see my previous posts on that topic here, and one of the ways we paid for the trip was to sell products in the Iron Curtain countries. For example we brought Levis, stockings, sweaters, and Playboy Magazines. My mother told me that Bic pens were very poplar in Poland since the locally made pens leaked and were, to be frank, just crap compared to Western-manufactured products.
A small amount of research informed us that we could pick up the pens rather cheaply at one of their factory outlets in Belgium. We picked up over a thousand Bic pens for less than 4 cents a piece and sold them in Poland for about a buck a pop.
We only had to pick some busy-looking corner in any Polish city, park the car, open the front hood to display our wares and within minutes we were surrounded by eager Polish shoppers. One time we saw a cop coming over and my brother and I thought we were busted. But he only asked if we had Levis in his size. Normally we would sell jeans for 20 or 30 bucks (about 5 times what we paid in the states) but we sold the pair to him for $12. Always important to shmear the local protection!
Hotels in Poland at that time cost about 3 dollars a day, meals were less than a dollar so you can imagine that my brother and I lived quite well for the few weeks we were in Poland. I have no idea what hookers charged since, being young Americans, we needed only merely point at Polish girls to have our way with them.
In most cities we traveled through, we were the only young men driving a car even in large cities such as Warsaw. In 1968, only high-ranking Polish Officials had cars. Despite the fact we were tooling around in a cheap Renault 6, in Polish girls' eyes it was a few hundred thousand dollar Maserati. We were like movie stars.
I recall one time we went to a very popular eating spot in Eastern Poland. The place was packed and the line to get in was formidable. My cousin whispered to me in Polish, "Speak to me in English, a little loudly." I don't recall what I said then, but it was something banal, I'm sure. Within moments, a general murmur arose and undulated along the line.
Then I saw the front of the line banging on the door and saying something to the gatekeeper. Then I saw him summoning us over. People were shoving us forward to the door. When we got there the door opened and we plummeted inside. A maitre de told us to follow him. He went up to a family of four eating at a table and explained that here were four Americans looking for a table to eat. Instantly, the family arose and in the most accommodating manner insisted that we take their seats. They scooped up their plates and ate their meals standing up.
I told my cousin that I didn't understand. Why did these people so readily, so eagerly give up their seats to strangers? She explained that very few American tourists visit Poland and they are star-struck just to see us.
This is how Americans are thought of in the deep heart of hearts of people who have lived under Socialism.
In a related Bic matter, the photo you see above was drawn on a 6 foot by 6 foot canvas with a Bic pen (click on image for larger, NSFW view). The artist is 31-year-old Juan Francisco Casas and you can see more of his work here.
A bit of trivia: BIC was founded in France by Marcel Bich in 1945. Bich dropped the 'h' from the name so as not to have a bitchy sounding name in English.