A popular Polish comedian, Drozda, visited America in the 80's. When he returned to Poland he shared some of what he had learned about that admired and idealized country and its citizens in his comedy acts. For example, he explained that Americans are very stupid: they go to the store and pay for light bulbs when every single elevator had light bulbs in it!
This is quite hilarious because of how true it is. In Poland most elevators simply didn't have light bulbs in them. If they did, they were encased in a little cage to try to keep people from stealing them.
For the same reason, to this day, in many public bathrooms the toilet paper sits outside the stalls next to the woman you pay for the privilege of using the toilet. You take as much as you think you'll need and the rest stays under the watchful eye of the bathroom lady; because why on earth would they leave it in the stalls where anybody could (and anybody did) just stick it in their coat and walk away? (this restroom set up is much less commonly seen than when we first came to Poland 10 years ago, mostly only in old train and bus stations and farmers' markets etc., and all gas stations have better bathrooms than in American gas stations.)
If you grew up during communism you would have a very different mentality than you do currently. Take what you can get whenever and however you can get it. That may be stretching it a little, but not much.
Greg's parents came to visit a few months ago and brought a nice paper coffee bag. I assumed it had their coffee in it and was surprised when they left it behind. I then found out that it was full of home dried mushrooms they had brought for us (they spend hours every week in the forest in the fall collecting mushrooms in a wicker basket, just as you imagine Europeans would). But there was something about that bag. . .
The writing on it was all in English and seemed so familiar. Then I remembered where I'd seen it before. When my in-laws came to visit us in Provo 12 years ago they did a lot of things I did not understand. One of these was this: when we went shopping they were excited to see a selection of coffee and a grinder where you could choose, grind and bag your own coffee. They ground some and put the bag in the cart and then. . . picked up a stack of the empty paper bags and put them in my mother-in-law's purse.
That was 12 years ago and here sat one of those bags on my window sill. Craziness, I tell you. At the time I was a little shocked. To tell the truth, Greg isn't all that excited about me sharing this story but really, I totally get it now. They were free, right? There was no sign saying not to take them or anything. And they would definitely come in handy, so why not take some? (And come in handy they did, as illustrated above.)
There is nothing embarrassing about it, really. When you spend decades in survival mode you just do things like that. As a matter of fact, it was this same mentality that brought Greg the best blessing he's ever enjoyed.
The independent, hitchhiking 18 year old Greg and his best friend were in Vienna in the city square. There they met two missionaries, one of whom happened to be Polish, who were offering a free book. A free book. For free. Did they want one? Of course they wanted one!! Greg and Kuba gave their contact information so missionaries in Poland could get in touch with them when they returned home, and then the missionaries asked if they had any friends that might want one of these free books, too. Greg couldn't think of anyone who wouldn't want a free book so he gave them the names and numbers of every friend and acquaintance he had on hand.
We all know how that ended. Not only was Greg's life completely transformed, but so was the life of a girl he hardly knew at the time (but had her info with him), who is now the head of the translation team for the church in Poland.
So although the system caused people to put themselves before others and take what wasn't theirs (because they almost had to), it also created a curiosity and well, not greed, certainly, but awareness of what is around to be had that had some amazing effects. What's a few "stolen" paper bags when compared with a life and generations to follow blessed for eternity?