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France’s new media star? The Polish plumber

A new ad campaign aims to lure tourists to Poland by spoofing French fears about a mythical Polish plumber who would move to France and steal jobs.
A campaign poster from the Polish Tourist Office in France shows a handsome plumber to promote Poland as a holiday destination.Sipa Press / Sipa Press
/ Source: The Associated Press

Live in France? Got leaky pipes? The Polish plumber — muscled, square jawed and downright handsome — won’t be there to help.

But with his wrench at the ready, the man who came to symbolize cheap labor in France traveled to Paris on Tuesday to prove he is harmless — and to welcome the French to Poland.

It’s all part of an ad campaign that aims to lure tourists to Poland by spoofing French fears about a mythical Polish plumber who would move to France and steal jobs. That symbol loomed large in the defeat of the EU constitution in France’s May 29 referendum, a vote that hobbled the 25-member bloc and left its future uncertain.

The plumber the Polish National Tourism Office presented Tuesday at a press conference was actually model Piotr Adamski, a reserved 21-year-old dressed in blue overalls and gripping a wrench.

“We present in flesh and blood Mr. Adamski, our plumber,” said Bartlomiej Walas, director of the Polish National Tourism Office in Paris, as cameras clicked.

The Polish campaign started two weeks ago when the tourism office ensconced the “plumber” in an ad posted on its Web site. It shows Adamski smiling seductively in T-shirt and overalls, pipes and wrench in hand, beckoning travelers to Poland.

“I’m staying in Poland. Come,” the ad reads.

Within a week, it drew thousands of e-mail responses praising the ad — and apologies by those who felt shamed by their country’s knee-jerk reaction to Polish plumbers, tourism officials said.

'My head is spinning'
A visibly shy Adamski looked less assured among a panel of Polish and French officials than as the plumber in the Internet ad.

“I was at first very surprised by all of this,” Adamski said through a translator. “My head is spinning.”

The publicity campaign was “a humoristic wink to get people to visit Poland, but also a political wink at the Polish plumber ... who stands for the xenophobic feeling” that became evident during France’s referendum campaign, said Pierre Lequiller, head of the French parliament’s delegation to the European Union.

He denounced the image of the Polish plumber as “very unwelcome and very aggressive toward Poland, our friend.”

For weeks, fears of the Polish plumber fed the referendum campaign in France ahead of the vote on whether to accept the EU constitution. Voters expressed fears that rich western Europe would be overrun with immigrants from the 10 nations that joined the EU in 2004 — mostly former Soviet satellites in eastern Europe, like Poland.

Even Poland’s president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, was forced to pointedly refute fears over the plumber at a May news conference following a summit with French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Response exceeds expectations
The response to the publicity campaign “went beyond all our hopes,” said Andrzej Kozlowski, president of the Polish Tourism Organization. “It has echoed around the world.”

The ad was the brainchild of Kozlowski and his colleague Krzysztof Turowski.

“I came home one night to my home in a Warsaw suburb and heard talk of the Polish plumber on the radio,” Kozlowski explained. “I had the idea that this criticism of Poland could be converted into a positive image of Poland.”

Even Lech Walesa, the electrician who became Poland’s president after founding the Solidarity union, provided advice for Adamski before his Paris trip, telling him to ask the French “why the devil they encouraged Poles years ago to build capitalism since as we see now they themselves are communists?”

“It’s extraordinary, this welcome for a plumber!” commented Lequiller, adding that “humor will triumph over stupidities.”