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Saturday
Jul052014

Fourth 4th Of July

Time doesn’t fly when you’re hungry, but it does when you’re in Hungary!  It’s been a while since I’ve (publicly) made one of those jokes, so I thought it was about time I do it.  Feel free to laugh and tell your friends.

The reason I’m thinking about time flying by is that it just hit me that this is the fourth summer I’ve been in Hungary.  It takes noteworthy occasions to point this out, and for me, that was the 4th of July (aka Independence Day in the USA).

Four.  Four summers.  Four periods of unrelenting heat with virtually no ice cubes.  And that doesn’t even count my initial arrival in August, so really it’s more like five.  Most people spend summers in countries with beaches or nice climates.  Well, most people aren’t very creative.

Anyway, I wanted to talk about July 4th.  It’s weird spending your big national day in the borders of another country.  The internet allows you to see in real time that your friends are holding flags, sitting at baseball games, and doing other patriotic acts.  Yet, the people walking down the street next to you seem completely oblivious.

To make it worse, the World Cup is going on.  I grew accustomed to seeing American flags waving on this particular day, but this year it was mostly the three horizontal German colors waving around.  Maybe it’s a geographical location issue, but out of the four important games yesterday, I’d give the Cup to Germany and second place to Brazil based on fans wearing their support.  Maybe the French are boycotting Budapest because of its lack of croissants.  And what is Colombia’s excuse?

But, soccer wasn’t on my menu yesterday.  Actually, my menu seemed to be set with a single option that wasn’t very tasty:  my MBA thesis.  With the deadline approaching, it seems to trump most other social activities.  It’s pretty cool.

In order to spare me from my pain, I’ve been able to escape the distractions and heat of the center of the city in favor of a house in a nice quiet neighborhood in the hills.  The nights are quiet, the air is clean, the wasps are making nests around me, and it seemed almost perfect for July 4th.  But, I forgot my baseball bat, so my options were limited.

In a kind gesture to make me feel at home, it was arranged to have a little Hungarian style American cookout.  The conversation went a little something like this:

“So, in America, what do you do to celebrate this day?” I was asked.

Starting to get excited, I said, “Blow things up, grill hot dogs, and play baseball.”

“OK, we can grill hotdogs…”

Notice how she left out the blowing things up and playing baseball?  That’s what you get for hanging out with women.  They always skip the important stuff.

So, we set up a little charcoal grill.  After some confusing time spent on opposite sides of a language barrier, I finally got it across that I had no idea how to do it because I always used a propane grill.  I was then politely banished from attempting to ruin dinner, and I took the opportunity to get some pictures to capture the moment.

The “hot dogs” were good, and the onions were even better.  Since proper buns are scarce, we improvised with “kifli” or crescent shaped rolls (that, for some reason, are super popular and can be found everywhere).  To add a Hungarian touch, we had to throw on some “szalonna” to give the meal some more taste.  Szalonna, in my part of the world, is called “bacon fat.”  But the Hungarians love it, and I’ve been told I’ll never understand because it’s not in my blood.

So, Happy 4th of July, everyone!

 The delicious dinner!

Hungarian word of the day:

Virsli

This is pronounced “Veer-sh-lee,” and it’s a kind of sausage food.  Wikipedia describes it as Vienna sausage, but I would say it’s the closest thing I can get to hot dogs, but still not quite right.  No problem, though, they made for a great (and delicious) grilling experience.

Monday
Jun302014

Nazis At The Beach

DISCLAMER:  I’d like to make it perfectly clear that I think Hitler sucked.  So, if you’re looking to join a Nazi fan club, I suggest heading back to google and trying your search again.  This article has the intention of making fun of that angry little man.

So, I recently spent some time around Lake Balaton which is frequently referred to as the “Hungarian seaside.”  It seems to have a wide range of things from palaces to tourist traps to wineries, and it all blends together in a strange way.  This keeps you on your toes because you’re never sure whether to feel like an aristocrat or a redneck (or, a Nazi, but keep reading for that…).

Last weekend, I was bumping around the town of Balatonlelle, and it had that feeling that can only be achieved by a town which people visit until they’re too sunburned to remain.  There were a lot of beach town essentials around:  restaurants with greasy food, hairy men wearing nothing but a speedo on a public street, and plenty of junk shops.

We had a brief period of aimlessness between our morning coffee and our artery clogging langos brunch, so we decided to look for souvenirs and have flashbacks to our childhoods in the trinket stores.  Shockingly, the boy in me wanted the bow and arrow while my female companion was much more interested in the elaborate bubble making toys.

Anyway, we stopped at one shop where I was drawn in by a cultural lesson on some “very Hungarian” little clay pots that were suggested as souvenirs for my friends and family back home.  Then we drifted past the matchbox cars, more bubbles, and wandered into the Adolf Hitler section.

I’m not joking, you could by your mini Adolf in whichever outfit you preferred, and he even was locked into his famous saluting pose.  Next to him, for the man who wants to complete the set, was Rommel and some other members of the Nazi All-Star Team.  Charles de Gaulle and other less controversial figures were further down the line, but they obviously weren’t what draw in the customers.

Now, it could be argued that I shouldn’t pass judgment because I don’t know what they’re for.  They were very small, so they weren’t any toy (sorry young Nazi children, you have to look elsewhere for those), and my guess is they are used for creating some kind of historical diorama or something.  Perhaps my friends are boring, but I’ve never been sitting on the beach and heard someone say “I’m heading over to the shop for a Coke and I’m going to check if they have the khaki-uniformed Hitler, do you want anything?”

So, if you know what these are for, I’d be happy if you shared it.  Until then, I’m going to be reading up on beach etiquette out of fear that I’m missing some critical part.

 

Hungarian word of the day:

Balaton

This is slightly different because it’s a name – not just a word.  But, it’s said to be the biggest lake in Central Europe, and it’s a pretty popular summer spot in Hungary.  So, if you need a place to cool off in the summer, or just want to by some mini Nazis, you have found your destination.

Sunday
Jun222014

Driving In The Trees

I haven’t posted anything in a while.  I’m, unfortunately, aware of that.  Finishing my exams, writing my thesis, and searching for a job seemed more important (even if more boring…).

Anyway, I did make it on a cool trip a few weeks ago.  I can say with almost 100% certainty that you don’t know anyone else who has stayed where I did.  I have some nice pictures and interesting stories, and this is picture is a reminder to myself to share them with you.

So, new story, coming soon…

 

Hungarian word of the day:

Fa

It’s pronounced “faw,” and it means tree.  Rarely are Hungarian words this short and easy.

Sunday
Mar162014

BOARDapest

I've seen this building many, many times. How can I see it differently?

If you live in the same city for a while, you start to know it too well.  You have trouble exploring.  After all, how can you find something new when you’ve already found everything?  To make it worse, you know the most efficient way to get everywhere, so you rarely have to try a new way or take a wrong turn.

I don’t know everything about Budapest.  I haven’t been everywhere, and I haven’t seen all there is to see.  Plus, even if I had, things change so there’s always something new to find.  But, I tend to have to go farther and farther away to find areas that I’m not familiar with.  It’s hard to find the motivation to do that when I live and study right in the middle of some really cool neighborhoods.

So, in the spirit of my Innovation class (which only has a small amount of homework – you’ll understand this reference if you keep reading), I decided to innovate my exploring.  I bought a longboard.

 

Isn't it beautiful?

Suddenly, I can go farther at much faster speeds.  I just explored a big park that I’ve been to a bunch of times, but this time I saw more than ever before.  Instead of thinking, “no, that way looks like a long walk to nothing, I’m not going to bother,” I found myself just taking it and finally seeing what was at the other end.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to explore as much as I would like.  The gods of school seem to frown upon fun, and they took this opportunity to send unprecedented lightning bolts of homework.  Also, my body is struggling to keep up with the new muscles needed to travel this way.  It seems they’re slightly different than the “metro riding muscles.”  Shocking.

If anyone knows of places with long, smooth sidewalks or roads, let me know!  I’ll check them out.

 With castles like this around, I decided I needed a helmet to protect my brain!

Hungarian word of the day:

Longboard

I don’t feel the need to translate this for you.  It seems that it’s a new enough concept that the Hungarian language didn’t find it necessary to make a new word.  But, if it makes you feel better, “skateboard” is “gördeszka.”

Monday
Feb172014

Why Hungary?

I can only find elephants in the zoo. So, that can't be the reason I'm in Hungary...I’ve lived in Hungary for nearly four years.  That means that I’ve met a lot of people, and nearly everyone has asked me the same question:

“Why Hungary?”

They want to know why I came to this country.  The world is a big place, and Hungary isn’t particularly well known.  At the moment, it’s not known as being too prosperous or desirable.  A large percentage of Hungarians (especially young people) are moving abroad to find more a better quality of life.  Therefore, it usually comes as a shock to people that this is where I choose to spend my time.

But, I think they’re missing the point entirely.  They always want to know what made me come here in the first place.  Despite the fact that I often try (but rarely succeed) to convince people I only came here because I got lost, the question actually has a simple and boring answer.  I found a job.  It’s that straightforward.

A lot of people are in Hungary because of marriage. So far, I'm safe from that one!

What people should ask is why I have stayed in Hungary.  I originally came with an employment contract of one year.  When I did that, I assumed I would either like teaching and move to another country to continue exploring, or I wouldn’t like it and would go home.  Instead, I moved to the capital city and continued.  One more year of that, and then I switched back to studying without moving to a new land.

So, that’s a much more exciting question.  What do I like about Hungary?  What has kept me here?

This answer isn’t so easy…

There are a lot of reasons that I like Hungary, so I have a new goal to start writing them, one-by-one.

Cool houses, that's one thing I love about Hungary.

Reason #1:  I feel welcome here.

That sounds cheesy.  I guess it is cheesy.  I don’t care.

Hungarians often get a reputation among foreigners as being “mean” or “cold,” but I disagree with that (except if you forget to acknowledge that something was invented by a Magyar).  Most people frown when they walk down the street by themselves.  They don’t make polite conversation to strangers on a bus.  But, that doesn’t mean they’re rude.  Well, some are, but you’re always going to have exceptions (they’re probably just mad they didn’t invent something yet).

I think there are a lot of different historical reasons (that I won’t go into) of why their culture has adopted that practice, but it’s not very different from many other nearby countries.  Plus, Hungarians tend to be very jolly when they’re sitting in a café with friends.  They smile while they chat on trains.  They even have absurdly polite (and confusing) expressions that are often used in their language.

The thing is, I feel like they don’t particularly care for strangers.  But, it’s really not difficult to stop being a stranger.  I’d like to compare them to dogs (keep reading, before you think this is an insult).  I love dogs, and one of the biggest reasons is that a dog treats you very well if you give it a little bit of food and love in return.  Hungarians tend to be the same (except, they commonly greet people by shaking hands, not the other method which dogs prefer…).

Hungarians...

I can’t count how many times I’ve met a Hungarian, and they almost immediately insisted on doing some huge favor for me.  It’s actually more difficult to get them to leave you alone.  “No, it’s okay, I can take care of it myself” is a phrase that seems to have been left out of their English textbooks.

If they decide you’re hungry, they give you food (even if you just ate).  If they decide the place you asked about is far away, they will drive you there right away (even if you don’t really want to go).  If they decide you’re bored, they’ll start talking to you to entertain you (even if, at some point in the discussion, they forget to keep speaking in English).  The list never ends...

It seems that every time I start to feel homesick or out of place, it happens.  A Hungarian pushes their way into my life and immediately includes me in something that’s going on with them.  I could give you a lot of examples, but mind your own business.  Just go make friends with a Hungarian - you’ll see what I mean.

So if you feel unwelcome in Hungary, it’s because you’re not actually talking to anyone.  That’s your fault, not theirs (but as soon as someone realizes it, they’ll start talking to you).

 A castle, maybe that's the trick to welcoming people.

Hungarian word of the day:

Csókolom

This word is pronounced “Cho-ko-lome,” and it’s a polite greeting to say to a lady.  It means something along the lines of “I kiss your hand.”  I told you the Hungarians are polite.  Try saying that to a lady in any other country and the year 2014…