How Hard Will You Work For A Date?

(More stories from my recent Transylvania trip.  If you missed the other stories you can read them here:  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4)

Trees in Torockó. (Click to see larger)Have you ever complained about a date?  I have.  “Why do I have to pay all this money and the girl just gets to go along.  I have to ask her to go with me, plan it all out, pick her up, pay for everything, and she just rides along and relaxes.”

I found a culture that doesn’t do it this way, and I’m going to tell you about it.

Guys, before you get too excited and start to pack your suitcase, I’ll tell you that it isn’t reversed.  It isn’t a magical place where the exact same protocol from above is followed, only with reversed roles.  Beautiful girls aren’t going to beg you to go out with them and pay for everything when you finally agree.  And yes, they still won’t like you if your first hobby on facebook is “computer games”.

Girls, don’t think you should move to this place either.  It’s not a perfect land where guys won’t constantly pester you to go out with them.  Many still probably want to take you to dinner and talk about playing Halo.

No, this culture isn’t paradise.  It’s actually worse.  That’s why I like it, it makes my life seem easy.

Specifically, I want to talk about something called the “May Tree”.  Is this it’s official name?  No.  That’s some Hungarian word that I (foolishly) never thought to ask.  But it shockingly involves trees and the month of May, so May Tree works perfectly.

On May 1st we were walking through the village of Torockó in Erdély, and I noticed a bunch of giant tree branches leaning against a fence.  Since our tour guide and fearless leader was  a Hungarian lady, we decided to ask her why a Transylvanian fence had a bunch of trees resting on it.

I love the “Oh, you don’t have that in your culture?” moments.  It’s always the little things (like maple syrup or marshmallows) that you would never realize that other people don’t have.  This particular occasion made for an interesting few days where we would get really excited – I mean kid on Christmas morning excited – over something that was pretty boring to our guides.

(Click to see larger)Anyway, here’s the story.  On the night of May 1st (that is to say, the night between April 30th and May 1st), single Hungarian men have a special task.  It varies by town, but essentially they have to go cut down a tree, decorate it, and hide it outside of the house of the girl they have a crush on.  Then, the beautiful girls wake up in the morning and count how many trees they have so they can brag to their friends.  I assume it’s a horrible day of the year to be ugly.

Sometimes it’s just a tree branch (but very big).  Other times they decorate it with ribbons and other colorful things.  One town we went through looked like it was full of Charlie Browns – a lot of fences had decorated, pathetic little trees tied to them.  Maybe the townsfolk aren’t very strong?

Despite my requests to stop the bus at houses with tons of trees outside, we always kept driving.  It was quite disappointing because I really would have liked to introduce myself to those girls.  I assume it takes more than a nice personality to get that many trees.

Now, let me tell you why I think this awesome tradition is miserable for the boys.  Pretend for a minute that you have a crush on a girl.  Picture her in your head, and then imagine having to stay up all night so you can go find a tree for her.  You have to cut it down, maybe decorate it, and drag it into town.  You’ll then go to her house and throw it over the fence, tie it to the fence, or lean it against it.

Sorry for the quality, it was taken out of a car window. (Click to see larger)While you’re doing this, you may happen upon other guys doing the same thing.  They are your competitors, and they’re trying to impress the same girl.  Personally, I would consider increasing my odds by beating them to death with my tree, but I guess that doesn’t happen a lot.

Since you leave no trace that it was you, the girl wakes up in the morning and sees a bunch of trees outside.  “Oh wow,” she thinks, “someone stayed up all night to carry a tree to my house and I don’t even know who it was.  How romantic.”

That sucks.  If I go to all that work, I’m going to write my name in giant neon letters on the tree.

As cool as it is for the girls, it’s not always as great as it sounds.  Not only is there the possible humiliation that comes from waking up without any trees outside, but it can be dangerous.  My tour guide told me a story where a boy tried to use too big of a tree, and it broke the fence.  Then, when everything toppled inside, it went through a window.  I bet he was pretty happy that he didn’t write his name all over it.  I’d be in a lot of trouble with the glowing letters “A L E X” sitting in a kitchen full of broken glass.

It’s a cool tradition.  I don’t understand exactly how or why it works, but I’m pretty used to that.

How we bought our freedom, so to speak. (Click to see larger)We stayed in a hotel the last night we were in Transylvania, and I made sure that a plan was hatched that would get us all home safely.  In a group effort that could only be coordinated by people who had been living together in close quarters, we went outside and ripped off some tree branches.  Then, we split up to distract our guides, other members of our group, and the hotel staff while the branches were smuggled upstairs.  Shopping bags and napkins were torn into thin strips to like ribbons, and they were tied around the branches.  After an awkward amount of time spent on a dark staircase, we got to see two very flattered Hungarian ladies tell us they felt like 16 year old girls again.

Everyone was let through the border the next day, and there were a few decorated tree branches in the back of the bus.  I’ll never complain about the price of a date again.


Hungarian word of the day:


Pronounced May-oosh, and it means “May”.  Months always seem to be similar across languages, I like that.