Black Flags And Bribery: A Tale Of Hungarian Pirates

A black flag outside of my school. Pirates? (click to see larger)Sorry, I can’t live with myself if I start telling lies.  This isn’t a story about pirates.  Well, it might be about pirates, but it’s just a guess.

With such a confusing introduction, I’ll jump right into the pirate part of the story.  There were three flags flying on the front of my school last week, but only two of them are normal.  First there was the Hungarian flag (obviously), second there was the European Union flag (makes sense), and third there was a plain, black flag (giant question mark).

Since the black flag didn’t contain a skull and crossbones, I assumed that the school hadn’t been taken over by pirates and I could enter.  Although, I thought about putting on an eye-patch as a disguise, you know, just in case.

I saw these on a few other buildings (both here in Békéscsaba and in Budapest), but I never got a chance to ask what they were for.  If I had to guess, I would say it has something to do with the famous (in a bad way) Treaty of Trianon.  These mysterious flags appeared right after the anniversary of that, and black is usually associated with mourning.

Actually, I only assume that black is the mourning color for Hungarians.  Black is the color that my culture always wears to funerals, but we also write our names and dates in different orders.  With this logic, Hungarians might wear bright pink clothes to a burial.  I better find out about this before someone I know dies.  That would be awkward.

A black flag in Budapest. (click to see larger)Now that I’ve talked about death for an appropriate amount of time, let’s move on to bribery.  Last week was two things:  the last week of school, and Teachers Day.  I think I’ve mentioned before that Hungarians have Mother’s Day, Children’s Day, and Teacher’s Day.  A troubling fact is that there’s no Father’s Day.  I spent my childhood wondering why my parents were each given a special day, but I didn’t get anything.  Now I’m too old to appreciate the Children’s Day that the Hungarians have.  Someday I’ll probably be a father (not too soon), and I’ll have to leave Hungary.  I want my own day – I’ve waited my whole life for it.

Anyway, I think Mother’s Day is meant to spoil the mothers, Children’s Day is meant to spoil the children, and Teacher’s Day is meant to bribe the teachers.  Why else would the teachers get their special day during the last week of school?  I witnessed it over and over again, a teacher was sitting there pondering what grade to give to a student, and suddenly that particular student would appear with flowers and chocolate.  Really, everyone wins.

My flowers from Teacher's Day. (click to see larger)As usual, I wasn’t warned.  I slipped out of the school for a late breakfast, and came back in when the hallways were empty because it was the middle of a lesson.  One of my students was waiting outside of the teacher’s room, and she became very excited at my arrival.  “Alex, today is… um… Teacher’s Day, so this is for you.”

I stared at the flower in my hand and realized two things:  1. She had never said “Teacher’s Day” in English, that’s why she stumbled, and 2. I didn’t think I’d ever been given a flower so I wasn’t sure what to do with it.

The day progressed from here.  The drama club gave a performance in the teacher’s room and a bunch of students passed out more flowers.  Chocolate was also a popular gift, and it was constantly appearing.  By the afternoon, I had three flowers and a few boxes of chocolate.

At one point, I came back to my desk and found my flowers in an old pickle jar full of water.  Many of the teachers treat me like they’re my mother, and this was no exception.  “I put your flowers in water for you.”  “Oh, thank you, I didn’t know I’d get them so I didn’t bring anything to put them in.”

It didn’t end here.  The gifts kept coming the rest of the week, and I ended up with chocolate, flowers, coffee, and other great things.  I was caught off guard with it all, so I hope the students realized I was very appreciative.  Their grades probably reflect that, but, um, good grades had nothing to do with good presents.

I don't want to brag, so I'll only show you two of my boxes of chocolates. (click to see larger)In the end, I think the black flag might have been for pirates.  The teacher’s room sure looked like  a pirate lair with all of the gifts scattered around.  All we need is a parrot…


Hungarian word of the day:


Pronounced FEH – keh –the.  This word means “black”.  I was afraid to ask someone for the word “bribe”, I didn’t want to give the wrong idea.