Communicating With A New Species

If you know me, you know that I can barely speak Hungarian.  I understand a lot, but I mostly only know words (not sentences), so I sound like a child when I speak.  A stupid child - not a cute and funny one.

Christmas lights? I better get out my camera!

Anyway, it was freezing the other night, and I was going to get on the metro at the stop in front of the Opera.  There was a Christmas tree and a nutcracker statue out front, and my camera was in a bag under my arm.  So, I pulled it out and fired off some shots.  This was all easier because of my fingerless gloves that I was wearing.

As I popped down the stairs, I pulled out my metro pass and said “hello” to the ticket inspector in Hungarian.  He had simultaneously greeted me in English, and then he laughed heartily.  His explanation followed, and it was something about thinking I was a tourist because of my camera around my neck.  I smiled and walked away.

But, the ancient metro station of the Metro 1 doesn’t allow you to walk far.  And, having just missed a train, I had to stand and wait.  He saw it as an opportunity, and my headphones didn’t discourage conversation.

He noticed my half-gloves, and pointed at them and told me (in Hungarian) that it was too cold to wear them.  I kind of chuckled and put on a face that I hoped looked manly, but it might just have come off as mentally unbalanced.  Then, I thought our conversation was over.

No.  It wasn’t.

This guy started it all...

Now, you should know that most metro ticket checkers seem to be incapable of anything more than grunting.  They pay so little attention to your tickets that I’ve considered showing them something else to see if they noticed (like a driver’s license, or maybe a dog…).

But, this inspector walked a little closer and kept the conversation going (requiring me to now remove my headphones).  But, I didn’t understand his next sentence, so I was forced to bring out my most useful phrase that explains I don’t speak much Hungarian.

Then, Inspector #2 decided to also break the important “Grunt Only” rule of the Budapest Transit Company.  He asked, in English now, where I’m from.  I told him, and we all smiled and nodded for a second.

Back to Hungarian!  This translation is probably slightly off, but Inspector #1 said something like, “Seriously, why don’t you have fingers on your gloves?  You’re carrying a nice camera, so you obviously have enough money to buy the other 20% of the fabric necessary to prevent freezing.”  But, he said it with genuine concern – not as an attempt to make fun of me.

I tried to explain that I can’t operate the camera with my fingers covered, so this does just fine (what’s wrong with the pockets in my jacket, anyway?).  At this point, I switched into my typical Hunglish speaking where any word I don’t know in Hungarian simply comes out in English.  I’d like someone to film me doing this, because it happens subconsciously and I bet it’s pretty entertaining.

With market stalls selling things like this, how can I resist taking pictures?

I said the Opera is beautiful, and Inspector #1 got excited because he thought I was going to see a performance.  I tried to tell him I was just taking pictures, and seemed equally excited to find out I had just been inside the building with my camera.  I hadn’t, and I’m pretty sure it’s forbidden to take photos inside, so it seems he hasn’t either (not surprising – he didn’t really look like the opera type).

Then, there was a pause in the conversation, and Inspector #2 asked (in Hungarian this time) if I was American.  I thought we’d already established that, but “yes” is an easy word, so I took that route.

We all nodded happily…

Follwed by an awkward silence…

They continued to stare at me, and I had nothing else to say…

Still waiting…

Seriously, how long do these trains take?

Suddenly, I heard people coming down the stairs and they were speaking Spanish so they would distract the ticket checkers!  Nope, just the happier guy.  The America obsessed one continued to stare at me like I had two heads.  Finally, he said, “New York?”

For what I have decided is the last time in my life, I told someone I’m not from New York.  It’s worse than telling a kid the Easter Bunny isn’t real.  Then Inspector #1 came back, said some other incomprehensible Hungarian words, and I smiled and nodded.  They smiled and nodded.  We all smiled and nodded together.

Finally, the train came.  We said goodbye and I left.

And that’s the story of bridging the gap between ticket inspector and human beings.  Clearly I should hold some high diplomatic position to solve more of the world’s problems.  Also, I’m going to wear my half-gloves every time I see a hot girl waiting for the metro, and maybe she’ll engage in concerned conversation with me…

 Don't worry, it's hot!

Hungarian word of the day:


You’ll never be able to guess the pronunciation or meaning of this word…  But, doesn’t that little accent on the O make commuting seem more fun and exotic?