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Sunday
Dec152013

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:

Metró

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?

Friday
Dec062013

Santa Claus The Lawyer

Szaloncukor!

This morning, I woke up to find that Mikulás (a.k.a. Santa Claus) didn’t visit me at my apartment, so I was rather disappointed seeing how it was the night he visits Hungary.  And I really thought I had been nice this year!  Fortunately, the problem would redeem itself when I arrived at school.  My Business Law class began with an unexpected surprise…

Mikulás!

He bore a strange resemblance to the director of my MBA program, but I was too distracted by his big red bag full of szaloncukor that he distributed to everyone who was on time (a challenge for a class that isn’t usually held first thing every morning).  I assume it’s just coincidence that bribery was one of the topics of today’s lesson.

And people think that law is boring.  It’s clearly just misunderstood…

 These schoolchildren are dressed for the occasion.

Hungarian word of the day:

Mikulás

It’s pronounced “ME-cool-osh,” and it is the Hungarian name for Santa Claus (coming from the name Nicholas).

Thursday
Sep262013

Gödöllő - Heat In The Palace

On a sweltering morning in the heat of August in Budapest, I was sitting in my apartment wondering how to last another day without melting.  Suddenly, my phone broke the silence with its piercing ring, and I picked it up.

“Hello?”

“Hey, do you want to go to Gödöllő?”

“When?”

“Right now, we’re on the metro heading that way.”

---

For a little back story, you should know that Gödöllő is a town near Budapest that I’ve been meaning to visit for a very long time.  It’s easy to get to, and has a famous old palace there (and I love palaces).  I’d been thinking about going for the past few weekends, but the heat always killed my motivation to get up and go.

But, on this particular day I decided I might as well just sweat somewhere else, so I got dressed and headed out.  I took the metro to the HÉV (Budapest suburban railway) where I bought a sandwich and met my friends.  After about an hour long train ride through some nice cool forest, we arrived.

Most of the day was spent at the palace, which was nice.  The downside was that we had to constantly dodge the multiple weddings taking place there.  The upside was that we got to constantly watch wedding guests.

The highlight was watching one of the brides throwing her bouquet.  The other girls all grouped behind her, and she threw the flowers right over her head and they landed about one inch behind her.  In other words, the bouquet made it less than 1% of the distance that it needed to go.  Everyone laughed, and they tried again.

On the second attempt, the bride managed to get the bouquet to her friends.  They all pushed to try and catch it, but at the last second, they all scattered as if it was a biological weapon.  Then, they picked it up off the ground and forced it upon who girl who it seemed to have touched before its crash landing.

Despite my best efforts, I wasn’t able to join this heavenly party of single women who seem to be terrified of marriage…

Enjoy my pictures.  I didn’t take any of the inside of the palace because you had to pay extra to bring your camera in, and that was outside my student budget.

 

Hungarian word of the day:

Augusztus

This word looks pretty easy, because most of the Hungarian months are similar to the names in English.  Make the „u” into an „oo” sound, and the „s” into a „shh” sound, and you’re good to go.


Tuesday
Jul092013

Back Again, Busy Again

I still exist.  I’m still in Budapest… sweating.  I’ve been busy.  I know I always say that, but let me fill you in, my dear readers.

First, I finished up the first year of my MBA at the Corvinus University of Budapest.  I’ve had a lot of fun, and learned way too much, and I’m looking forward to the next (and final) year.   And, my grades were pretty awesome, thanks for asking.

My school (closer to the river than normal because of the flooding Danube). (Click image to see larger)

Second, my friend Jake and I have started running an English speaking quiz night in Budapest – Think and Drink.  It’s been a lot of work, but we’re starting to get the hang of it.  If I’m allowed to say so, I think it’s becoming quite successful .  Also, it’s the first of what we hope will be a number of events, so it’s going to get harder before it gets easier.  If you’re in Budapest, I highly recommend coming to check it out.  If you’re not, well, I assume you know how airplanes work…

The first Think and Drink logo.

Third, I’ve started working for the website ExpatsHungary.  It’s pretty much exactly the kind of thing I like doing, so it seems to be a great place for me.  I’m learning a lot, and it’s really cool to see how something like this works from the inside (instead of just reading it, like I usually do).  Plus, there’s a puppy in the office (need I say more?).

Fourth, I’m actually starting to work at studying Hungarian… a little.  Three years in a country seems like a worthwhile time to do that, right?  I’ve found some good resources to get me started, and the annoying help of the website HabitForge has been keeping me honest about it.  Who am I kidding, Hungarians have started acting like they’re going to hurt me if I don’t start speaking to them in their language.  Don’t let history fool you, they can be vicious. 

So, I’ll try to start writing more, but at least expect more pictures.  My camera and I have become pretty good friends lately.

 

Hungarian word of the day:

Nyár

This word is kind of rhymes with car, but starts with a fairly self-explanatory NY sound (basically, say each letter normally – but at the same time).  Oh yeah, it means „summer,”  you know, the hot miserable time of the year.

Saturday
Apr062013

Wild Dogs Of Istanbul

A wild dog in the middle of a city? (Click image to see larger)In my travels, I’ve seen plenty of wild dogs.  I really notice them because I love dogs, and I always try to decide if they’re happy and healthy or not.  I sometimes watch domesticated dogs in a house and wonder if they would be more pleased with life while wandering the hills with their pack.

The one who's missing his tail. (Click image to see larger)Anyway, one thing I’ve never seen is a pack of wild dogs in the middle of a city with a population more than 13 million.  Well, I hadn’t seen that until I went to Istanbul.  I found them there.

Our first night in Turkey, just a few hours after getting off the plane, we were wandering through one of the biggest tourist areas in the city and noticed a dog running along.  Where was its owner?  As I struggled to find a person who belonged with it, I noticed a few other dogs.   Finally, I realized it was a pack of six or seven of them running along.

I recognize you! (Click image to see larger)After that, we managed to run into them all over the place.  Sometimes they’d be in a big group, and other times it would just be one or two of them following a food cart or taking a nap.  I even started to get used to them – something I never expected to happen.

My dad made a good observation that he could even start remembering which was which.  We were walking down a narrow street one evening and one was sleeping right in the middle.  As a car approached, the dog jumped up, started barking furiously, and chased the car down the street.  That dog became known as “the one who fights cars.”

Just hanging out. (Click image to see larger)There was also “the one with only half a tail,” “the one who really likes food carts,” and “the playful one.”  I know there were others, but I didn’t find it important to write down at the time.  That’s a regret.

The best, however, was “the one who sings the call to prayer.”  Multiple times a day, the speakers outside of the mosques would belt out the sounds of a man singing the call to prayer.  It would echo across the city and was especially loud if your hotel was right next to one (like us).

The dog who sings the call to prayer. (Click image to see larger)One afternoon we were in the square between Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, and there was a dog happily sleeping.  When the songs started ringing out in this location, they would echo and really give you a surround sound noise.  This was ear-piercing to a human, so I can only imagine what the dog heard.  But, he hopped up and started howling along.  It was, as a random British tourist stopped to tell me, “amazing.”

Overall, these dogs look like they have a decent life.  They look fairly healthy, and I noticed tracking tags on some of their ears, so I think someone is watching out for them.  They can go to sing-a-longs, eat leftovers, roam around with their friends, and take naps in the shadows of famous places.  Not bad really, kind of like a permanent vacation.

 Napping with the pack. (Click image to see larger)

Hungarian word of the day:

Török kutya

I tried to translate this myself, but it hopefully means “Turkish dog.”  Oh, and it’s pronounced “Tuhh-rook (those vowels should be the same, so try to find some common ground) Coo-tcha.”

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