My Life so Far in Hungary

Last week I published a blog about being abroad in the time of Trump. Although I meant every word, I think that the majority of the people who want to read my blog don’t want to read about my thoughts and concerns about the election. I suppose it’s very frustrating for people who support me and want to participate in my life, when I post things that are their dramatically opposing viewpoint. I certainly don’t want to alienate my family, it’s just that this election seems to have taken our country in a radically different direction than the path I thought we were taking.

I don’t think it’s a good thing. It’s okay to have differing opinions, but apparently we can’t even agree on “certain unalienable rights.” I find myself entrenched in the idea that we are headed towards a future that is bleak and inhospitable to my American values. I know these ideas are not new, but somehow half the country seems to be in support of a candidate whose talking points were fear and isolationism. It feels like what we are saying is that we only value white, Christian America, even at the expense of our planet, minorities, or even human rights like freedom of speech and assembly.

It is my view that it is my duty as an American citizen (and the duty of every American) that we dig our heels in, and refuse to budge on matters of decency and humanity. I don’t feel like I should have to tell Christians that. They should be my “men at arms” so to speak. They should be shouting with us from the roof tops that “whatever you did for the least of my brothers, you did for me.”

 

I digress.

Like I said, people don’t want to talk about it anymore. The collective burn-out is stifling and apparently protesting isn’t getting the job done. So for this moment, I’m just going to talk about my day-to-day life in Hungary, and take up the luxury of not dealing with the revolution brewing in my heart.

Let me just say though, that there is one idea that has stuck with me since I first read it as a freshman in high school and that is, as Ralph Waldo Emerson says, “Be as beneficent as the sun or the sea, but if your rights as a rational being are trenched on, die on the first inch of your territory.” And that is where I am. There are some things I am not capable of budging on, so don’t ask me to.

 

Here we go, my life so far:

 

Dana and I arrived in Hungary on September 23rd of this year. Our flight was approximately 18 hrs long and we then spent the next week in a week long orientation put on by CETP.

The orientation itself was pretty exhausting as we were still hung over from jet lag and actual binge drinking, but essentially they taught us some Hungarian language, teaching tips, Hungarian history, and practical advice for day-to-day life in Hungary. At the end, we were rounded up by our schools and driven to our new homes.

The next week we met our co-teachers and were given our class schedules. For me, this basically looked like, “Hi Bree, we are happy to have your here! We don’t have our books yet, so we don’t have a plan.”

 

I’m just kidding. My co-teachers did have a plan, but I wasn’t “in the know” of what that was.

It didn’t end up mattering anyway because I fell victim to Hungarian pathogens, lost my voice the very first week of school, and was unable to teach. The great news about that however, is that in Hungary when you are sick, you go to the doctor, get a note signed, and then you are banished from work for a week while you retain 60% of your pay.

Also, Hungary’s healthcare is free at the time of appointment, as it is supported by their tax system. So when I went in, I waited with about 30 other people and was seen in about a half hour without an appointment.

Now before all this during orientation, we were advised that Hungarians doctors don’t have the same bed-side manner as American doctors. They apparently look at at the patient as puzzle or a broken mechanical entity. They are there to fix the problem, rather than make discourse with you and explain why they are doing something. We were also advised that Hungarians tend to treat doctors with authority and don’t usually question why they are doing something. Well, my doctor spoke semi-fluent English and was apparently one of the very best in the Nose-Throat-Ear hospital.He sat me on a examining chair and briskly did the whole routine of examining my facial orifices. Within about 3 minutes he came to the conclusion that it would not be possible for me to work for the next week.

Also, at this point, I have to tell my American friends that Hungarian doctors re-use their tools. Y’know how in the States our doctors have those little plastic caps that they throw away after one use? Well, this doctor had a table full of metal implements that were used once and then thrown into a sanitation bin to be cleaned and re-used.

Anyway, I got a prescription for antibiotics and vitamin C and then went home. I should also mention that our co-teacher Zoli had to drive us around AND translate for us to make all this happen in the middle of the school’s opening day. If you’re reading this Zoli, you’re awesome!

So after all that, I eventually got better and started teaching. My first week back I just sat in on all my classes and watched the native Hungarian teachers give their English lessons. Let me just say, don’t fuck with a Hungarian teacher. They’re not having any of your bullshit and will call your ass on the carpet. My particular primary school has a very good reputation for high test scores and for launching kids into their choice high schools. It has a bilingual English-Hungarian education program, which means that (given Hungary’s current political and economic climate) that a lot of the kids that go to our school, are from more privileged families. The expectations are soundly high, and I would say, that most of the parents demand that their children behave and get good grades. This means that the administration usually has good back-up from the parents in enforcing punishments and rewards.

Our English classes are full at 16 kids. We occasionally have to teach the whole class of 32, but that only happens when a colleague is out. Basically, the native Hungarian teachers take half of the class, and we take the other half and switch out the classes every week.

Dana teaches 5th and 6th grades; I teach 3rd and 4th.

And I know what you’re thinking… but Bree… you hate kids…. like really hate them.

Well, yes. That is true. But actually I enjoy them in my class. It has definitely reinforced my choice to never, ever procreate, but when they are in my class, they are my captive audience. I am their weirdo teacher and they HAVE TO listen to me!

But all in all, they make me laugh; they make me really annoyed; and they give me new challenges to sort through every day. This is what I was missing at home- this whole doing something that I believed in. Education to me, can be the most important factor in improving a person’s life. And I know that by learning English, they will open doors they might not of had before.

Also, I feel like a celebrity every day. My kids are so excited to see me, they wave at me in the halls and pounce on me for hugs when I go to pick them up for class. They give me little presents of drawings and crafts and they enthusiastically show off to me every new thing they get, from pencil cases to key chains.

Yeah, I really like my kids, even the obnoxious ones. They’re my kids, and I want them to do really well.

Of course, some days I feel like walking out of the class room and handing over the keys to a zoo-keeper, but I can honestly say that I feel like I am where I meant to be. I can say in addition, that my co-teachers are great. They are an odd combination of kid-hating personalities. They are real and honest. They are also good teachers and funny as hell. I want to be like them.

Which leads me to my next point- don’t ever ask a Hungarian, “how are you?” unless you want a real answer… because they will give it to you. “I’m terrible,” is a frequent flyer on the mileage of this question.

 

Usually we teach about 5-6 classes a day, occasionally more or less depending on who is out sick or if there is some special event happening. I feel like pointing out that the kids here are taken to the dentist in their class groups. They also do frequent field trips to theaters, museums and the like. It’s neat in a very unfamiliar way.

Anyway, we are done teaching by 1:35 PM everyday, after starting at 8 AM. Then we eat lunch in the school canteen and head home.

By the way, if you’re one of my family thinking that I’m going to come home “so skinny” like I did after Germany… please forget about it. I was skinny after Germany because I was basically living off a can of olives and loaf of bread for a week. I was broke.

Here, we are eating well. The school provides lunches for us and we are always in the market for trying our new restaurants… especially if they serve gyros.  What I am saying is… it may be possible I will come home even fatter? The jury is still out. Below I have added some pictures of a typical week of lunches at our school. Yeah… I’d say at this point, the only way I’m losing weight is if I can somehow manage to lessen the pull of Earth’s gravity….

 

Yeah… so… about that.

I have come to the realization that it is probably time for me to lose some weight and actually exercise. I am saying this because I have been in such horrible pain that it is starting to affect my ability to teach. Logically I know that exercise has been proven to help alleviate some MS symptoms, but after teaching, all I want to do is go home, nap for six hours, eat, lesson plan, then go back to sleep.

I’m exhausted.

But this past week I have been unable to walk without shooting pains, and you can just about cancel out any other activity like bending, pouring booze from 3 liter bottles, or binge-drinking til 4 am.

So, I need to do it for the booze.

I’m just kidding.

I can’t keep binge-drinking, not working out, and managing my MS symptoms without some sort of compromise to my body.

Whoops.

What? You mean to say that being a horrible glutton and lush is BAD for you? Omigod Bree, slow down with that newsflash! It’s too inflammatory!

 

To alleviate the concerns of my family, I assure you I am not becoming an alcoholic. We usually don’t drink unless it’s the weekend, and even then I try to monitor my intake so I can take my meds on time. However, this past week, with Thanksgiving and a whole slough of late nights… that lifestyle has been cut at the knees.

 

My body can’t handle it. So off we go again to being a responsible adult.

 

Now, when we aren’t teaching, or horribly exhausted, we do sometimes go out to visit our new friends in the city. We live in outer Ujpest, which is basically a suburb purgatory of Budapest. Suburbs in Hungary are concrete blocks of housing units that go on and on and on and on….

Although we have fantastic view looking out to the city, it does take us around 45 minutes by public transport to get into downtown Budapest. We usually take a tram, then a metro. The tram is the slowest thing ever created by man, except for maybe, horse-drawn carriages or, I don’t know, the civil rights movement. (Get it? Har Har? Because we’re still fighting for Civil Rights? bad dum tiss. ….I’ll see myself out.)

img_3120

Look a nighttime view of Suburb Purgatory!

The tram driver usually likes to text along the journey and isn’t too concerned with meeting the posted schedules. Unfortunately, the only other bus that takes us to the metro, while it moves faster, takes a winding path to get there, so it ends up being about the same amount of time, regardless.

When we get to the metro, however, things tend to run on time. While our metro line isn’t the oldest in Budapest, it’s the one that has gone the longest without replacement. There are carriages that are over 50 years old. Yeah, they survived Communism.

Here is what one of the older carriages looks like:

img_38381

 

Look at those chic dome lights, and practically effervescent, sea green walls. Shhh don’t mind the shaking from side to side. We’re not derailing, that’s part of the experience.

I jest. It’s not that bad. I mean, yes, sometimes you wonder what the clanking and vibrating is for and if this is when the explosion happens, but it’s not too bad.

Now, I have to say that the other lines in Budapest have been replaced since Communism and they are smooth as silk. Because they are new… not specially because they aren’t Communist. That’s just coincidental. They purr and hum and you can ride them without clutching on to the handlebars as if they are your lord and savior.

 

Once we are downtown, Budapest is a beautiful, bustling city. It definitely has its own beat. I am also so extremely happy to report that Mexican cuisine is really taking off in the city. While it’s not the same as back home, it is a fair compromise for life abroad and my actual physical need for burritos.

I mentioned in an earlier blog that one of favorite things here is that there is always something new to discover. While we have definitely settled into a routine and life here, we can still go out and discover something new and amazing. Saturday night we went to a touristy ruin-pub called Szimpla.

It was basically a hodge-podge of eclectic style, a wine bar, a hookah lounge, and dance club all in one. It was also so busy, there was standing room only. img_3851

Was there a paper mache sculpture of 5 boobies attached to a speaker? You bet there was! Was there basically no floor except for concrete rubble and an area with absolutely no ceiling? Yeah! This picture was taken from the downstairs, there was a whole other area upstairs that we didn’t even get to look at.

 

So when I say there are new things, I mean there is a whole wide world of strange and unusual booby sculpture, to the mundane, “oh my god, look there’s peanut butter!” range of discovery.

 

I am privileged to have this experience. And I love it here.

Okay, but can we just talk about the fucking lines here?!

 

So on any given day I would say that Dana and I spend at least a half hour to 45 minutes of it, waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

Waiting for the bus.

Waiting in line at the Spar.

Waiting for the tram.

Waiting for the metro.

Waiting for our students to stop screaming like howler monkeys.

Waiting in line at the fucking Spar.

So this how experience has been a lesson in patience and also a window of differing cultural values. See, we’re Americans and time is money.

Whether you actually believe that or not, you get used to things happening quickly and if you have to wait, well there better be a good reason for it.

Here… well not so much. It seems that waiting is not so bothersome to our Hungarians mates and they will wait in lines that are 30 people deep at the grocery store. (the Spar.)

Yeah.. the lines are that deep and although there are 6 registers, only 2 of them are going. Are they going fast? No. The people at the registers are moving at a pace that I can only describe as the speed of paint drying.

See apparently, while Capitalism is catching on, certain parts of it are completely absent. Like convenience and speed. Everything in Hungary takes just a little bit longer to do and also apparently, this doesn’t bother Hungarians. Like, I don’t know a single American who wouldn’t have a complete freak out in a line of 30 people when you have the capacity to open more registers. They would have a gigantic cow, leave that steaming pile on the floor, and walk out. So the business would suffer with excess cow population AND lost revenue.

Here, they don’t do that. They diligently wait in line, seemingly nonplussed with the 45 minute- 2HR wait.

Yeah 2HRs. That’s happened. Dana and I stood in line for 2HRS for chimney cakes. The people making them were certainly not stressed or in a rush- nope, just texting away and chatting heartily while the line of people continued to grow.

 

And don’t get  me started on restaurants. If you want to eat American style (that is, be seated, place your order, eat, get your bill, leave); you’re going to have to put in the due diligence to remind the staff that you’re still there. It’s not Hungarian tradition to this. Instead, they typically mill around for awhile, and servers come every 3rd or 4th hour to see if you want another beer.

 

I’m obviously being a ridiculous American here. I can fully recognize that. Hungarians and Americans have different cultural values on food and time; and evidently- customer service.

 

We are adjusting to a slowed pace and not getting things right away. Yeah, we are THAT spoiled. It is a good reminder, however, that while Budapest looks Western, it still carries the history of the Soviets. I should also mention that when I say “we’re adjusting,” I mean me. Dana is fine. He’s always fine. So much that it’s annoying.

It’s annoying that he’s never annoyed.

Be mad! Like me!

I swear, if I was a TMNT, I would definitely be Raphael. Or, Shredder. Really, either or.

 

 

In any case, life here is good for the most part. Even with the trivial annoyances and not speaking the language.

I have a few students that I tutor outside of my regular classes and we have a nice little friend base that we are building up. It’s pretty good.

 

Budapest has so many historic sites and crazy beautiful Baroque buildings all over. Plus, we are set up to travel easily. This Christmas we will be traveling to Amsterdam with Dana’s parents and my sister. It will truly be a holiday like no other.

 

That’s what I wanted to share with you though, besides concerns about the political climate of my home country, I wanted to let you know that I’m good.

 

I love teaching, I love Budapest. I happy we are here.

More later,

Szia!

 

 

 

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Debbie says:

    Miss you! I love reading your writing. I love hearing about your new life and that you love teaching. Don’t be concerned that your family doesn’t all agree with you….we don’t even agree with each other. The future is scary. You are right to fight for what you believe.

    I love you. Make a good life. Make a difference.

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