This story comes before the Stroke Tales, but I didn’t have time to post it before I actually had my stroke.
I like being a Bloody Foreigner. I enjoyed being a guiri (means “stupid northerner”) in the south of Spain, though the Spanish are mostly courteous and hospitable and don’t let you know about that. They watch the antics of drunken expat Brits with astonishment and the lobster-red tourists likewise and occasionally take the piss in Spanish with elaborate subtlety. My Spanish was occasionally good enough to spot this and take the piss back, which was very entertaining. In Hungary now, my Magyarul (Hungarian for Hungarian, actually) is definitely not good enough to spot anything at all.
However what I really wanted to talk about with reference to my Bloody Foreignerness was my Bureaucracy Game with the Bevándorlási és Állampolgarsági Hivatal.
Which, as I’m sure you realise, is the Hungarian Office of Immigration and Nationalisation, address: Budafoki ut 60. I had to conduct some essential bureaucracy there, involving forms, probably a passport photo and a lot of documents so I could have the important registration card I need to do other stuff in Hungary such as get a tax number.
Yes, I looked on their website which seemed to be in Hungarian only, blocked by a very polite letter in English asking me to tell them how to improve their website which took me the devil of a time to get rid of so I could see the website itself. I tried Google Translate on some bits of it which produced the usual hilariously useless and wrong results. You can’t expect a computer algorithm to cope with an inflected language, particularly one with at least fifteen case-endings, including some called the Inessive, Delative and Superessive (me neither).
So I got the Addressive (sorry) and decided I’d do what I call a Reconnaissance in Force. This means I use a free afternoon to turn up in person with everything I can think of that I might need or that they list (that bit of the website made some sense and there were other websites that were helpful).
Obviously I don’t actually expect to get anything done: it’s just a scouting operation, the opening moves of the Bureaucracy Game.
So I got on a bus, got off it where I could see number 59 Budafoki Ut and found out from some very helpful Hungarians using my haphazard Magyar and their school English that in fact number 60 Budafoki Ut was three bus stops away on a different bus entirely.
Ho ho! Well done, Bevándorlási és Állampolgarsági Hivatal! Round #1 to you. Brilliant move with a witty touch. Bloody Foreigners have to prove their stamina by actually finding the place, in the Invisible Office gambit.
Another bus ride later I got off, ironically opposite the Ujbuda Tesco’s, crossed the road and found a sign saying “Bevándorlási és Állampolgarsági Hivatal” which was what I had in my notebook. Optimistically ignoring the lack of annoyed foreign people around, I wandered into what looked like an entrance with an enquiries window. A grizzled old veteran, clearly still in mourning for the Soviet era, scowled at me when I apologised for only speaking a little bit of Hungarian. He shouted “Zarva! Zarva!” at me which even I knew meant it was closed.
Of course it was! Grizzled Old Soviet bloke was right to be highly annoyed by my ignorance.Everybody (except Bloody Foreigners) knows that the Bevándorlási és Állampolgarsági Hivatal is only open in the mornings on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays, only in the afternoon on Tuesdays and not open at all (except to students) on Wednesday. It was a Friday afternoon – what kind of madness made me think I could come in and Do Bureaucracy?
And Round #2 to the Bevándorlási és Állampolgarsági Hivatal. Another stunning use of the Random Opening Hours gambit!
My feeble riposte was to let my fragmentary Magyarul get more British by the second and take my time noting down the opening times which interfered with his enjoyment of his book. I annoyed him even more when I asked brightly (in Magyarul) if there would be anyone there on Monday who could speak English? There would be, apparently, if I understood Grizzled Old Soviet bloke correctly as he waved his arms and told me that they speak any language at all. Probably not Qechua or Glaswegian, I thought.
I have to admit that I didn’t do too well in my Reccy in Force. Never mind, I thought, there’s Round #3 next week when I have a free afternoon which remarkably coincides with the Bevándorlási és Állampolgarsági Hivatal’s opening time: Tuesday (Kedd) one pm to six pm. We’ll see, I thought.