I’ve now been in Hungary for 18 months – and I love it. Here are a few reasons why.
Men offer to carry my bag for me. I’m not Scandinavian so I don’t tell them off. I just give them my backpack and laugh as they stagger.
They have palinka.
Women say nice things about your clothes and hairstyle, shoes etc – perfectly genuinely. This is great because women are far more likely to notice those things anyway.
They kiss on two cheeks and the men do too, but in a properly distant way.
They have wonderful cakes. No, really, they do. Old fashioned cake shops are a little bit heavy, modern ones are heavenly (Central Kavezo).
Everywhere you go, even in the ciggy shop in a little village near Miskolc, they have excellent coffee.
They have an absolutely wonderful public transport system in Budapest (BKK) and a berlet (monthly pass) which you can use everywhere, even the Danube boats, for about 25 quid.
The trains have been known to run on time away from Budapest too.
They have Tokaji.
All the children I have met have wonderful manners.
People are generally, habitually polite. They say “koszonom” (thank you), “szivesen” (you’re welcome), “bocsanat” (excuse me), a lot. They say “Jo etvagyot” (Bon appetit – there IS no English translation) whenever they see you eating, even if it’s just a Twix.
They have four different ways of saying “you” both singular and plural: friendly, formal, friendly-formal and courteous. So eight. I’m still disentangling how this works and despite experience with French, I haven’t got the hang of it yet.
When two adults decide to stop addressing each other in the formal mode and use the “te” form they entwine their arms and drink palinka.
They do have dumb politicians who put up posters telling immigrants to go home (in very complicated official Hungarian). But they also have civil rights groups who put up posters in exactly the same style and colour, except these say in English: “We’re sorry about our prime minister.”
They are very affectionate and family-loving.
They are also capable of acting with amazing courage – as in 1956 when they took on the old Soviet Union and also in 1989 when they did it again… And won. Theirs was the honour of the first major breach in the Iron Curtain.
Boy, do Hungarians know how to party.
They genuinely love guests and although they’ve stopped taking the wheels off your coach so you’ll stay longer, if you can walk after a proper Hungarian dinner you’re… well, you’re a freak.
They are extremely good at the fighting sports like fencing, taekwondo and judo. However I have never felt the least bit threatened anywhere in Hungary.
They are very musical and have no snobbery about classical concerts only being for old rich people.
Their countryside is beautiful and so is Budapest.
Slouchy sullen young men with piercings in every pierceable bit of their face, get up immediately for old ladies on trams and offer them their seat.
They also do handicrafts at parties – very well. This is surprisingly fun.
They have a national health service which has similar problems to ours but worked very well when I had to use it.
They are brutally honest about themselves and will be brutally honest with you if you show you won’t be offended.
Why I don’t like Hungary.
The food is a bit heavy and can be a bit salty for an English wuss.
The children speak much better Hungarian than I do.
They have a special official government way of writing that is totally opaque, even to a lot of Hungarians. However the actual bureaucrats are often quite nice.
People in Budapest, when you ask them anything in Hungarian, immediately respond with a flood of excellent English which is a tad depressing when you’re trying to learn the language and have been told that your accent is really good.