Wednesday, December 31, 2008


I would just like to say: Make some noise!

Or the penguin will eat your soul.

I love hockey. I love any sort of sport live, actually. The energy of the crowd, singing along with the old familiar sports chants, soft pretzels and beer, and a night out all combine to make a happy Lauren.

I'm having a very nice time at home. On Saturday I was lucky enough to see all of the sigma epsilon chi girls in Williamsport for a night of debauchery and fun. I miss them a lot, but I have to say that every time we get together it's like we haven't been apart. We fall back into our own patterns, every one of us with such a different and complementary personality. I'm so lucky to have all these girls in my life, in whatever limited capacity due to my tendency to move very far away, but in a very real way nevertheless.

My mind keeps wandering and I must admit that I am somewhat surprised as to where. I must admit that it's sort of strange to be at home, to be hearing English, and to not be at work surrounded by my babies and my kids. I keep trying to say boch to strangers who bump into me and constantly say kosz to my family, much to the irritation of the weasel.

I guess that I've adjusted a little bit too well to my life in Hungary, as I keep being somewhat amazed at just how impossibly easy my life is here in America, between cars, clothes dryers, reliable internet, and being able to freaking communicate with everyone around me without any difficulties whatsoever. Not that I'm complaining, and not that I don't already miss these things. They just sort of strike me as strange and different now. I wonder if I'll be able to just be blissfully unaware of the remarkableness of American-ness again. I know I'm a very adaptable critter and would adapt back to all this being "normal" again just fine. But right now, it simply isn't for me, and it's quite fascinating to watch it all.

But since Hungary isn't "normal" for me either... where does that leave me? And is this a blessing or a curse? I guess my life will show me the answers, and I look forward to finding them, and even moreso to the adventures I'll have on my surely awkward, stumbling, and amazing way to them. I feel flush heading into 2009. 2008 was a sort of strange and unhappy year for me. I think... no, I feel... that 2009 has some incredible things in store for me. And I'm ready to greet them all with my big smile and an open heart.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

I hope that Santa brought all of you what you wanted, that you are surrounded by people who love you, that you are full of yummy foods (but not too full!), that you're staring out a window at the landscape you hoped to see, and mostly that you all recognize the amazing and beautiful people that you are.

I love you!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Oh, beautiful

I am in America, and this makes me happy in many ways. For one, everyone is smiling at me and nobody looks at me like I'm a crazy person when I make eye contact and naturally smile at strangers. For another, I can understand the conversations around me. For yet another, I have now ridden in cars and sang along with the radio on multiple occasions in the past two days! Another: I did laundry and then dried the clothes in 30 minutes thanks to the magic of a clothes drying machine! Another: a giant refrigerator. Another: cheap bookstores! And most importantly of all: family, and friends, and dogs.

I can't stop chattering on about Hungary, of course.

I saw my big today for the first time since her wedding in the summer of 2007. She's pregnant... she'll be a mom in April. This is bizarre and a bit terrifying for me.

I have also come to the sad, yet happy, realization that no man will ever, ever love me as much as my mother does. I get home, and she stays up late with me, then the next morning runs me a bath, gives me a book (in Spanish!), and some of my favorite cava, then takes me to a lovely spa day. This spa day was paid for by my very generous father, so I guess no body will ever love me as much as my parents do. Lucky lucky me. :)

Now off to attempt to cook gulyasleves for Rocco.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas spirit

Today my children totally picked me out of my deep blue (or should it be red and green?) funk by being just the most adorable things ever at their Christmas party. They danced, sang, gave me an obscene amount of hugs, and gifted me an obscene amount of chocolates. And bless my colleagues as well. I may have accidentally kissed the 1C ostályfönök on the lips when I went for a hug and she went for the two kisses, but otherwise all the kissing, gifting, and "Boldog Karácsonyt"-ing thoroughly warmed my cold, cold cockles. I also went around and took photos of my students, which should wind up being damn adorable. They'll be up soon.

Tomorrow, well, sort of tomorrow I will be in America. Everytime I think about this I have a small panic attack, with my heart going "No! I'm not done with Hungary!" until my brain goes, "Um, you're coming back dummy." I am soooo excited to return though... I can't wait to see all of you beautiful people.

I'm smiling, and getting weird looks for doing so on the metro, and I don't care. Boldog Karácsonyt a mindinki.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Lauren's one minute stories

I'm currently reading a book entitled More One Minute Stories, a work in translation from the original Hungarian, that was a gift from one of my second graders. It's basically a series of vignettes written with massive amounts of dark humor by this Hungarian who survived a Nazi work camp only to eventually die under communism in 1978. They are entertaining and, if you've ever met a Hungarian/lived in Hungary, hysterical. And this has inspired today's blogging format.

It's probably fine

A lone American, walking along the street, spots something interesting behind a gate. Behind the gate appears to be nothing other than an empty parking lot, full of broken glass and in the same general state of disrepair as the rest of the city. The gate is open. Across the driveway, however, there is a single small chain, hanging so low as to drag on the pavement in the center. Can the American walk into the abandoned parking lot to take a photo, or will doing so lead only to arrest, deportation, or horror? Eh, it's probably fine.

The lone American, now on another day, is in a grocery store. She wonders about the advisability of purchasing ham that has been apparently stuffed with sausage and then thinly sliced, but which is on sale. Is it on sale because it has gone bad? Lurking near the meat aisle, she watches as Hungarian after Hungarian selects several packages and adds them to their cart. Shrugging, she picks up her own package. It's probably fine.

The lone American is in a battle of wills with a seven year old. "Move seats, please," she asks. The first grader resolutely shakes his head no. "I asked you to do something. Do it now," she angrily states. The first grader holds firm. As she physically lifts the squirming child and carries him to the desired seat, him kicking over chairs in the process, and then physically marches him back and forth to demonstrate that when she asks a student to do something she means NOW, she wonders about the consequences of this action. But... meh, it's probably fine.

The sour cream sits on the counter for two hours. But it cost 300 forint! Oh well, it's rotten anyway, right? It's probably fine.

The lone American accidentally, in the language she barely understands, uses a vulgar slang term for "breast" when referring to the white meat of a chicken. To her boss. But she must understand... and it's probably fine.

And the thing is... it always is.


Isn't it very funny how sure you can be that you don't want something, that you in fact want something very different, but it still smarts when that something runs off and is horribly successful without you? This has happened to me recently. And the thing that hurts most is the pride, the aren't-I-enoughs?, the questioning of motives. And I sit on the tram and stare out the window, or sit in the staff room and bitch to Bill, or throw myself on my bed and have a good, old-fashioned temper tantrum, because I should be enough. I should be impetus. In a non tragic sort of a way, and my poor pride is hurt from the fact that I was not.

The guilt of the foreign teacher

Case B. works like a slave. Twenty or twenty five lessons a week, plus remedial lessons, plus infinite substitutions, plus private lessons, all of which are painstakingly planned for. Due to his colleague's tragic lack of writing ability, he must do all grade recordings. Almost thirty, he slept on a cot until this weekend, but at least a cot in his own new, small, rented flat. Unsure but pressured to decide, he votes middle-road on such important issues as whether or not to strike about a cut to his already pathetic pay. Money is very, very tight.

Case N. has three young children. She works three jobs, including on the weekends, and often has to come into work on her one free day to tie up loose ends. She is tremendously kind, and shares her grandmother's throat lozenges with the lone American when the later turns up to work coughy and ill. She has three pairs of pants and four skirts, or at least only that many that she considers fit to wear to work. She votes against the strike because she cannot afford to miss a single lesson out on a picket line. Money is very, very tight.

Case R. is unmarried, but cares for her niece. She works two jobs, one teaching her language to foreigners until 830 PM. Her dresses all hail from 1987, and have been painstakingly mended in many places. Her school will be closed for over a month for the Christmas holidays and she is unsure what she will do, finance-wise, if the government approves the pay cut. Money is very, very tight.

Case L. gives 29 lessons per week. Due to being a native speaker of the language she teaches, however, she need spend no time preparing for said lessons beyond a cursory look at the topic to be covered. She has virtually no responsibilities beyond making sure that she shows up in the right place at the right time, and is often bored during prep lessons due to a lack of anything to do. She pays no taxes, and while she is not rich, has no financial worries. Because she is employed by a private organization, her pay is in no danger of being cut.

Overheard, sneakily, but to no real effect

I think so, too... forty two... no, capital B, udapest, one two three... well, is it capital?... teach... good... orange... nine hundred twenty two, sixty four, nineteen... well, that's what I said... green... Panni? No, Misi? I don't believe it!... was that the bell already?... radio... ok... hello (said as goodbye)...

The lone American: I feel guilty because I actively listen to conversations to try to pick out lone words.
The Other American, who consoles her: Don't. It's an intellectual curiousity.

Conspicuous consumption?
Do we have more money for our rat than most for their children?

The lone American and her flatmate read online, after googling "taking care of pet rats" like you do, that rats can become horribly depressed, to the point of death, if kept by themselves. One way to remedy this is to keep them in a very interesting cage. So they dutifully troupe off to the mall, and purchase a little rat palace, with three levels and a suspension bridge. Bencelita will be the most intrigued rat ever!

What they did not consider, however, would be the open stares and conversation on the metro as a half dozen total strangers come up to openly admire the cage, then shake their heads disparagingly upon discovering the nationality of its new owners.

Good question

The lone American darts down the stairs at 0645 on her way to work, undoubtedly more happy looking that she should be. She sees an elderly female neighbor heading up the stairs. The following conversation takes place, in Hungarian:

"Good morning, ma'am."
*unknown Hungarian*
"I'm very sorry, I'm American and I don't speak Hungarian very well."
confused and slightly afraid, "Why?"
"Yes, why?"
ponders... "Because my parents are?"

The elderly neighbor waves her hand in disgust and continues up the stairs. The lone American shakes her head in confusion and continues down the stairs.

¡De veras!

Como ver que vuelve a ser invierno,
y que los niños ya me tratan de usted...

~ de Irreversible por La oreja de Van Gogh

Thursday, December 11, 2008

absentee blogger

So I haven't blogged in awhile. I think this is because I've actually been busy, out and about in the crazy world of Budapest, and haven't had the time or inclination. In fact, as I type this I discover that my typing has changed, that it's difficult for me to make the proper punctuation as I have grown used to the Hungarian keypad at my job.

Job is going great by the way. If anyone is having trouble with otherwise sweet colleagues treating them sort of like idiots, and they are actually as sweet as mine are, I highly recommend inviting them to a festive holiday, then tipsily informing them that they treat you like an idiot. This has had stellar results for me. In the past week and a half I've gotten to grade tests, give actual feedback, offer opinions, discipline children in an effective manner, and plan my own material. I've also been actually informed of what's going on around me and invited to join the school choir. I feel like my new confidence is emanating from me. More people smile at me, talk to me, make a visible and obviously painful effort not to giggle at my attempts at Hungarian. And I have finally won my attempt at friendship with my poor stalkee, whom I still know actually nothing about, but who now talks to me, smiles, asks me how I am, kvetches a little bit to me. I love it.

My other job is equally lovely. This month's term I have been teaching American accent training, essentially to three lovely boys, all of whom are earnest and funny. This is good because the class can fall to the ridiculous, as we all go "ah. ah. ah." and "couja?" at each other. I have to say that I was a little bit nervous, as an American, to be a teacher at a school servicing almost entirely middle Eastern, Muslim students. Yet, I have gotten nothing but respect and kindness from them. It's a little strange to have one student meet you at the office to carry your things to the class, then have the rest of the students jump to their feet when you enter the room, provide you with functioning dry-erase markers, laugh at the appropriate times and work at the appropriate times, do their work, and then carry your materials back to the office for you. And they're absolutely fascinated by the funny things we do with our language, and by the pieces of culture that sneak into such a class without fail. And share theirs with me. And I love it.

Wille, my private student, just took his midterms. His family fed me a lovely dinner when I last went there on Tuesday and gave me a very generous little Christmas bonus. And I walk back down the hill from his house, looking at Parliament far below, lit against the nighttime sky, and I sing along to my Ipod, and I am always, always, profoundly happy in these moments.

On Saturday I finally went dancing, really dancing, not just sort of shuffling in a corner somewhere. And the music was cheesy and fantastic, but there is just something I have to share with you, my dear readers, for your own edification and entertainment. Should you, ladies, ever be dancing in a club in Hungary and get violently rammed into by a gentleman's booty, to the level that it almost knocks you over... never fear. You are not in anyone's way! Rather, this is the Hungarian male's mating dance. That's right, boys, when in central Europe and looking at a pretty girl, do not approach her with a smile and a hello. Just try to knock her over with your ass.

She'll love it, I swear.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A nice weekend

In bullet points!

*Going to teach my American accent class on Friday, and essentially winding up explaining, for around an hour, the American college/university system and why American girls don't like it when boys approach us, touch our face, and tell us we are as beautiful as the night sky.

*Sweet text messages meant to make me feel better.

*Bowling. Breaking 100 doing so. And, of course, the sentence "Mi kerunk... bowling???" (We want... bowling?)

*Saw "Burn After Reading," paying only 950 forint to do so, and giggled the whole time.

*Duck breast salad, eggs with gyulai kolbasz, and nagyi palacsinta.

*One of the most interesting array of museum exhibits ever in the Museum of Applied Arts.

*Translated jokes and a giggly Hungarian.

*"Two tongue sticking outs," the most awesome (and literal) reply I think I've ever received.

*No (thus far) visible facebook evidence of ridiculousness. Win.

*Cut Bence's little toenails, which he took like a total man... no wiggling, biting, nothing. Which is especially impressive as it turns out he's totally a she. Ooops.

Friday, November 28, 2008


The scene: our flat. Lyla and I are awake, propped up in bed, drinking water and slowly chewing on rolls.

Me: It must have been the bubbly.
Lyla: Well, we did drink a lot of the bubbly.
Me: I know. I had a big gulp of champagne. *hangs head in shame*
Lyla:... um, we had two bottles.
Me: No.
Lyla: Yes. I went to get the second one. Adam laughed at us.
Me: *realization dawns* Oh god. That's right. I sent you to fetch it. I think I even used the word "fetch." My bad. Oh god.
Lyla: Yeah, cause ours was pink.
Me: Gergo's was pink too... oh god, no, it wasn't.
Lyla: I know.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Weapons in Schools... a la magyar

So I'm going to take a page from Vivvi and make a photo comment on an interesting cultural difference. In America, teachers have to do everything short of wrapping kids in bubble wrap to keep them safe and thus avoid being sued. In Hungary, this is not the case. Everyday I observe boys wrestling and jumping on each other, girls climbing on each other, children sliding down banisters, and, now, incredibly violent snowball fights. I have watched kids do limbo on scooters, sumo wrestle each other (and teachers!), and leap from very tall heights onto the unpadded floor. While this happens I am normally shocked, pointing awkwardly at the children flying through the air, while the other teachers chat nonchallantly and perhaps laugh at my funny American ways.

Today, however, takes the cake. It was Renaissance Day. Why, I don't know. The kids made fake weapons, watched a cartoon about a famous king that featured people becoming beligerantly wasted and very detailed heaving bosoms, and this:

This is Levi. He is a second grader. And he is doing archery in the school gym. WITH REAL, SHARP, ACTUAL ARROWS. As if it were the most normal thing in the world to do.

I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


On Mondays after I finish at Avicenna I go to a private lesson where I tutor a young Finnish boy, who attends a British high school in Hungary with a focus on German language (let your head explode there, it's ok), primarily in writing. He's a sweet kid with a lovely family and they really compensate me well for my efforts so it's a nice set-up. Plus they often feed me, which is sooooooo lovely.

Anyway, on my way to the lesson yesterday I receive a text stating that I should get off the bus a few stops later because they're going to come pick me up and it's a better spot. Have I mentioned that it hasn't stopped snowing since Saturday? And that they live three quarters of the way up one of the giant Buda hills? So I think, sweet, a car ride! I don't have to trudge up the hill in the intense, wet snow!

I get off the bus and there stands Wille in a blue-and-white sweater, all ruddy and blonde and oh-so-Finnish, holding two sleds.

And we sled down the hill to his house.

I arrive and his smiley mother gives me hot chocolate in a special mug set-up that includes a candle to keep it hot, as well as several varieties of cookies, and we go over his essays.

Afterwards I trot down the hill to my normal bus stop, hot cookies in the inside pocket of my jacket, alone in the hills. I hear the snow crunch under my feet. It falls, thick and soft, onto my cheeks, my eyelashes, my hair. The quaint old street lights make golden, spotted balls of light against the dark night, and through the trees I can make out the outline of Parliament, far away across the river. And, running down the hill so as not to fall, I start to laugh. And I laugh all the way to the bus, where I tell an old lady she has a beautiful sweater. She is slightly frightened by the presence of a foreigner in this far-out neighborhood, especially one soaked with snow, giggling, and complementing her outerwear. But she smiles, and pats my hand.

I lean my head against the window and watch the hill fade away into the blustery white night and return slowly to the real world of downtown.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The long discussed love/hate list

Things I love about Budapest
1. It is culturally acceptable to blow your nose in almost any situation. This is awesome for a girl with perpetual allergies. Also, everyone sounds like a moose here, so I don't get mocked quite so much.
2. The staring taboo does not exist. And everyone dresses like a crazy person. So metro rides can be quite funny, and you don't have to pretend not to be looking at the crazy lady or cute boy.
3. Everyone speaks beautiful, charming English. This makes my life easier, and I love Euro-English, with its weird terms, sometimes awkward phrasings, and lovely accents. Hungarians speaking English sound happy and old-fashioned, and I understand them perfectly.
4. Transit. Good for the earth, the wallet, and Hungary's lack of drunk drivers. Also good for random anonymity-time, where I ride around, listen to my Ipod, and am "alone" for awhile.
5. I have an awesome group of friends who can be counted on for a fun night out, company for dinner, funny text messages, and laughter.
6. Lyla and Bence, my dysfunctional little Hungarian family.
7. Cheese rolls, powdered soup mixes, and breakfast cookies.
8. My jobs. Both are really entertaining, not too hard, and rather rewarding. I am (mostly) respected at both, the students are hardworking and fun, I have several really awesome colleagues, and essentially I'm paid to do what I do anyway, which is chatter on in English.
9. Fruit and vegetables are actually available only according to seasonality. Which means I'm also learning about seasonality and actually living according to what the earth wants.
10. Two dollar beers, two dollar ballet tickets, a week's groceries for two costing around thirty dollars, three dollar gyros, three dollar bottles of decent wine...
11. Night buses which pick me up regularly from downtown and deposit me basically at my door a fleeting thirteen minutes later.
12. Ok, it's not really anything to do with Budapest, but every time "The Way I Are" comes on Lyla's Itunes I feel irrationally happy inside.
13. Wine drinks! Spritszers, wine with coke, mulled wine... all of which are not weird old-lady drinks but perfectly ok, depending on the season, of course.
14. All food is covered with sour cream and paprika.
15. Hungarian. It's unique and interesting, and really something else to listen to.
16. Hungarians. At first glance they're a reserved, seemingly unfriendly, kind of depressive people. But they will go out of their way to help you, they're all blessed with really great dark humor, they work like freaking dogs to scrap a life together out of less than favorable situations, they make out with each other unabashedly in almost every location and at almost every age, they find even the saddest attempts at their ridiculous language adorable and charming, they're incredibly attached to their history and families, they're self-effacing, and just generally nice people... once you force them to actually talk to you after weeks of mono-syllabic responses to your smiley American attempts at friendship.

Things I less-than-love about Budapest
1. It is culturally acceptable to blow your nose in almost any situation. This means people are constantly blowing their nose, then touching you. Or kids just honk away while you are teaching them. And everyone's pockets are constantly full of semi-used tissues. All of this is gross.
2. The staring taboo does not exist. So creepy men feel perfectly justified in spending an entire 45 minute commute staring unblinkingly into your face. And old ladies glare with impunity.
3. Everyone speaks English, and as such does not want to deal with me and my god-awful Hungarian, which therefore does not improve as fast as it otherwise would. And it's just sort of annoying to mentally prep a little speech, stride bravely to a counter, request your food and all its details in Hungarian, and have the clerk sigh at you, smirk, and ask "Is that all?"
4. Transit. It eats hours of my day and involves standing in the cold and rain and being harassed by ticket inspectors.
5. Missing my friends from home, and finding it rather hard to make new ones in the big city.
6. Missing my real family and my dogs.
7. Hungarian cheese straight-up sucks. And there is an entire aisle of hot dogs in most supermarkets.
8. Being the new novelty teacher, and not speaking Hungarian, and nobody (except Balint, bless his heart) telling me what's going on... ever.
9. Fruit and vegetables are only available according to season. This means I couldn't get broccoli for the first few months I was here. And it means that now I cannot get lettuce. LETTUCE!! No lettuce. Or non-citrus fruit for that matter.
10. Really expensive clothes and shoes. And the cheap things are less impressively cheap when I remember that I'm paid in HUF.
11. Night buses full of drunk idiots with drivers that get an evil kick out of aggressive braking and accelerating.
12. I haven't heard a new song in over three months. And we have no tv, no internet, no radio... I also don't know what's going on in the world.
13. Unicum, the ubiquitous Hungarian schnapps, is one of the most horrible things I've ever put into my mouth. Blech.
14. All food is covered with sour cream and paprika.
15. Hungarian. It's really, really, really difficult.
16. Nope, not going to say Hungarians. Except old ladies, most of whom really are just jerks.

Interesting side note: I went to the ballet yesterday. During the applause, the audience starts applauding in the way I am used to, a random cacophony of claps. Within a few seconds, however, it settles into a rather unsettling (honestly, creepy) simultaneous, rythmic clap. I guess that over forty years of forced clapping in unison has long-lasting impacts, even over a decade later... I wonder if they even notice that they do it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Meet Bence!

I'd like to introduce you all to Bence, our new baby silver rat. He's sweet and cuddly. They say petting furry things adds years to your life. I believe it.

Also, his tail is not gross, he's very clean, rats are smart, and he has beautiful black eyes!

PS: Happy Birthday Mom!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


This means awkward. And this is me.

Back to work. Edit has been missing from school for several weeks due to a family emergency and only returned today. For several weeks, 1B was mine. I taught the whole class together, took them to breakfast, fed them myself, taught them how to get their own drinks and bread at breakfast, fetched them from places, and all without speaking any Hungarian! Twice Bálint subbed and took half, but even then I mostly got to decide the things for them. Granted, this means I had to spend a large part of my time with day going "Children! Children! Why do you talk??" Yesterday I was very excited to have Edit back, to be able to have my half class in the little fortress of solitude again, to have more opportunities to do hardcore English work, especially pronunciation, with them again. Today though, I returned to the role of "secondary teacher." Their instructions were given to them in Hungarian, which is quicker, yes, but it takes only a minute and some gestures to explain to them what to do in English. Their drinks were poured and individually handed to them. I had nothing to do, really, besides be the little novelty teacher again. And this was frustrating.

And I KNOW that my specific role is that of little-novelty-teacher. I know this. I exist to teach them idioms, show them that you have to stick your tongue out to do the "th" sound, and really just so they can listen to me since all their curriculum is in freaking British English. I know. But for awhile I was seriously appreciating taking care of my babies, forcing them to listen, forcing them to ask their silly little questions (which I usually understand in Hungarian by the way, but this is a secret to them and to most of my colleagues) and breakfast chatter in English, forcing them to hear only English. And I'm a little sad that it's over. Being the silly secondary teacher is certainly a lot easier but it's also a little annoying.

In case you did not know, I have also gotten a second job at a college. Remember that in Euro-English this means a school for between highschool and university. My students are primarily Iranian 20-somethings who are studying English in order to attend international medical/dental schools. My colleagues there are very accomplished (I've mistaken more than one for a native speaker!) and friendly. They are really going out of their way to be welcoming. The "kids" (most are older than me, actually) are also very sweet, very smart, and talkative. AND THEY SPEAK ENGLISH. I can't even express how exciting it is to teach in actual sentences. Not that I don't adore my babies, which are truly the little loves of my life, but sentences! Sentences are so underrated in your own country.

I walk around full of anecdotes that I want to share with you all, and now I am sitting in front of an actual computer and find myself with so little to say. I'm a little sad because it was midafternoon when I entered the internet cafe and I know when I leave, two brief hours later, it will be as dark as night. That is one really lousy part of Budapest.

I guess, Rome. Rome is beautiful. I managed to see most of the sights despite having only 42 hours in the city itself. Things weren't too bad on the kínos front either, just sort of sad. I did have a really fantastic meal, though. The first course was seafood: octopus with potatoes, salmon carpacchio, seafood salad, raw oysters, fried little fishes, two cheeses, bread, prosecco. Next was a fish ravioli, a large one, with a four cheese sauce. Next the main course: fresh salad with homemade dressing, prawns, shrimp, calamari, and a perfect dorado filet. Next dessert: a giant platter of perfect, fresh fruit, and lemon tart. All with a bottle of semi-sec white and fizzy water. Was one of the best meals of my life, to be sure, and in all honesty one of, if not the, favorite things I did there.

I want a pet. And to move to a nicer flat. I think both of these things are possible.

I'm also giving two private lessons. One to a colleague's 10-year old, and the other to a very sweet 9th grader at one of the international schools.

Also! Bálint is coming to Thanksgiving! Whoo hoo. We have a very strange working relationship, where we either talk too much or just sort of nod at each other in class. It's strange, and since I spend my whole day following him around, I would much prefer if it were more normal. And being me, normal means being friends. So I invited him to Thanksgiving, fully expecting that he would make an excuse, but he actually said yes. So hopefully that goes well. Gergő is coming as well, which is also super exciting because he's such a nice kid, and really good at English, and full of funny little colloquialisms. I'm looking forward to Thanksgiving a really abnormal amount.

And I'm spent. Night, all.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

fall break trip recap :)

ahh... vacation, aka, "da life"

Internet hates us. Our stolen wireless in the flat has deserted us, so we went so far as to travel into Oktogon and buy taquitos to obtain free wireless. Still we cannot post photos on facebook. If things continue like this we may have to actually start *gulp* paying for internet.

I have spent the last two weeks surrounded by disgusting displays of natural beauty.

Transylvania: 23 people crammed into a large van for 6 days, traveling through the mountains of northern Romania. Transylvania belonged to Hungary until the peace treaty after WWI, and they still speak Hungarian. We visited countless small towns, and stayed with families who have taken advantage of the new "rural tourism" trend to survive. Everywhere we were greeted with incredible hospitality, displayed with incredible amounts of fresh, delicious food and homemade cumin palinka. Including for breakfast. We saw Count Vlad's birthplace, a destroyed synagogue, giant gorges, a one-room farmhouse housing 3 generations, countless old men wearing awesome hats and neny-s in babuskas, innumerable horse drawn carriages, a heartbreaking amount of stray dogs, and beautiful wood carvings. And a LOT of churches.

Bekas gorge and river

On our last night we stayed in the small village of Szentkiraly, where they happened to be having a folk dancing festival in honor of the rose hip harvest and successful marmalade making. They invited us, and we crowded into a tiny dance hall decorated with rose hip branches to watch 10-25 year olds leap through the air, spin about, and yell, all decked out in the most beautiful of traditional costumes. Then there were dance lessons, as many of the locals did not know much of the traditional dances. We spun along, laughing, girls dancing with girls, while older generations watched and sipped dark purple blueberry palinka. It took Romania, the incredible exuberance of a misplaced minority, to make me truly fall in love with Hungary. As I watched the young boys jump on stage, slapping their heels, with the most genuinely joyous smiles on their faces, I felt my heart twist in a way that I haven't since Granada and the flamenco basement. Maybe it's just that I'm a sucker for passionately dancing men in strange garb, or maybe it's the unusual-ness of this to an American, or maybe... I don't know. But I fell in love with Hungary in Romania, and that's just how it's going to have to be.

from atop an old castle wall looking out into the Romanian countryside

Croatia: First of all, a much more relaxing trip. Just 4 girls lounging around an incredibly beautiful (and disgustingly cheap) country. We started in Zagreb, the small and surprisingly neo-baroque capital, where we toured churches, including one under a bridge lit only by giant yellow candles, and ate delicious sandwiches, and drank fantastic beer called "goat." We then continued on to the coast, to Zadar, and stared for two days at the incredibly blue water, even on the second, grayer day, and listened to the sea organ (a contraption that plays music powered by the waves and sounds sort of like whale song), and observed the impossibly beautiful people speaking impossibly incredible English. Seriously, folks: head to Croatia if you get the chance. It's a lovely, developed nation full of hospitable people in a disgustingly beautiful setting. It's like I imagine Italy once was, and still is in the heads of many, except that it's actually like this today.

the coast in Zadar

Life changes: as many of you have noticed, Alfonso and I have split up. This happened due to mutual agreement, and through no fault of either party. Distance just got to be too much. We're very different people with very different desires and goals, but we still respect and care for each other. We simply looked at the relationship with dispassionate eyes, realized it wasn't going to work, and chose to end it before we wound up hating each other. I'm sad, but also relieved. I know it was the right choice.

Tomorrow I go back to work after almost two weeks of vacation, and it's a little surreal. I'm excited though. I like my job, and having a routine, and November is going to be an action-packed month for me.

carefree girls on the coast

Miss you guys. Stay safe.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Very quick

Transylvania was awesome. Will write more later on everything. Now in Croatia, it's beautiful and warm. Major life changes, but am coping with them ok.

I miss all of you, and that I've been totally off the grid for a week and another to come. I hope you're all doing well. I'm seeing new things, filling the old eyes with new sights, and I couldn't be happier.

Promise an actual update at a more reasonable juncture.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I guess I actually live here.

I've paid rent (which slipped painfully from my finger tips, for sure). I've purchased and cooked food. I've bitched about the weather, gotten honked at (and threw the finger right back) and can order food without any real problems as long as I apolgize for my awkwardness ahead of time. I thought today how nice the weather is, and how I hope it stays, and then it just weirdly occurred to me for the first real time that I actually do live here. I'm not just visiting, or even studying. I live here.

Yesterday I was sad. I just felt homesick, overwhelmed, underappreciated, whatever. So I went to Margaret Island in my afternoon and laid in the grass. Just laid there, looked at the big fountain (by big I mean that it shoots water 50 feet in the air) that plays classical music, and smelled the grass. I listened to country music and pretended for thirty minutes that I was not in Budapest, but in some rural area, all alone. After awhile I felt better. I think that is the thing I like least about Hungary. Despite the fact that I often feel alone, I almost never actually AM alone. This can be a little bit frustrating, for sure, especially for a loner like myself. I've been trying to stay out a little bit more, to spend less time just laying in my bed. The result is that my shins are a little sore from two straight days of wandering the town but my psyche is much better. I enjoy listening to the crazy sounds of the crazy Hungarians, riding around on public transit, just people watching and looking out the window. Maybe not on my way to work, but it's otherwise very soothing.

Class is going quite well this week. Last night we in theory had parent-teacher conferences, which essentially boiled down to me chillaxing with Bálint in his fortress of solitude (what I privately refer to his small English room, where he spends most of his free time, as), which had no functioning lights due to the repairs that are effectively destroying my school's functionality so got progressively darker from five until six pm. He talked my ear off about Dexter's lab, the wallpapering project in his new flat (he's moving out of his parents'... Europeans are so different about how long they live at home), scootering, and gray markers. I talked his off about the exploding toilet (more on that later), riding public transit all day long, and how normal and happy the students are this year compared to last. It was nice to have a conversation of more than 10 sentences with a colleague that isn't Bill. Not that I don't love/depend far too much on Bill, because he is lovely. But.

Hungarian. It rolls along. As I said, I can order food. I can name a lot of things. I've pretty much gotten over myself and say "yesterday.... present tense whatever." The thing is that conversation must be limited to just a few topics or I stall out, sputter, become red in the face in the way that I do, and then they take pity on me and switch to English. I think that this is perhaps karmic payback for how often I was frustrated last year that nobody in the program spoke Spanish. Damn.

So, now onto the exploding toilet. I have figured out that it is impossible for me to have a normal weekend here in Hungary. I've become nocturnal in Debrecen, almost killed a dear friend in Szeged, gotten drunk in Etyek then surrounded by a group of oversexed Hungarian friends, attended a wine festival in a castle then marched for hours through the dark streets of Pest to show up at an empty bar, stumbled into a screaming metal concert in a pop bar with a Spanish speaking Spaniard and a Spanish speaking Hungarian, and countless other small weird occurences. Every weekend.

This weekend, however, is the winner. First, I head to Jake and Ellen's for Friday night festivities, intending a quiet night in. We play Kings. With wine. Jake goes to use the toilet, flushes it, and the tank essentially explodes. Gallons of water, literally, pour from the tank at head level. In one short hour, I am soaked, have literally run through the building seeking the groundskeeper, gotten told off by a plumber on the phone, gotten sworn at by an elderly neighbor when I asked him in the informal "you" if he would please not call the police because we clearly didn't want the toilet to be exploding, cried, witnessed an old woman wielding a gigantic wrench, kissed the groundskeeper when he finally arrived, and then just changed my clothes nonchalantly in front of the whole group of drunken, soaked friends (don't worry mom, all girls except Jake, and he likes boys).

Wake up Saturday morning smelly and wanting to die. Get McDonalds breakfast. Lovely. Go home to change and then it's off to the bus station to head to Heves for Brigi's name day. Get there, and tramp off to a bonfire which winds up being populated by evangelical American Christians. Take the Lord's name in vain a few times on accident. Hang out two hours after the fire ends, again waiting for the groundskeeper, and eat pizza in the park. Then take Brigi out to all three bars in Heves, come home, watch MTV, crash out. Sounds normal, but it was a weird day.

Wake up. More tv. I miss tv a depressingly large amount. Drink some champagne, then catch the bus home. Get off in Ors Vezer ter and decide to just get gyros for dinner. I ask for them in Hungarian, and the woman "knows I can speak Spanish because of how I speak Hungarian." Chat with the lovely Cuban lady.

This weekend I have to teach on Saturday, because Hungary is weird like that. I hope the streak of weirdness ends, because if this sort of randomness goes down at school I don't know if I'll be able to handle it!

I miss you guys. Hope you're all doing well... I would love to hear more about your lives, so if you have a moment, do send an email.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

ok, so life is better now

The start of this week was AWFUL. It was just weirdly bad, a few days in a row where everything that could go wrong did, and the days just drug on by. Ugh. Thankfully, today went pretty smoothly. I had my first "K" lesson, god help me that I can never remember the word, which is basically tutoring with the kids in class who are having the most issues. Today was second grade. So I pulled three kids from each of the second grade class who are having the most troubles with their spelling, and just did matching and some writing exercises with them. I'm trying really hard to introduce some basic English phonetics to the kiddies. They sound out all the words perfectly.... but following Hungarian rules. Which is awesome for me, cause my Hungarian phonetics are now pretty much awesome. For them though... not so good! So I'm constantly underlining things like "ch" and going "ch ch ch ch ch" at them. They look at me like I'm crazy. Oh well.

Tonight I'm hosting a dinner party. I made yolk aioli last night, and I'm making Hungarian paella today. This basically means paella with Hungarian ingredients... I don't have salchichones, but I do have Gyulai kolbasz! Whoo. I'm glad for the opportunity to be social. I'm so unsocial during the week that it's a little troubling.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Today Lauren stood up for herself

So I have felt a lot in the past week like I was getting a lot of... not attitude, because I'm talking about adults, not children, but really... attitude from the folks around me. I know that it must be super annoying a lot of the time to deal with the American who's still wet behind the ears, who doesn't know any of the rules/traditions/cultural quirks that rule a Hungarian school, and who, most of all, doesn't speak Hungarian. I know.

However. However. I am trying... really hard! I go to Hungarian lessons. I try to be everywhere I need to be, early and fully prepared. And I ask a lot of questions. Which is usually when I get the "attitude." I know I'm the only person who needs this explained. I'm also the only person who has lived in the country for less than 3 years (and I've been here seven weeks!) who works at the school, so explain it to me already!

Now, today, one of the parents apparently approached one of the other teachers and explained that her daughter was very upset because she didn't get a sticker three weeks ago. Because she didn't do her work. He asked me what was up with that. I said that the whole class was being ridiculous, either talking, out of their seat, drawing pictures, reading books in Hungarian, whatever. I remember this day very clearly because I'm talking about 2C here, and they're usually my best-behaved class. So. The response was that the girl didn't understand, so to make sure I have someone translate for me. I explained that it wasn't a big deal! It's a sticker we're talking about here. And the girl was goofing off and that's why she didn't understand. He repeated that I should have one of the students translate.

I was spitting mad. Luckily the next lesson was a planning period. Unluckily, I sat there and stewed. So I took a walk. And thought about how many times I have been frustrated about the fact that it is somehow my fault that I don't speak fluent Hungarian seven weeks after arriving in the country.

Then I marched back into the teachers' lounge. I showed my notebook where I comment on each lesson, that detailed the students' bad behavior that day. Then I stated, very calmly, "If she didn't understand, it's because she wasn't paying attention. I worry that if we are too quick to say 'oh, she or he didn't understand' that it will become an excuse. I already have enough trouble disciplining the students. I need you to understand, and to express to the parent, that everything was made perfectly clear to the students who were paying attention, who have a wide range of skill levels, and that if she had been paying attention to the lesson she would have understood as well."

My dear teaching partner blinked, then said "ok." And in the next lesson, requested that the students gather their notebooks and line up at the door... in English.

I feel vindicated. And adult.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Ok, so blogging spree

Lauren is being a lazy f*** and spending her Friday afternoon goofing off and laying around. And online she finds the school's website, and decides to actually peruse it now that she can somewhat read it. And finds photos!

Some of these are my students! In the uniforms are (first row, left) Csongor, (1st, second from left) Petey, (1st, fourth from left) Franc, (2nd row, third from right) the infamous Bach Bortond, and (2nd, right) Gergely. These are some of my second grade boys. Various other students can be seen showing their support. The man in the tan shirt is one of the gym teachers (not the lovely kind one that Balint always argues about stupid English language stuff with), who scares me a little bit. Mostly because he stares you intimidatingly in the eyes when saying the requisite szia.

And here is the school from the front.

And here is Bortond, whom I have to yell "Bortond! Oy!" at fourteen + times per class because the kid is deep, deep within his own world at all times. I once said "I had a lot of problems with Bortond today." The response was, "Bortond is a problem." Ouch. He's a funny kid.

These ladies are my bosses.

This is Heni. Apparently Heni loves me because all of my things (and my hair) are "beautiful." She also has the best penmanship of 2C. And is super sweet.

Continuing my perusal through the photos, apparently there was some sort of overnight trip last year that also involved a pajama dance part-ay. Not joking. Anyways... here are some of my students on a ferry. These are 2C kids. The boy on the left whose face you can see is Erik, the one with the American dad.

Oh my God why was there a weasel?!

I'm not sure what's going on here. I'm not sure I want to know. The little blonde boy with the terrified look on his face is Mate though! He's totally my favorite. Once I asked the whole class if they wanted to play memory or learn a song; I asked them to raise their hands to vote. When I asked for song, only poor poor Mate raised his hand. He then looked around him, saw he was alone, and slowly lowered his hand. He also sits with his hands clasped in front of him during lessons. Super cute.

My teaching partners! First, the kind and soft-spoken Edit, with whom I share 1B.

Second, the very entertaining and always exasperated (and also, I think, pretty nice) Bálint, whom I'm sure I annoy, and with whom I share 1C, 2B, and 2C. He's in the orange, the man with the killer 'stache giving the eyebrows to the camera is... administration? I think?

Jasmin the groper! (Seriously, I have to protect myself from her hands.) She's in the over-alls. I'm pretty sure they're singing the famous "Don't play in the street!" song in this picture.

Fekete Felix, one of my cutest first graders. Unfortunately, he is always pretending to smoke his pretzel sticks. :/

On the left is Agi, my contact teacher. She's the main one in making sure nothing too bad happens to me. And gets to take me to government offices and the like.


Weird cultural difference

Szia, giant commie statue! Hogy vagy?
Me? Well, I'm a bit confused!

So in Hungary it's apparently super important to say, quite loudly, hello to everyone whenever you enter or leave the teachers' room. This is a little bit annoying because you then have to respond. So in a planning period I will say szia 5-10 times. And god forbid I have to go to the restroom. I stand up, declare sziasztok in order to leave, and then declare it again three minutes later upon my return, forcing everyone else to say szia twice in the process. The ten minutes before first lesson, as everyone comes in and then leaves for class, is completely ridiculous. You can't even converse. "So -szia- how was your -szia- night?" "Oh good. -Szia.- I watched -szia- -szia- a movie with friends." It's awkward.

For those of you who don't know, Hungarians use the same word for hello and goodbye, szia. Sziasztok in the plural. It's like aloha. Since they also have started using hello as well, they will also say hello to say goodbye. And cute things like "very hello!" as a greeting. Love.

At the same time, nobody wishes each other a nice weekend! Around my last lesson on Friday, I start with the well-wishing. "Have a nice weekend!" I smile and state. They look at me strangely. "Yes." WHAT IS THIS? You have to say hello and goodbye every ten seconds, but wishing people a nice weekend is weird. Huh.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

I think I may be omnipotent

Before every Hungarian lesson, I have written down something I have hoped to cover in my little notebook. And in every lesson, that is what we have learned about, without anyone (or myself) requesting that this be so.

Yesterday Agi asked me, on the way to our monumental day of government agencies, how I liked the school. I said "It's really nice. Nobody really talks to me though. I wish they would." Today, literally everyone spoke to me. In Hungarian. I'm pretty sure that the porter invited me horse back riding. This came to pass because she showed me a photo of her daughter horse riding. I said "Me. Little." and pointed at the photo to convey that I had ridden when young. She then invited me. I think.

Just now, as I am writing this blog, my neighbor Kisz Istvan, who awkwardly spoke to me for 20 minutes as I looked words up in my phrasebook this afternoon, rang the doorbell. Lyla and I, with the help of the dictionary, figured out somewhat what he was saying. The three words we got were "toilet," "every (or everything)," and "ready." Via body language, we figured out that he wanted us to flush the toilet. We did, then he mimed as if the water were flowing/flooding/dear god what is going on. Then he smiled and went on his way. This man also thinks Lyla is pretty. He, like everyone else in the building except for Lyla and myself, is over retirement age.

Back to my omnipotence. This week I wished aloud that I would have a chance to do some real teaching without being carried around in my colleague's handbags, figuratively speaking. Today Edit was out sick and I had to teach 1B by myself. 26 first graders that don't speak English. Luckily the only casualty was when Thom stuck Balint's good scissors into a giant glue stick and then used that to bludgeon Alex. Alex deserved it, but still. The good scissors! This resulted in a guttural, wordless scream coming from my mouth. Thom attempted to escape out of the room, but I caught him three steps from the door, and drug his wiggly, kicking first grade body back into the class angrily stating "Nem jol! Nem jol!" "Not good! Not good!"

I hoped for fruit this week. Today, I stepped off the tram and saw purple apples. Purple. They bewitched me so I brought some home.

I was thinking how much I missed my dogs and a stray one trotted up to me and sat down, looking up into my face for a pet.

Fear me.

Other random observations:

sztreccs <--- this is how Hungarians have co-opted the word "stretch." This makes me giggle.

I learned from Vivvi's blog that Hungarians believe that if a woman gets cold feet, or a cold bum, she will have gynecological problems such as a "uterus cold."

Alfonso visited this weekend. It was very nice. We did all the touristy stuff. Memorial park (where they put all the old commie statues) pretty much summed up how I feel about Hungary: confused, a little nervous, entertained, out of place, and so much bigger than myself. Then the baths reminded me that it's a balm for my aches.

I f-ing hate living someplace and not speaking the language. Gah. I want to know it all yesterday.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I am a Spanish TV star...

So Alfonso notices that there is going to be a show following Spanish expats in Budapest on TV. He makes a note to watch it. They show the baths, parliament, etc. Then they show Hero's Square. Who does he see in the background?

Me! And Lyla! And, apparently, two old ladies pointing at us and shaking their heads, not amused by my photo in which I "support" the spire in the monument.

When we were there, we noticed there was a car with a camera crew. We figured it was Hungarian news or something. How weird that it was for a Spanish TV show that Alfonso just happened to watch?!?!

Also, we got a new water heater today! I washed my hair and can now run my fingers from root to tip for the first time in 5 weeks. Whoo. Naturally, we celebrated this by having a hip hop dance party in the flat while cleaning the disaster left behind by their installing the thing essentially with a buzz saw and a hammer.

Class is going really well this week. We switched up the format a little bit now that second grade has to learn to read and write in English. So Balint teaches them the spelling and I... play games with them. No more playway (my sort of annoying curriculum) with second grade for ten whole weeks. Glee. Instead we play four corners, bingo, memory, etc. so they can practice the words and I force them to say "three" instead of "bree" and "one" instead of "vone." A trained monkey could do my job but I like it a lot. First grade is still rolling with the playway, but at least they are starting to know a few key phrases and things. So that's better.

Class is going really well also. Megyek ostalyban ket nap, hetfo es szerda, es tanulok. Beszelek es tanulok. Nagyon jol van. (I go to class twice a week, Monday and Wednesday, and I learn. I speak and I learn. It's very good.) I'm still terrified to speak to collegeauges other than "good morning" but soon I will try. Soon.

Monday, September 22, 2008

So Briggi said "Let's go to a wine fest."

So Lyla, Ashley, and myself were like "sure thing, wine fest sounds good."

First, Friday night. A bunch of us went out to celebrate Eliza's being in Budapest for the night. The night began at Mr. Sörözo's, a bar were beer is 145 forints for half a liter and the sixteen year olds rule the joint. Lyla and I walk in after everyone else has been there for a little bit to find our friends surrounded by 16-18 year old Hungarian boys, teaching them innappropriate things in English such as:

That's what she said!
Jaeger bomb, Jaeger bomb, Jeager bomb bra?
In exchange were were taught innappropriate things in Hungarian such as:
Horse f***er
go f*** your mother

Then we went to a salsa club and danced awkwardly alone in the corner. There is photographic evidence of the awkwardness. It's seriously in the top five of awkward photos. It was a weird night.

So Saturday comes and we go to fetch Briggi from the train station with something of a headache. We then proceed to take two metros to Ferenciak ter, where we wander around lost and confused looking for the bus to the southern Volanbusz station. We find our way there just in time, run to catch the bus, and head off to the wine fest in Etyek.

This bus is FULL. We are crammed in there like sardines, driving up mountain roads and speeding along the highway. There is a woman next to us with a map of the highway, and luckily Briggi can communicate to her in German, so we sort of figure out where we are supposed to be heading. We get off the bus, wander for a bit, and find our way to quite close to where we are heading.

Where we are heading is the wine cellar of Briggi's family friends, the lovely, lovely Csibi family. (Cheebee) The father, Tomas, comes to find us and brings us in. We meet his wife Judit and son Andy, as well as Andy's silent friend Petey. Then we are brought down to the cellar, where we are shown the freshly pressed must (grape juice) and the wine aging in barrels. Tomas demonstrates how to use the stealing squash (a sort of pipe) to take wine from the barrels. Then the tasting starts. We are given... many samples of many different wines. Just at the right moment, when the room was starting to feel very dizzy, Judit calls us back upstairs, presenting us with a beautiful spread of meats, cheeses, and breads. We eat until it is not possible to eat any more, then go for a walk around the town.

In the square we see a small child making plum jam (which people eat with spoons from a bowl) and hear some heavy-metal-folk music. No, that's not a mistake, that is what it was. More walking. More wine. Folk music, and dancing, and having historical and cultural facts explained to me when I asked questions, and often when I did not. All of this due to the very generous hospitality of the Csibis. We are sent to catch the bus with full plastic cups of pinot noir rose, and Andy and Petey lead the way. Back to Budapest, thankfully this time on an express bus.

We go home, eat some dinner, and swing by our acquaintance Monika's farewell party. Then we are invited by Andy again to go to a party at a friend's home. We arrive, and are passed around the party like small children by concerned (and wasted) Hungarian 20-somethings, all making sure that we are comfortable and entertained. All of whom speak perfect English as well. We stay there for several hours and are then walked back to the night bus.

I know that it is not possible to do justice to this day in a few short paragraphs on a blog. But I really wish I could. The whole day I was awash in a spirit of good will and hospitality. The whole day, nobody yelled at me or rolled their eyes when I attempted to speak Hungarian. I was fed, spoken to with respect, and happily shown where I needed to be. I felt genuinely happy, and actually comfortable and un-awkward, for an entire day. And that is about 30 times as long as I have gone without feeling out of place since I arrived here. I know that I am in Budapest and it's the "big city" and people are naturally cold. But I cannot even explain the relief I felt in my heart when I had a day where everyone was just... nice.

So... the next time you see someone who is confused, or lost, or alone... be super nice to them. Maybe this way I can karmically repay the Csibi family for their awesome, awesome kindness.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

wine fest video blog!


Anyway, in the video we mentioned that we were afraid of falling down the stairs after the wine fest, where we were served triple portions for speaking awkward Hungarian, briefly molested by Austrians for a photo op, and received little neck carrying pouches which held our wine glasses perfectly. Awesome.

Happily, no falling down the stairs and dying happened. Yay! Rather, we followed the wine fest with a house party, where there was ranch dressing (!!!) and bottles and bottles of wine. This was followed by a troupe of Americans and one Hungarian stumbling through the streets of Pest in an attempt to arrive at a bar that didn't suck. Sadly, no success. On the plus side, this took so long that we were able to take the metro home when it opened at 4:30 AM.

I feel sort of like I'm two different people. Mild-mannered weekday Lauren goes to work, plays with kids, makes the handsign for scissors, attempts to study Hungarian, makes salads and packs lunches, and goes to sleep by 11. Insane weekend Lauren spends 3-4 times as much money as weekday Lauren does in less than half the time, yells expletives loudly in English in the middle of a metro station, falls up stairs, eats only bread, and does nothing but sleep and prowl the city until it's starting to be sunny out. Ugh. Must find someway to reconcile these two personnas so that weekday Lauren is less lame and weekend Lauren is less... just less.

It's chilly today and that makes me sad. I'm not ready for it to be all sweaters all the time. I want more sun. Lyla and I are considering going away this weekend... warmth?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Lauren has been a busy girl

1. I have signed up for language courses. They will be 2 hours, twice a week. I will start as a "beginner 2," which basically means I can order food and pay for it already. I paid in advance for four months of lessons to force myself to stick with it. Because Hungarian is a super-difficult language that makes me mildly insane, but I am also tired of being mute and illiterate. Illiteracy is balls. Therefore I must torture myself into learning the blasted magyarul. I am also forcing myself to type this on a Hungarian keypad. The y and the z are reversed. This is also difficult. Must learn.

2. 1C makes me insane. The kids literally run around the classroom screaming. And I cannot yell at them effectively. So basically I go "No! Not good! Not good! Not happy!" Today one of the kids did a handstand on his desk. My poor heart leapt from my chest, but luckily he did not fall and bust his head open. Because I wouldn't have known what to do. Especially not what to say.

3. 2C, on the other hand, is the light and joy of my life. They speak English! They respond to prompts and commands! The "class leader" Eric's father is American, and all the kids want to speak English just as well. They're earnest. It's lovely.

4. 2B and 1B are nice as well. Not as lovely as 2C, but very nice. I think I would like 1B a lot more if I didn't have to spend the entire lesson going "scissors" "pencil" "glue" etc. while making handmotions. I mean, it's definitely not their fault, but I can't wait for them to start speaking little sentences.

5. I imagine life now as a giant game of charades. "Open your book" comes complete with a handsign for a book and the opening of my arms. "Sajnos nem értem" comes complete with an apologetic grimace and shrug. To the porter, "kérek a kulcsat, angol terem élső emelet-et....?" (Please, the first\second floor English room key), always said like a question, unsure still if emelet-et is the correct thing here, comes with the act of my hand turning an imaginary key. I step onto the bus and glance quickly around for a seat, opening my book in front of my face and glowering.

6. This week, thanks to the lovely "Playway" curriculum the school uses, I have taught the 2nd graders the following essential items of English language:
listen to the racoon
get across the river
can you teach me to swim?
sailing is great fun
(my favorite) there's something in your mouth! it's a frog!
Thanks to my speaking, I have taught them "goofing off," "lazy," and "a few\a couple."

7. Hungarians will blow their nose anywhere, in any situation or company, and as loudly as they feel necessary. I'm running with this, especially considering that I have caught my first case of the sniffles.

8. I have not yet had goulash, but I have had 2 burritos and 3 servings of General Tso's chicken since arriving in Hungary.

9. Today my acerbic colleague, who is the source of much of my day's entertainment, opened the windows for me in the classroom I would be using for 2B. As much as I may mock this lovely individual, he's one of the only people who is ever actually nice to me, and it's mostly only a defense mechanism due to my own feelings of uselessness at work. God, must make a list of things to remember. It will be miles long.

10. I must cook dinner or something for Bill. I harrass the poor man daily with questions and comments, and ask him to make great sweeping generalizations about Hungary. Thank God he exists, rides my bus, and sits across from me at my "desk" or I would be even more confused and lost.

11. Lyla and I went to Ikea and got soupbowls, big pillows, and shiny placemats. Whoever said you can't buy happiness was full of it. I bought a huge amount of happiness at Ikea, and it only cost like 3500 Forint.

12. ő ű What the hell is that symbol? Currently I call it the "power umlaut." But what is it?

Monday, September 8, 2008

My address

So, I thought some people might like to have this. It's my school address, the only place I really feel safe receiving mail, so, yeah... just don't swear on the envelope or whatever. Mail will be reciprocated! I think I'm the only teacher at school who hasn't gotten anything yet. :( Haha just kidding! Or not? Send me love.

Lauren McCawley
Krudy Gyula Alatános Iskola
1037 Budapest
Gyógyszergyár utca 22-24

On a happier note

in Hero's Square
the Chain Bridge
the town of Szentendre
Lyla and I in Szentendre

"Hello. My name is Lauren. I am American. I speak Hungarian very poorly but I am learning. I think Krudy Gyula is a beautiful school and I like it a lot. That's all. Thanks."

^Saying this in Hungarian today at the parent-teacher meeting resulted in my literally jumping up and down outside the school, phoning both Alfonso and my mother to brag on myself, and hi-fiving the man from the fruit stand.

I went to Debrecen this weekend, ostensibly for a jazz fest. Of course, my planning was off and I heard not a single note of jazz. Whoo. It was, however, a splendid weekend. I danced, drank, slept in a big puppy pile on the couch, and interacted with other human beings in a relaxed and normal way. Not a single old lady yelled at me, and I met the lovely Sucry, Ali, and Edit, who greatly improved the weekend. AND I saw Jupiter through a telescope powerful enough that I could see its surface patterns.

On a side note, I get yelled at almost daily by old ladies. I don't understand this, because in America old ladies love me. Usually I just sort of cower and say "Nem ertem, es sajnalom nem ertem." "I don't understand, and I'm sorry I don't understand." It is awkward.

I have decided to make friends with an older American guy at work (older being 30ish) who speaks Hungarian and is genuinely kind. This makes me feel sooooo much less out of place in the teachers' room. Though I'm hoping that the news of my triumphant use of Hungarian spreads and I am looked at more nicely.

We are having folks over for dinner tonight. I cooked some tortilla. The flat will be stretched to capacity. Speaking of, I think I might be able to put up a picture! These are of the flat: the hallway, the main room, the bathroom, the kitchen, and the stove. I am also totally "stockholm syndome-ing" the flat. I think it's cute and homey! It's not full of bugs and smelling of natural gas! No! I love it!

Hi Lyla! My bed is the one in the corner.

Look, Mom, the gargoyle is out. He protects the window.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


I wake up at 6, still a little confused as to where I am. I stumble the ten or so steps across the flat to the bathroom, make toast (which involves matches and open gas fires), pull on some respectable-looking clothes.

(My dad just called... hi Dad!)

Then I stumble down the 8ish flights of stairs, using 3 keys on my way out of the building. I breathe in a snap of cold air, and walk the few minutes to the metro. Catch it, and cram myself into a corner, closing my eyes to avoid the "awkward public transit eye contact." 7 stops later, off and up into the sun, trotting a little bit to catch the number 60 bus. Sweet, a free chair! Damn, an old lady right behind me! Again, cram into a corner and zone off.

Down the stairs off the bus, inevitably whacking someone with my bag or elbow. I'm awkward. Down the stairs to the school, around the flats. Jo reggelt to the woman watering her grapes. Up the stairs to the teachers' lounge, sziastok to the group. Gather notebooks. Wait awkwardly for the bell to ring, surrounded by conversation in Hungarian. To class. My acerbic Hungarian teacher partner informs me what we are doing today. I wonder when I will get to decide that myself. Teach, planning period, teach teach teach.

The first graders throw their hands in the air repeatedly with the frustration that I do not speak Hungarian. I throw my hands in the air with the frustration that they don't understand the phrase "sit down." Ah! Animal pictionary! Excellent, and somehow the 45 minutes are filled.

Back to the teachers' room. How were students? Oh, they were good. The boys were a little crazy.

Gather stuff quickly and flee. Headphones, bus, metro. Errands? Back to the flat. Lay.

I'm quite overwhelmed. I'm happy, and doing ok. I'm just overwhelmed. Must learn Hungarian.

Funny side note: Imagine, if you will, having to maintain a serious face and NOT LAUGH while a colleague explains in all earnestness to a group of children that they "like everything to do with balls." Twice. Because I somehow pulled it off.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Hello all, sorry this will be short, but internet is sketch. We're currently stealing it from... someone.

School is awesome, the kids are cute and they're taking good care of me. Also, I'm a legal resident now! Awesome. Just got the stamp today.

And now I must go to bed. Because my night-owliness is not helping with my 6am wake up calls. Will try to write much longer tomorrow.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

On Commie Block housing and water heaters

First: Thanks to the people who are reading and commenting! Mom, Dad, Weas, Ash, Little, and LilLil, I love you back. Lurkers, I love you too.

So I live in a commie block building, surrounded by other commie block buildings. This is interesting. It's actually a sort of cute flat. Nice wood floors, a little balcony, etc. It's just my American predispositions screaming. So here is where fantasy comes in.

Me: Let's pretend we're starving artists, living in a garret. We can write poems!
Lyla rolls eyes.

So then a few hours later, making myself a salami sandwich for lunch, which involves squeezing mayonnaise out of a toothpaste tube, I comment: Let's pretend we're college students. If we were in college, we would be super psyched to live here!

Lyla: I thought we were starving artists.
Me: So we're priveleged starving artists. Whatever.

Then, of course, came "Let's pretend we're frontierswomen." This one happened when we had no hot water, and I had to go to work, and smelled really bad. The solution here was to fill the tub with a few inches of the ice water that came from the tap, then boil pots of water, then add those to the ice water. This resulted in a cool, but reasonable bath.

My school, despite being an hour away along tram line 1, is lovely. It's very cute, and my contact teacher is very awesome. (As an example, she lugged my heaviest suitcase up to our 4th floor walk up like it weighed nothing while smoking and screaming into her cell phone.) I'll be teaching first and second with the help of an acerbic Hungarian gentleman. Should be fun.

Now to attempt laundry. Vaguely afraid of the machine, but pressing on anyway.

Love and miss you guys a lot!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

I eat peaches with Barack Obama, what have you done lately?

Happy Birthday to me!

Funny story: so the word for peach in Hungarian is barack. So this small town has gotten together and decided to send him 250 kilos of homemade peach jam and 10 L of peach palinka. This makes me giggle.

Also, a quote from the Hungarian program director: "But the email keeps blocking me, maybe it thinks I am a spam."

Went out last night for the bday celebrations. It was fun, just some palinka and a few beers, as well as the farewell dinner earlier in the evening. Where I had another platter of assorted meats.

My people are here to pick me up and take me to my flat, so I must go!

Sunday, August 24, 2008


So, am now one day into orientation. Today I learned that Hungarians are pessimists. And... that's about it! Plus a few words. We start Hungarian lessons tomorrow though so looking forward to that.

We also discovered that we do in fact have an apartment. Its also near the metro, yay! It's over on the east side of town, and I think we're going to go check out the neighborhood today. Then who knows. It's Sunday so everything will probably be quite dead.

Also, had Chinese food for lunch. It was exactly like mall Chinese food.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

10 Billion degrees, Kelvin

It is so hot! Yesterday we went to Castle Hill and Fisherman's bastion. It was very pretty but also incredibly crowded. I wasn't in a particular rush to see it since I will be living here in Budapest and have plenty of opportunities to visit in the future, but we went with people who are teaching out in the country. I will have to return in September when it's a little less insane and I can appreciate it more.

Sadly, tragically even, no pool occurred yesterday. A large group of CETP-ers, however, did go out dancing at an outdoor venue, which was super fun. They played all the hits of five years ago, mixed with a few eighties classics, so much dancing and ridiculousness ensued.

My first taste of the famous palinka (fruit brandy/firewater), however, was much less pleasant. I'm told it was a bad example, but ewww.

I actually got a good night's sleep last night though. I don't have any real plans for today beyond that orientation officially starts tonight and we have a welcome dinner. A lot of people arrived yesterday and it's becoming hard to keep everyone's names straight! Classes start tomorrow as well... gonna be a busy week.

Friday, August 22, 2008

in the hostel

Hello everyone!

So yes, as you probably guessed from lack of news otherwise, I have made it safely to Budapest. We arrived Monday night, smelly and giddy from lack of sleep but otherwise fine. When we got here a bunch of older program members were having a wine part-ay outside due to its being St. Stephen's Day. There were also fireworks. So we partook in that and then crashed out.

Yesterday it was up and about early, since we both strangely woke up at 6 AM... croissants, naps, and long walks also followed. Then we sat in the lounge and tried to find English language TV to horrifying and entertaining results.

Everyone seems really nice so far, which is happy. Today we're going to walk again, and then go swimming, because it is HOT.

Off to breakfast, miss you guys :)


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hello all...

So yes, I figure this might be an easier way to keep in touch, since I so clearly was a fail in Cali at it. I hope you all enjoy reading, and perhaps commenting (I set it up so you don't need an account to do so).

I'm leaving tomorrow. One wonders if one truly needs 100 pounds of stuff... but then I remembered that I'm going forever and I guess I do. I did limit myself to only 6 pairs of shoes though... go me!

I'm a little wigged out about tomorrow. I hope that everything goes smoothly and I arrive without issues, with all my luggage and belongings (!) in Budapest Wednesday night. If not... then I guess that will be the first adventure.

Poodley is sitting with me, and I am a little bit sad. I will miss her and her angry sighs. Everyone else as well, of course!!

I leave you with this. Enjoy: