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.