Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mikulas Nap

Now, I realize this is late. But I figure late is better than never, and this is an interesting part of Hungarian culture that I don't think I've written much about.

Here in Hungary, Christmas happens twice. On Christmas itself, families get together and exchange gifts over a large meal. Kids also get some gifts from the baby Jesus. This usually takes place on Christmas Eve, rather than Christmas day.  Going to church either for Midnight Mass or on Christmas morning is also a big part of the Christmas celebration for many families.  Nowadays, this celebration is usually split up similarly to how it is in America: Christmas Eve with one side of the family, Christmas Day with the other side.  All in all, the Christmas celebrated at Christmas itself is a quiet family affair.

On December 6th, however, the silly and public Christmas takes place.  This is known as Mikulas Napja, or Saint Nicholas's Day.  St. Nick's Day is the day when people wear Santa hats and, to some extent, give gifts outside of the family.  St. Nick's Day, more than anything else, though, is for children.  On the evening of December 5th, children put out their shoes (or in most cases, boots!) for Santa to fill up with gifts during the night.  Today, most kids get gifts bigger than their shoes, but the tradition was that the gifts would fit into the shoes.  It's like our stockings in America: nowadays, where most kids would be rather upset if they only got a stocking full of gifts!  There is also a LOT of candy involved in this day, and little chocolate Santas are gifted and regifted for the days around it.  Older kids scoff at the concept that Mikulas actually brings the gifts, and parents admonish them to be quiet around their younger siblings.  Santa also has a naughty helper, Krampus, who is a little black demon-esque thing that takes care of delivering coal to bad children... and whipping people on the street with reeds, though this is more extreme in northern Europe.

The only really bad part of Mikulas is that it isn't a public holiday, so kids have to go to school!  As you can imagine, very little actually gets done on that day.

When I say that St. Nick's day is for the children, I mean that it's for the children in your own life.  I, for example, brought muffins into class for my home room kids.  It also means that, as an "adopted child" in my roomie's family, I got invited to their house to celebrate.  We had a big lunch with cake at the end, and I got my very own dark chocolate Santa to munch on.  The table was all done up with red and green and on the whole it was entirely lovely.

I rather like the concept of having two separate Christmases.  For one, it makes the whole month of December festive.  For another, you get to focus on the two spheres of your life, the public and the private, individually and thus give them each the attention they deserve.  Spain also does this, with the Three Kings bringing kids their gifts on January 6th, and so do many other countries.  I know that many families are stressed about keeping Christmas separate from the commercial side of it, especially as that side becomes more and more intense and ridiculous.  So maybe everyone throughout the world should do this.  It doesn't have to be any particular day.  Just choose another day, and have your intimate, family Christmas on one day and the fun, commercial Christmas on another.  After all, too much Christmas is never a bad thing!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Travel bug...

Now, as you know, I went to Istanbul in August, to Vienna in September, to Edinburgh in October/November, and then home to the States over Christmas.  I have a trip planned to Paris for March 14-19.  I will be going to the Ukraine over Easter at the beginning of April.  I'll be going somewhere else for my four-day weekend at the end of April, and for my three-day weekend at the end of May.  I'll spend a month over the summer either working at a camp somewhere or spending some of my Americorps money studying in Salamanca.  I am, in all honesty, set for traveling.

And still, my bug is nibbling at me.  I have to get somewhere in the next few weeks.  Mid-March is just too far away.

Beyond that, my deep desire to head to South America has taken over again.  I've been checking out flights, and it is just ridiculous... 600.000 HUF for the flights alone!  Granted, that is Budapest to Rio, then to Lima, then to Santiago de Chile, then to Buenos Aires, then to Newark to visit my family.  So it's a lot of flights.  But it's also a lot of money!  And I want to go so badly and spend a month traveling around South America.  I need to do it, I've wanted to do it for so long.

Never mind all the other places: Russia, India, Thailand, China, Egypt, a safari.

Ah!  The world is just so big and awesome and I just want to see it all!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Hungarian Medicine...

... is remarkably easier to deal with when you actually speak some Hungarian.

So I've spent the last two weeks feeling as if my ears were full and with sinus pressure.  Wednesday I could barely breathe, but I still went into work because I had an open lesson.  (Incidentally, it was an awesome open lesson!  My boss, when I asked her if she had any advice for me, told me to keep doing exactly what I was doing.  Yay.)  Wednesday afternoon led to general feelings of awfulness, and then I started to cough, so I decided that I definitely needed to head into the doctor.

On Thursday I walked the 15 minutes to the nearest city health center.  After some trouble with paperwork, I amazingly didn't even have to wait to be seen.  An ENT doctor and a nurse took care of me, and tutted over me, and scolded me for not having come in sooner.  I even got my face x-rayed, which was sort of awkward as I had to sit perfectly still with my nose against a board and my mouth hanging open.

The eventual diagnosis was, in the words of my doctor, the "háromság," which means the trinity.  I had acute maxillary sinusitis, a middle ear infection, and inflamed tonsils.  The coughing, it turns out, was just from a mild chest cold.  An hour after I walked in, I was out the door, clutching a variety of prescriptions in my hand.

I know I've discussed this before, but in America we tend to have one or two medicines that combine different medications.  Not so in Hungary.  So, to treat my general face infection, I have to do the following:

  • take an antibiotic pill twice a day
  • take an ampule of probiotics twice a day, to prevent the killer antibiotic from wreaking too much havoc on my system
  • use a dropper to place three drops of a serum into each nostril three times per day
  • gargle with a certain syrup, diluted in water, three times per day
  • take an expectorant syrup that tastes of thyme three times per day
  • point a hair dryer at my ears for five minutes per ear, three times per day
  • take ibuprofen as needed
It's all a bit of a headache, but it was also all totally free.  I also have to go back next Thursday so that she can check out my right ear when it's not infected.  I just hope this all gets taken care of soon and my ears can be permanently empty-feeling for once!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Metric System

One of the most notable changes, when leaving the United States, is that the whole rest of the world uses a totally different system of measurement.  Food is weighed in kilograms (decagrams for smaller amounts), liquids in liters, and temperature in celsius.  And, like most things, this starts to become normal to you after awhile.  I now naturally say "I drank two whole liters of water during second lesson!" or "I'd like a half kilo of tomatoes, please."  This year, finally, I've even started to recognize and understand celsius.

I've been trying to watch what I eat recently, which has lead to two observations.  First, in Europe, nutrition facts are much less stringently applied.  They also include, in addition to the calories, the kilo-joules in a food.  Who uses the kJ when the calories are right there?  Anyone?  Secondly, hopping on the scale after a week of careful diet and exercise is rather disappointing in the metric system.  There's just something a lot less satisfying about losing 1.3 kilos compared to losing 3 pounds!

I would also like to promise that this blog will not turn into one of those obnoxious blogs where I discuss diet, exercise, "personal goals," "fitness achievements," and the like.  Yuck.  Just making an observation that really struck out at me... the only way the metric system has ever disappointed me!

Monday, January 23, 2012

3-day weekend

It turned out very suddenly (as in, we learned about it on Wednesday) that this weekend is a three day weekend.  The first semester ended last week, so today is the mid-year meeting.  Our coordinator could not get ahold of our boss, so she made the call that, as the meeting will be held in Hungarian, we don't have to attend.  Which meant that we all of a sudden had a three day weekend coming up, and no time to plan a trip.

So, what does a young expat do when faced with a three-day weekend at home?  Lots of things, as it turns out.

Friday: buying a new big fridge, napping, catching up on tv, and going to her roomie's brother's birthday party
Saturday: making brunch, going to see the Muppets, having a long walk, buying some clothes, and going to a Spanish friend's birthday party
Sunday: going to see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, making fajitas, skyping family, and playing pool
Monday: sleeping in, getting delivery of the fridge, getting work done, and going to yoga

I had planned on a trip to the baths this weekend, but now virtually everyone, myself included, has come down with a sinus infection.  Or at least sinus pressure.  So, getting some work done instead.  I feel so relaxed and well rested!  I wish every weekend could last for three days.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Opera

In Hungary, the Opera has a capital letter not because it's fancy, but because there is only one. It is a gorgeous old building and incredible world-class performances are put on here, both by Hungarian troupes and international ones as well. There are also ballet and orchestra shows.

Anna's cousin is an opera singer with the National Opera. Tonight is the dress rehearsal of "Mephistophole" and I got free tickets. For the ground, row 9 center.

My life is awesome. Let the show begin.

I passed!

I just went to the stationer's to buy a card for my grandma, who had back surgery. The lady working there was incredibly friendly and helpful. We chatted about the crazy weather for a few minutes, then she showed me the get well cards. I looked through them and then decided a blank card would be better, since my grandma can't read the printed greeting.

The shop lady was confused and asked me why I was sending a card if my grandmother couldn't read. I stared at her, confused, and said that she could read, just not Hungarian.

The lady said, "Oh, ok, your grandmother isn't Hungarian!"  I said, "Well, I'm not Hungarian?"

And then the woman said, "Really?!?"

Ahhh. I'm so self-satisfied right now.  And now off to my Hungarian lesson, so I can continue tricking people!

Sunday, January 15, 2012


The weather this year has been decidedly weird.  When I arrived in July, it was gray and rainy, along with temperatures in the 60s.  Then, mid August brought incredibly hot weather that lasted into October.  In November, every thing seemed like it was starting to be normal again.  But then, it stayed that way.  And all through December and since I've been back in January, the weather has been dry and only in the 40s.  No snow.  No beautiful winter weather.  This week, it became incredibly windy, but still no snow.

But last night, it snowed.  Just a little bit, and I'm sure it has since melted.  Still, coming home last night with the city lights on and a light dusting making everything more beautiful... it was gorgeous.  Budapest is so beautiful!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Evil clown and office pranks

Now, as most of you know, I hate clowns. I'm not scared of them exactly. It's more that they make me uncomfortable. Now, my desk mate, David, received a porcelain clown recently. It's been slowly creeping toward my desk over the past week. Today, I came back to find it lurking behind my sandwich with a note that said "Share... or die!"

The answering salvo has been sent. Some days, I love my job!

Sorry it's sideways... Must figure out how this works!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Two trees

The top picture is of my American Christmas tree.  It is old (my family has had it for as long as I can remember) and I love it.  It's absolutely covered with ornaments, each one holding a memory.  It's big and shiny and amazingly beautiful.  The bottom picture is of my Hungarian Christmas tree.  Each year my tree is different, because I get to choose live trees here.  The decorations are a bit slapped together, it's a bit messy, and I still haven't quite figured out how to keep it alive, but it's an adventure every year, especially the midnight run to throw it away.

People here in Hungary often ask me how I could give up America to live here.  How it is that I gave up a big car, a big apartment, and an easy life in my own language to come and ride a bike while struggling in Hungarian.  Most importantly, they don't understand how it is that I'm not paralyzed with longing for my home.

But the amazing thing is, I didn't give up America.  It's there waiting for me if I want to go back.  I could go back next week if I wanted to, but for now I'm good on the adventure.  Plus, with the power of the internet and jet engines, I don't have to choose between the one and the other.  I can have two countries that I call "home" at the moment, and I can have two Christmas trees, too.  They couldn't be more different, but I think they're both pretty special.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Back on the bike

It's been in the mid-forties (around 5 C) here for the past week and transit has been driving me particularly crazy.  Plus, I just made my shiny new resolution, so I needed to keep away from public transit for at least a few days if that was going to survive.  These two things led to me lugging Tiff down to the street this morning and biking to work.

I arrived to work sweaty and breathless, already depressingly out of shape after less than two short months away.  Granted, those two months included Christmas, but still.  Everyone asked me why my face was so red, and I could only smile.  I was totally zenned out after my half-hour ride inside of my own head.  As I buzzed about on my endorphins, I couldn't imagine feeling any better.  I swear, I need to bike to work every day.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

New Years Resolutions, again

A website I read put up a really nice list of potential New Years Resolutions, including things like "stop pursuing an emotionally unavailable person" and "respect your own boundaries."  The one I like the best, however, is the suggestion to let other people be idiots.

This one is hard for me.  For one thing, I'm sort of overly self-confident sometimes, and I convince myself that my way of doing things is the best way.  For another, I'm a fixer, and everyone around me knows this.  When they need help, I will fix their problems for them and get them out of a jam.  So, if I prevent people from getting into problems in the first place, I save myself future work.  This has always been my justification.

But you know what?  What other people do, assuming that it doesn't impact me, really isn't any of my business.  I'm not the boss or manager of anything, I'm not in a serious relationship, and I don't have children.  I'm not responsible for anyone but myself.

So my second New Years Resolution this year is to let it go and chill the hell out.  When I see other bicyclists tooling around without helmets on, I will try my damnedest to not sigh angrily at them.  When I am in airport security and a woman is suddenly surprised that she has to take her shoes off, I will attempt to find my own personal zen.  When one of my colleagues tells me that they haven't planned anything for one of their lessons, I will endeavor to simply nod.  I will try very hard to not bitch about anyone or complain about things that I generally perceive as stupid.  In fact, every time I feel the urge to say something negative, I will try to replace that with a positive statement.  And in doing so, I will hopefully become a better person.

This is going to be the most difficult thing I've ever attempted to do.  I've moved to two foreign countries on my own, survived a year in the Americorps, gotten a masters in another language while working full-time, and spent 7 weeks traveling in Eastern Europe with no itinerary.  Those were all cake walks.   This?  This will be hard.

Friday, January 6, 2012

My New TV Obsession

I watched a few episodes of Parks and Recreation during its first season and really was not impressed with it.  People kept recommending it to me, however, so I sat through the (not awesome) first season and it was totally worth it.  It's hysterical and also super sweet.  Between the earnestness of Leslie, the ridiculousness of Ron Swanson (that amazing face up there), and how damn adorable Andy is, I am totally hooked.  And, as such, I am up late watching episodes when I should be sleeping.  Oh well.  I'm having fun, and the morning is still a while away!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Aerial Photography

While at home over Christmas, I got to go up in my dad's little plane with him.  It's an adorable little prop plane and we had a great time together.  Dad did some twists and turns, and it was a bit bumpy, but I wasn't scared.  I even took the controls for a minute while up in the air.
me in copilot mode
a duck-shaped lake
our house from the sky
Elk mountain, the nearby ski resort, from the sky.  People stopped and waved at us from the slopes.
the nearby Nicholson bridge
Your pilot and copilot wish you a good day!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

After my father's annual epic fireworks display, we are ready to ring in the New Year.  I will kiss my puppy and drink a mini bottle of cava, as is traditional.  And tomorrow I will head back home to Budapest.  Silly short break this year.

My New Year's resolution this year is to blog at least three times per week.  My life is amazing and worth documenting, and I need to remember that.  So I hope to see much more of you in 2012!

Happy New Year, Boldog Új Évet, ¡y Feliz Año Nuevo!