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5 American Habits I Lost When I Moved to Budapest

United States Budapest Student Work
by Alisa Kennedy Feb 16, 2015

1. I stopped seeing the need for my own car.

Being from Texas, I used to drive everywhere. You have to. Otherwise, you would never get anywhere. Urban sprawl, lack of any workable form of public transit, and the simple fact that the state is so damn big, has cultivated an ingrained driving culture. Probably the biggest right of passage in a young Texan’s life is getting that first car at the age of 16.

But living in Budapest is a completely different mindset. With an ample network of buses, trams, and trains — running like clockwork (most of the time) to get you to every corner of the city — there’s no need for your own personal transportation. Plus, taking public transport is a glimpse into the behavior of the locals — plenty of PDA found on Hungarian buses — and a trip on the mustard yellow subway cars of the M1 line is a ride through history since it’s the oldest electrified underground rail in continental Europe. Driving your own car isn’t nearly as intriguing and becomes more of a nuisance — you can never find a place to park and all the road signs are written solely in Hungarian.

2. I couldn’t eavesdrop anymore.

While standing in line at the coffee counter, eating at a restaurant, or waiting for the ladies room at a crowded bar on a Friday night — yeah, I used to listen in on the idle chatter and gossip happening around me. Everyone eavesdrops. But in Budapest, all this back and forth public banter just melted away into white noise for one simple reason: I couldn’t understand a single word.

Hungarian is considered the second most difficult language to master, with long tongue twisters for words — try saying egészségedre (Cheers!) after a couple of shots of palinka. To confuse matters more, the Hungarians often say szia (as in see ya!) for hello and hello for goodbye. I enjoyed my lack of comprehension at times — it meant I could block out people’s cellphone conversations or wasn’t forced to listen to Dóra’s explanation of why her date with Tamás went sour. But it was also often unsettling. Not understanding any of the conversations of the random people around me started to give me a FOMO complex.

3. I gave up on high heels.

Nothing makes a woman feels sexier than donning a pair of sleek heels on a night out on the town. Know what doesn’t make her feel sexy? Wearing those same heels while strutting her stuff down the cobblestone streets of Budapest. I could never do it, though I witnessed many 20-something Hungarian women strutting around the VI and VII districts on their way to a romkocsma with expert precision. I also gave up on dressing to impress — my fashion sense could never compete with the snug, super-short dresses the local women were able to pull off.

4. I kind of forgot about the American celebrations I had grown up with.

It’s amazing how easily all the holidays you celebrated your entire life can slip past you without all the prevalent in-your-face marketing ploys there to remind you. In Budapest, there aren’t any red, white, and blue decorations strung up around town for the upcoming Fourth of July, no sales on turkeys in the grocery store every November, and what the hell is the Super Bowl or March Madness? This was one thing I really missed about the States — the camaraderie and silly fun with my friends and family surrounding these American rituals.

But Hungary has its own worthy celebrations. St. Stephen’s Day every August 20th is marked by the most amazing fireworks display I have ever seen, lighting up the iconic Parliament Building as it rains down into the Danube River. There’s an annual festival going on somewhere in the city almost every weekend, from spring to fall — proof that Americans aren’t the only ones who can find any old excuse for a party.

5. I stopped speaking like a southerner.

Many Hungarians know English, at least on some level. But since it isn’t their first language (sometimes not even their second or third), I learned quickly that my normal speaking cadence could have the potential to cause confusion (and just forget about using any slang terms). Even worse were my disastrous attempts to speak Hungarian. I got enough practice in greeting people with a polite, “Jó napot kívánok,” or asking, “Beszél angolul?” to ask if they spoke English.

But telling the plumber about my clogged drain by trying to say, “Saját mosogató eltömődött?” was greeted with a blank stare, then a quick call to his office to find a translator. With 44 letters in the alphabet, each of them with a distinct pronunciation, my American voice got plenty of chances to completely butcher the language and confuse the Magyars even more — no matter how slowly I annunciated.

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