Living in Hungary – Reflections on Week One

I’ve been in Budapest for about a week now. Here are some thoughts and things that I have observed over the past week:

I’m surprised at how many people actually can and will speak English. They are very willing to try out their English as much as possible which is in stark contrast to people in the Netherlands, where I was before, who stuck to their Dutch as much as possible. It helps that I’m Chinese and don’t look like I should be able to speak Hungarian. Earlier this week, I went to get another donair, but this time at a different shop. As soon as I walked in, the shop keeper spoke to me in English. I was fully prepared to have to point at what I wanted, but he had near perfect English. An online store should make it easy for me, so I decided to buy from Shoppok.  He was very curious as to where I was from, why I was there and what I was doing. He was surprised to hear that I was from Canada, but was Chinese. This attitude is something I was familiar with as I encountered it the last time I was in the Netherlands so it didn’t quite faze me.

There aren’t that many Chinese people here for sure, however, I have seen a couple here and there. However, there are a lot of Asian tourists. On my flight into Budapest from Frankfurt, almost half the plane was filled with a Japanese tour group traveling together. I guess Budapest is a destination of choice for Asians.

Along with that, when I’m walking down the street, I always feel like people are staring at me. It could just be that I’m still very self conscious and aware of my surroundings and are hyper sensitive to what is going on, but I still feel eyes on me all the time. My initial thought was because I was Chinese and was going around doing things that most tourist don’t do – like buying groceries. But now I’m not so sure. There are other Asians around… I’ve heard from some of the others that work at SELTI that people do stare a lot of the time and even if you catch them staring, they don’t really look away like most people would at home. Its a bit unnerving, but apparently you get use to it.

Half the time when I’m walking around Budapest and going about doing things to make myself at home, I’m ridiculously scared. Most of the time I can’t tell if where I’m headed is the right place. Not to mention constantly having that feeling that someone is watching me. I really don’t like venturing around too much on my own, but I guess that is part of the whole living abroad process. Gotta push myself out of my comfort zone and just do it. Its getting easier already. Just need to take it one step at a time.

My first day in the city, I traveled by tram and bus around with the Incoming Exchange (ICX) coordinator. At one point, we walked past a man that was dressed in women’s clothing. I walked pass with no second thought, where as the ICX coordinator did a double take. He asked me if I thought the person was female or male. He fully admitted that he is fairly conservative, but understands the need for diversity, especially seeing as one of AIESEC’s core values is Living Diversity. Seeing as Canada and especially the west coast, is very liberal, I didn’t think much about it, but I guess the sight of that isn’t something you would see everyday in Hungary.

There are a ridiculous amount of Burger Kings here. I’ve seen some McDonalds, but not as many as Burger King. This seems pretty strange to me considering back home, McDonalds is all over the place and you don’t see Burger King so much. Also, there are only 3 Starbucks here in all of Budapest (or so my trainee buddy tells me) and they’re located in “malls.” I have yet to see one, but my trainee buddy assures me that it doesn’t taste like the one in the states.

There are actually malls here – similar in style to the malls that we have at home. I’ve been to two already and they’re pretty massive. I didn’t think that there would be malls in the American sense of the word. I thought that they would be just collection of shops in the same area. Most of the places I went to last time I was in Europe didn’t really have malls. One of them that I went to is in the middle of no where. They have a grocery store there that I swear looks like a Walmart. Its a massive box store.

So far, I’ve only really learned how to say two words: Szia (hello and goodbye) and köszönöm (thank you). I learned goodbye as well, but haven’t committed it to memory quite yet. Szia is pronouced “see ya” and for the longest time, when my coworkers were saying goodbye to one another I thought they were saying see ya to each other. It eventually dawned on me that they were saying “szia” in Hungarian.

Probably one of the biggest things that struck me was that when I went out for a beer with my coworkers after work on my third day. I had to go to the washroom, but the bar that we were at HAD NO TOILET PAPER. I had a mini freak out. I was with a Hungarian girl and she told me that it is pretty common for cheap places to not have any toilet paper and that it is best that I carry some with me just in case. I don’t know why I didn’t even think about this before. I had heard stories of no toilet paper in Europe, but I didn’t really process it. I’ll definitely make sure I have some in my bag now at all times, along with hand sanitizer!

I’m sure there are other things that I’ve learned over the past week, but I’ll just leave it at that for now.