Oct
20
2008
1

Obama-mania

I’m not going to post a whole lot on politics on this blog, because you can get plenty of political coverage elsewhere and I’d rather keep this website controversy-free. Politics always puts people in opposing corners. However, I want to just mention what it’s been like for a couple of U.S. expatriots to be living in another country a month before what I think we can all agree is going to be a very important election.

People are always asking us what we think of the two candidates for president. Chris read about a recent poll that was conducted that indicated if Europe was allowed to vote in the U.S. election, 90% of them would vote for Obama. Many people we meet here have said that they feel they SHOULD be allowed to vote in our election, considering how much U.S. politics affects them on a very real level; everything from the import/export economy, to international policies, to culture. I hadn’t realized how much Hungarians were thinking about it until someone at the lab found this flyer littered around the city:

Essentially it’s a call for American citizens living in Hungary to register and vote. No matter what your political views, you gotta hand to the Obama campaign–they are really turning this into a global election.

It will be early in the morning on November 5th here when the polls close in the U.S. on the 4th. If the campaign so far has been any indication, it will be a drama-filled event no matter where you are in the world.

Written by Laura in: Culture | 1 Comment »
Oct
16
2008
0

Ups and Downs

We have been in Budapest for nearly a week now and while I don’t certainly don’t feel at home here yet, it’s starting to hit me that we are not going anywhere else for awhile. I have to actually learn how to get around and come to see this place as “where we live.” There are days that I feel really excited about that, and there are days like today, where all I want is to be able to go into a coffee shop without the “I’m so sorry, I don’t speak Hungarian” look on my face. I went out this afternoon to look for some lunch and passed by at least 20 places because I didn’t see a way to make it a quick transaction. They all looked like I would have to ask a lot of questions about what they serve and I just didn’t feel like dealing with it. So, I went to the grocery store, got a box of cereal and milk, and went back to our room and ate on our bed. It was all very depressing and dramatic of me.

I am feeling a bit useless, to be honest. I knew it would be awhile before I figured out my job situation, but I guess I didn’t think about what I would do with my time in the interim. I’m so happy that Chris is doing well in his new position, but that means he is busy most of the day—as one with a job should be. And the only other people I know here are also working during the day—as they should be. So, that leaves me to try and fill the time as best I can. I’ve done a lot of sightseeing, but there’s only so much of that I feel I can do in a day. I want to use my brain a little bit. I want to feel I am contributing to society. I know this is all temporary, but I am feeling a bit sorry for myself today. Very soon you may get a post from me saying that I have a job and I will look back on this pity-party with a huge eye roll.

Written by Laura in: Culture | No Comments »
Oct
16
2008
0

Capoeira

I tried capoeira for the first time the other day. And, no, it was not a “recreational” drug, but a Brazilian art form/fighting/dance technique that makes people who try it for the first time want to cry home to their mamas. I went with Maria, one of the coolest chicks I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. Since she’s so cool, I thought maybe I could make myself cool by association. And Maria loves capoeira. Chris was even talked into coming. After an hour and a half of making a total fool of myself, I thought, “Hey, that was really tough, but maybe I could get into it!”

This is how capoeira is supposed to look:

That's me on the right. You didn't know I was that flexible, did you?

And then the next morning came. Have you heard about those horrible surgery cases where the anesthesia doesn’t work properly and the person is awake but paralyzed for the entire procedure? I think I may know a little bit of what that must be like: I opened my eyes and realized that I could not move a single finger crying out in agony. Hey, I know I’m out of shape, but this was ridiculous. Maybe I had sleep-walked that night and got run over a bus, because my ego is too fragile to assume that I was that sore from a little exercise class. It’s been nearly two days now and every time I even try to sit down, an involuntary “Uuugghh” escapes my lips. Maria asked me to go again tonight, but I am lucky to have the excuse of a job interview, which, as I’m writing this, is in 30 minutes. Do you think she would start to suspect something if I told her I had a job interview every Tuesday and Thursday for the next year?

Written by Laura in: Culture | No Comments »
Oct
13
2008
0

Public Transportation 101

Before we moved here, the only exposure I had to Hungarian culture came from Rick Steves and this great Hungarian film called Kontroll. It was about a group of ticket checkers in the Budapest subway system. It was kind of trippy, but introduced me to the somewhat “strained” relationship between the ticket checkers and the passengers. The movie made me feel really sorry for the guys having to deal with people who didn’t pay for their tickets. Those passengers were mean.

Now that I’m here, the system of subway ticketing doesn’t make a whole lot sense to me. You go to a ticket booth and buy a ticket, but then once you get on the train car, you have to go and stamp it at these little boxes attached to the center poles. So, you could actually have paid for a ticket but if you don’t stamp it, you could get a huge fine if a ticket checker catches you. Why, you might ask, couldn’t the ticket be stamped at the same time as buying the ticket, thus rendering the stamping machines in the cars unnecessary? This is one of the great mysteries here that I must get to the bottom of.

The tram ticket in question

The tram ticket in question

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to the bottom of it before I got trapped in my own version of Kontroll. A group of us were on the street-level tram yesterday and the ticket stamper next to us in the tram car was not working. So, we just shrugged and stood there with ticket in hand. And of course, a plain-clothes ticket checker emerged from the unknown and escorted us out of the tram. There were four of us without stamped tickets and no knowledge of the Hungarian language. We tried to explain that the stamper wasn’t working and that we weren’t trying to cheat out of paying, but to no avail. But we somehow managed to gesture our way into paying only two fines instead of four. So we each paid a fine of roughly $15 USD for HAVING a ticket but not STAMPING a ticket. I’m still trying to understand how that works…

Our fine ticket, shiny and ominous at the same time

Our fine ticket, shiny and ominous at the same time

And I’m not sure what lesson I’ve learned either. Except that I now understand where the passengers in Kontroll are coming from.

Written by Laura in: Culture | No Comments »
Oct
12
2008
0

Culture Map

Chris and I have been getting to know a few of the other art residents at the media lab. Today we spent time with them wandering around in the Buda Hills as they are known. For those not familiar with Budapest, the city was actually once two cities: Buda and Pest. Most still refer to places within the city as being on the Buda Side or the Pest Side. Buda has rolling hills and would probably be characterized as “sleepy” or “residential”. Pest is the more urban side, where the cool bars and fancy shops reside. We are living on the Pest side right now and will probably find an apartment on this side as well.

The Buda Hills: A quiet little town with a big secret....

The Buda Hills: A quiet little town with a big secret....

The residential area of Buda. It looks like Germany to me from this far away.

The residential area of Buda. It looks like Germany to me from this far away.

While I know that I will learn how to get around Budapest fairly quickly, especially with my handy pocket map, I wonder if I can go to a bookstore and buy a Cultural Map. The culture, I believe, is going to be a much harder thing to navigate.While I am in no way an expert on this, considering I’ve only been in Hungary for three days, there does seem to be a general “way about” the people here. My understanding of the culture will most definitely deepen over time, but this is my perception at this point: Hungarians are lovely people. They seem reserved when you first meet them, but those I have met are extremely helpful and willing to answer even the most annoying of my questions.

Real live Hungarians. Except for John the Englishman looking at the camera and Maria the Costa Rican/French woman. But the others are Hungarian, I swear.

Real live Hungarians. Except for John the Englishman looking at the camera and Maria the Costa Rican/French woman with the blue backpack. But the others are Hungarian, I swear.

In some ways, I feel a bit like them. I know I have the tendency to hold back when I first meet someone, but I really am pretty nice and willing to share once you get to know me…

Back to the Culture Map idea. What if you could buy a map for every country in the world that gave you a “direction” in which to go in certain social situations? The problem with something like this is that people are not like roads and buildings. Unlike them, people move and change and are altered slightly by every situation in which they find themselves. So as soon as a culture map was sent to the printers, it would be out of date. I guess I have to trudge through this new culture the old-fashioned way: trip up and make a fool of myself until I figure it out.

Lost in the Buda Hills

Lost in the Buda Hills

Written by Laura in: Culture | No Comments »
Oct
11
2008
0

Ghost

I walked around my new home yesterday, which was in equal turns exciting and terrifying. I saw some absolutely beautiful things that made me want to pinch myself to make sure it all wasn’t a dream. I haven’t gotten to the point where this all doesn’t just feel like a vacation. I suspect I will feel that way for awhile.

Raday Street, near our temporary living quarters

One of the strongest feelings I had as I wove through the streets and the markets was that I was an outsider. Because I can’t communicate with most people, I feel like a ghost floating through each place, where no one can see me or hear me.

A market where we'll probably get a lot of our produce

A market where we will probably get a lot of our produce if I can learn how to gesture the word "apple"

The market facade

The market facade

I think I am in a bit of shock. While I like to think of myself as this world traveler, this is the first time I’m going to be living (not just visiting) in a place where I can’t always rely on language to get me by. While the culture is different in Australia, where I lived for six months in college, it was easy to make friends because we spoke the same language. Even if we didn’t totally connect the first time, I knew that we could use our words to help us understand one another.

The Denube River from Buda looking to Pest

The Denube River from Buda looking to Pest

Pest, in all its glory

Pest, in all its glory

This is going to be a challenging experience for me, but I need to remind myself daily that I don’t have to master everything in one day. In fact, it’s highly likely that I will never learn much more than the basics of Hungarian. It is an extremely difficult language. But, gestures work wonders, and I have a feeling that I will learn a lot of survival techniques. I already have four:

1. Eat in places where you can just point to the food you want.

2. Use the smallest bills you have when paying someone so they don’t have to ask you anything (like: “Do you have smaller bills?”)

3. Do not assume that if a Hungarian word looks like a similar word in French/German/Spanish/English that it is the same. It is not. Ever.

4. By feigning ignorance and stupidity in an “aw shucks” sort of way people will take pity on you and either help you or forgive you.

Pretty soon I’ll be flying high…

Statue on top of Gellert Hill on the Buda side

Statue on top of Gellert Hill on the Buda side

Written by Laura in: Culture | No Comments »

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