Saturday, June 6, 2015

I was told two things about Hungary before my arrival—both were wrong. By non-Hungarians, I was told that I would be arriving in a country filled with old-fashioned Eastern European ideals, and that the land of the Magyars was nothing but a landlocked, recluse of a state that generally kept to itself.

I wondered why Hungary gave off such an impression, despite my intention to stay in Budapest regardless, but then I realised that most of the people sharing these opinions had not visited the country.

While the country does indeed stand out in terms of its unique language and culture, being the only one amongst its neighbours to speak a Finno-Ugric tongue, which is one of the only languages I know that doesn’t use truckloads of borrowed words; however, it is by no means old-fashioned or outdated.

The university communities in Budapest are perfect for visitors like myself, who arrive with little or no proficiency in the Hungarian. The staff of cafes and restaurants communicate comfortably in English, which goes a long way to help newcomers settle in the country.

I love a smile as well, and you’re quick to get one from Hungarians if you’re interacting with them, adding to the city’s generally hospitable atmosphere. Budapest, or more specially Pest, is by no means a “hardcore” place. In fact, if anything, it’s an easy city to like, and an even easier city to love if your standards aren’t sky-high.

My experience with Hungarian hospitality, however, began long before I landed at Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport.

During a phone call I made to the Taipei Hungarian Trade Office in early March, I was showered with patience and warmth by the staff on the other end of the line, all of whom gave me the overwhelming feeling that I was about to make one of the best decisions of my life in spending a year in Budapest.

The helpful staff at the trade office calmed my nerves by reassuring me that the application process was not nearly as complicated as I had presumed. After a five-minute conversation on the phone, I was more resolute than ever about the year-long adventure that lay ahead.

A few days ago I was sat on a terrace overlooking the rolling hills of Buda, whose residents slowly turned on their patio lights as night fell at around 9 p.m.

Despite just arriving home from work, Adrien, the mother of my friend Gergő, and possibly one of the nicest individuals I’ve ever come across, served up a dinner that made my heart melt. This is not because the food she gave us cost a million bucks, but because the gesture felt like a million bucks.

Tom and I arrived in Budapest the very same morning and spent the day trekking around bustling Pest, which is the area east of the Danube, Europe’s second longest river, according to Tom’s guidebook.

Sat on the terrace after a full day, we were happily soaking up the silence of Buda as we conversed about life—as you do.

Having met at 11 a.m. in a cafe, I don’t think he and I have really had the time to appreciate just how “interesting” the circumstances of our reunion were.

We met for the first time in a small dorm room in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, where we had signed up for a term of language learning. When going on exchange, it’s always difficult to predict what type of roommates you will have, but in this case, I think it’s fair to say we were both very fortunate.

I’m certain that in the coming days we will realise what it means to once again meet a friend after one and a half years.

It’s been a long time since I’ve sat in a quiet suburban home, listening to the sounds of birds chirping outside the window and the rhythmic clicking of keys below my fingers. Being in Buda is calming, and I suspect we will need this rest before we once and for all commit the next year of our lives to the Hungarian capital.

Only time will tell whether Budapest continues to feel like “home”, but the early signs are good. JSF. 

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