A little over a year ago my wife and I moved to Hungary. Moving from Southern California meant a massive change in culture, climate and lifestyle. We sought a simpler, slower life and to re-connect with my wife’s family after 8 years in the U.S.
Our original plan to start over again, try something new and buy a home with a bit of land is still at the forefront of our lives. And it seems the realization of that plan is now within reach.
The past 12 months have certainly been educational. I know far more about Hungary now than I did before. I’ve changed a lot, and my opinions of things have too. Here are some of the things a year in Hungary has taught me:
Hungarians are not really that grumpy
There is an old stereotype that Hungarians are surly and depressive. I’ll admit, it certainly seems this way a lot of the time. But after actually living here for a full year, I get that it’s not entirely true. This isn’t an episode of Baywatch where everyone looks perfect and loves life all day, every day. Life is difficult here for many people.
We are human. We have moods. And Hungarians happen to be good at expressing those moods. They’re not pretending or hiding. Hungarians also have a great sense of humor. It may be cynical dark humor, but the ability to laugh at the bullshit life throws our way is a beautiful thing. People in Hungary are also extremely hospitable and eager to share their traditions. Now that I think about it, I’m probably grumpier than most Hungarians I know!
Personal relationships are far more important than money and career
Sometimes all I want to do is get going. Time is ticking, time is money. I often feel anxious and in a hurry; there’s work to be done. Is this my American conditioning? Maybe. Here in Hungary, taking the time to visit relatives and friends takes precedence over moving up in the world.
Long conversations and long lunches are common. I’m not saying people in the U.S. don’t value these things too. Of course they do. It’s only that life seems so scheduled there.
Pork is my friend
I’ve always liked pork. Bacon, pork chops, sausages—good stuff. Hungary, however, takes pork worship to a whole new dimension. You can basically buy and prepare any pig part here. Eating pork fat spread onto bread was something that I wasn’t really into. Now, I’ve accepted it. OK, I’m not eating it every day, or even every week. But it’s not all that bad. In fact it’s delicious. I just had to change my perceptions of fat.
Drinking that can of Coke is far more damaging than a little rendered piggy fat. Kocsonya (aspic) is still not happening, though.
I don’t have to drink Palinka
In Hungary, you’re offered Palinka a lot. In the past I almost never refused the offer. Now, I realize that refusing that shot of jet fuel is not such a big deal. Sure, you might be the party pooper for a few minutes, but that’s fine. They’ll forgive you. I’ve also learned the difference between good Palinka and bad palinka. Bad palinka will have you praying for death the next morning (or likely the whole next day).
Hungarians just want to be left alone
Magyars have always marched to a different drumbeat; not quite Eastern European and not quite Western, either. Historically, Hungary has often been stuck in the middle of invasions, wars and territorial restructuring. With the recent refugee/migrant situation, I’ve become aware of how much Hungarians simply want to be left alone. Say what you will about Orban, his party’s politics and/or his supporters—the majority of Hungarians I’ve talked to want one thing: to be left alone, and left out of overreaching foreign politics. And please, don’t even begin to think I’m a fan of Orban.
The past year has also reaffirmed for me that media is terribly manipulative and corrupting. Hungarian media, Western European media, U.S. media—all pushing their version of facts to support their agenda.
Budapest is probably my favorite city
There are a lot of cities I haven’t been to in the world. Of those I have visited, Budapest might just be my favorite. It’s hard to grasp what is about this eclectic metropolis that sets it apart: Is it the architecture? The food? The way the Danube bisects it? The collection of quirky bars? Its monuments and squares? Out of this world nightlife? I’m really not sure to be honest. If you’ve spent enough time in Budapest you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t been there, book your tickets.
Wine in Hungary is really, really good
Hungary’s wine revival is in full swing. This is a traditional wine country which experienced major setbacks under the socialist regime from 1947-1989. The past 20 years have seen Hungarian vintners bounce back, combining centuries old traditions with exciting modern technology. They’re catching up fast.
I’ve had the opportunity to visit a few vineyards and wineries. Dedication, skill and faith are words that only begin to describe what it takes to make great wine. My appreciation for white wine has grown tremendously. Furmint is my new best friend. Names like Barta, Füleky, St. Andrea, Csendes Dűlő , Tinon, St. Tamás, Holdvölgy, Bock, Demeter and Thummerer are but a handful of producers to watch.
I should zip tie my hubcaps
A couple of weeks ago we were unable to drive up a steep hill due to ice on the road. So, we left our car on a small patch of grass and walked up the hill to my wife’s cousin’s house. A few hours later we arrived back at the car. All four of my hubcaps were missing. Stolen is a better word. I didn’t know that old plastic Opel Corsa hub caps were that sought after.
Mud is Life
In Southern California mud isn’t really a part of life. Aside from mudslides caused by heavy rain every five years or so, mud is a foreign substance. Living in a semi-rural environment in Hungary, mud is now very much a part of my life. It rains in Hungary year round. This is a good thing. Everything stays green, growing a garden is a breeze and rain cleans the air. Rain also means mud. Melting snow means mud. I’ve cleaned my boots—and my dog—more times in the last year than in my previous 30.
4 seasons are a thing of beauty
Southern California doesn’t really have seasons. Yes, summer is hotter than other times of year and it might rain in winter, but serious seasons don’t exist. Being in Hungary now for a full year, I’ve experienced it all: harsh, biting cold and spectacular snow; spring’s bounty of blossoms, birds and vibrant greens; the heavy, sticky heat of summer; autumn’s yellows, oranges and reds.
There’s always something to look forward to.
Last Spring was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever witnessed. A whole landscape reborn and bursting with life. Summer was all about lakes and Borsodi beer. Early fall was spent harvesting fruit. Winter brought crisp air, fireside mugs of tea and hiking in frosty forests.
I do miss California. I miss tacos and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I miss my friends and poolside barbecues, rock climbing in winter sunshine. Of course I miss my family too. Margaritas with mom. Coffee with dad. Acting like an idiot with my sister.
But it’s ok. I have a life here now, too. I have funny friends, my always loving wife, plenty of pork, mud and world-class wine.
Still no hubcaps, though.