WHAT I’VE LEARNED AFTER LIVING IN HUNGARY FOR A YEAR

WHAT I’VE LEARNED AFTER LIVING IN HUNGARY FOR A YEAR

 

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.

60 Comments

  1. Your hubcaps reminded me about an old joke (sorry if I made mistakes, but I hope you understand)

    Aladdin is travelling around the world and he is looking for happiness.
    He is in London, sitting on the bench of Thames and looking around, when Margaret Thatcher appears and asks him:
    – What are you looking for, Aladdin?
    – I am looking for happiness!
    -Uhm.. I think you are in a wrong pleace. We have economic problems, social crisis, you better go to Paris. I am dure you can find the happiness there.

    (So he moved.)

    He is in Paris, sitting on the bench of Seine and looking around, when Francois Mitterrand appears and asks him:
    – What are you looking for, Aladdin?
    – I am looking for happiness!
    -Uhm.. I think you are in a wrong pleace. We have uneployment problems, social crisis, you better go to Budapest, it is a lovely city in Central Europe. I am dure you can find the happiness there.

    (So he moved.)

    He is in Budapest, sitting on the bench of Danube and looking around, when Károly Grósz appears and asks him:
    – What are you looking for, Aladdin?
    – I am looking for … uhm, where is my magic lamp?

    • This really made me laugh. Thanks for sharing!

    • One of our hubcaps was stolen in Edinburgh while parking in front of a church. It seems to be not country specific.

      • Must have been a Hungarian.

  2. Thank You very much for sharing Your personal insights in hungarian life and lifestyle in this article. Most of them I absolutely can confirm from our many visits in Hungary as tourists: mood, humor, hospitality, traditions alive etc…
    Keep writing on this blog,
    Peter

    • Thanks Peter!

  3. My husband and I live in Capestang France, sort of the long way round to Budapest, our other home. I am of Hungarian descent and I married a Hungarian man. We met and lived in Vancouver Canada and decided 4 1/2 years ago to move to Europe with our two children. After travelling around we chose southern France. It has had many challenges.

    I have a feeling our Expat life will eventually lead us home to Hungary.
    Nice to meet you!

    • Great story. I love hearing about other mixed-culture couples and their adventures. I think I’ve actually read your blog before. Thanks for the kind words!

  4. I love it! It was a great story! Thank you and wish you more great experience in Hungary! – Attila Fovenyessy Facepuller Photography, New York City

  5. Hi Colm,
    You have made my morning with this article. I am a proud Hungarian living already 10 years in the Netherlands with my Dutch husband. I recognised some of your experiences in my husband’s past reactions. Like when my father offered him palinka at 8:00 AM. Not because he drank it so early himself but because that was his way of showing his hospitality. I laughed a lot on your words about the Hungarian mood swings. I am going to show that to my husband 😉 I wish you a great life in Hungary and please don’t stop writing about your experiences!

    • Thank you Viktoria!

  6. Nice. 🙂 I’ll share.

  7. I enjoy your all news!

    • Good info and writing. I’m a resident for eight years also from CA. My hubcaps were stolen in Long Beach in the 80’s.
      So that can happen anywhere.
      Hungarians pretty humble, have to offer something three times before they’ll accept. In the USA we offer only once.

      • I worked for a two years period of time at Indiana University North West Center for Medical Education . It was a great but difficult time near to Chicago area! My Lada cars was taken with us due to that time the gasoline crisis was a central issue,and US had a plan to allowe Russians to export cars into US market!
        Hovewer due to their invasion over Afganistan
        President Regan ordered to suspend most of the business with them! After all my Lada car worked extremely well during the – 30 Celsius winter and a very hot summer,but in early spring time of 1980 I found it behind of my apartment on the soil without back wheels!!! I was totally knock out and called the police. They arrived and invited me into their car without leaving it and looking around at all! They rised only one question? Due you have insurance? I respond yes! They filled out all documents and told me a short see you ! It was one my sad USA experience!
        Hovewer I was able to buy appropriate wheels. Alfter a year or so I brought back my Lada and used it for years!

      • I grew up in San Pedro in the late 80’s early 90’s. Having your bike stolen was common, too. 🙂

  8. Loved your words.I can asdure you there are still more surprises on the way.If you are missing Sierra Nevada Pale Ale,I think it’s time to dive deep in the emerging craft beer culture of Hungary! Visit the next Főzdefeszt! Cheers!

    • Thanks for the tip

  9. Hahah! Funny and very interesting. I married a hungarian 3 years ago and last December we moved to Hungary. I can agree its very different but its a beautiful place and pple are nice. Keep the posts coming! Cheers

    • Haha! We’re in this together!

  10. Yes,both my Canadian wife and I love Hungary, but in all fairness we also love Italia, Spain, Austria, Germany, Croatia in other words we have not been to a European country we did not like. As for Budapest, yes it is unique in many ways, perhaps of al the European capital cities ( and we have been to just about every one of them) Budapest is the most exotic. I guess the combination of the Danube,wich is very much part of the city, the spicy Hungarian food, the Gipsy music, the pastries and you have a very lovely place-to visit.Oh, I almost forgot : nowhere in the world can you get fustolt kolbasz like in Hungary ! Other than Madrid and Bari, I can not think of any city in Europe that has so many beatufuly restored old buildings. Mind you in Opatija you also have a good number of nice old buildings too, but nothing like Bp.To move back to Hungary is and never will be a consideration: I could never leave my 4 Italian mistresses behind( 2 Ferraris, a Lamborghini and a Maserati), none of them have hubcaps so I am sure in no time the whole thing would be gone.

    • 🙂

  11. This is a lovely read. I’m Hungarian living Down Under for years. You made me smile, laugh and homesick pretty much at the same time. Thank you for that. Keep writing!

    • Thanks for reading!

  12. Dear Colm,thank you very much! You made me cry…

    • Thanks for reading. Great music!

  13. Budapest is also my favorite city. I am mid 60’s, married, and living in US Midwest with no Hungarian blood lines. From our first visit in Spring of 2009 to our last Dec 2015, I have felt like I was home. My greatest wish is to live in Budapest for longer than a few months. Whether it’s the people, the Duna, the food and drink or just the atmosphere I don’t know, I just know I love Budapest. And really enjoyed your writings!

    • Thank you Kay. Yes, there is certainly something special about it.

  14. It was nice to read. I wish you all the best here in Hungary. And if you need yet, i have 4 hubcaps to sell.

    • Haha! Thanks Arthur.

  15. The only thing I want to say to you is: thank you! 🙂

  16. Fabulous!! I am originally from Connecticut and have been living here for three years with my Hungarian husband; we moved here for pretty much he same reasons you did, and every single point you made is something I experienced too Especially how Hungarians are really not so grumpy, life in the US is much morse scheduled, and Hungarians just want to be left alone. I love this article and I am going to share it!!

  17. I truly appreciate your experience on Hungary. I too have come to Hungary (Budapest) for a year. Well, looks like it may be two. Very close experiences between you and I, very true however I notice a twist that causes your California background to contradict what I see.
    ‘Biting Cold’, that is all relative. One or two tiny snow coverings do not constitute a biting cold winter. Why the difference from what you witnessed? My home is Toronto.
    There is also a reason why Pork is my friend. Other meat is just not good. They don’t have Hereford or Angus cattle, they have Grey Cattle. Its impossible to cook tender. That’s why they stew it all day long to create goulash. Chickens are enormous. One chicken breast will feed four people. The reason for this is they don’t harvest young chickens which again, translates to toughness. You should have mentioned goose liver, the most important delicacy of Hungary. You can get goose liver in any restaurant because it’s a favourite. The strangest thing I’ve seen is there is never goose on the menu. Where do they get all these livers from? What happens to the rest of the goose.
    The other thing you did not mention was the extreme low costs of everything. A gallon of bottled water is about a dollar, Paprika is basically free, wine, I mean excellent wine, is around $10 and rent is a quarter of any other European city. People come from all over Europe for a weekend just to get the deals.
    I love Budapest Hungary. I am so fortunate for this experience. Budapest has had its rough times but is quickly becoming a world class city.

  18. I think you should really give kocsonya a fair chance. It’s really delicious once you take the leap of faith. My wife (Finnish) got really a hang of it once she could overcome her prejudice which was based purely on appearance. And while we’re at the subject… once you’re properly initiated in Hungarian Cuisine 101 with kocsonya, you should really move on towards graduation by giving good ol’ ‘pacalpörkölt’ a try. Again, with my darling the proper way to go about that was first have her taste/eat it and only then tell her what it was made out of.

    • I try it every year but kocsonya and me just don’t get along. The pacalporkolt is no problem. 🙂

  19. Great post! 🙂

    I lived in an outer district of Budapest and I bought a new Opel Corsa about 15 years ago. The hubcaps (and the radio antenna) disappeared in two days. An alcohol-smelling vagabond made me a great offer for a “set of brand new hubcaps” a few months later… which I declined, of course.
    Since then my cars have alloy-wheels, or I remove the hubcaps and I store them together with the winter tyres. :p

    Cheers from a Hungarian Orbán-fan. 😉

  20. Thanks for this, it is always nice to read what non-Hungarians think about Hungary as it is a chance to learn something new about myself as a Hungarian.

    What about the language, do you plan to learn Hungarian (or can you already?). Some say it is not really possible to know a nation without knowing their language, I think it applies especially to Hungarians.

    • Hi Csaba,

      My Hungarian is OK. I haven’t worked too hard to learn it but rather picked it up over the years. I really need to begin taking actual classes, though.

  21. Hello Colm:

    I really enjoyed reading your article. I was six years old when my parents left Hungary for a better life in Canada and 12 years later in Arizona. I left Arizona in 1973 when I met my Hungarian husband who insisted that I learn proper Hungarian. I have been to Hungary many times and every time the plane lands, I feel like I am HOME. I agree with everything you write about Hungary and Hungarians, I too cannot eat kosconya although I have tried many times.
    Thank you for sharing and I wish you continued happiness and enjoyment in Hungary and with the Hungarians!

    • Thanks Irene. I really appreciate your comment.

  22. Hey!

    I would like to show you something. There is a poem “Édes, Ékes Apanyelvünk” – written by Imre Bencze – which is the ultimate test of all-around knowledge in hungarian linguistics, since it’s barely contains anything but terrible tongue-crackers, multiple meaning sentences and most extreme wordplays.

    In the very moment you’ll fully understand this poem, you have been mastered our language.

    Here is the youtube video:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oT4CKxZWpeg

    Have fun and good luck! 😉

    • Thank you. I will try but I’m a long way from mastering Hungarian.

  23. We lived there for 8 years with my wife. Great post, brings back fond memories. Taking the kids back this summer for a family reunion and can’t wait to explore our old stomping grounds. Hun caps being stolen is one thing, try running out of gas in the middle of Lánchíd because somebody siphoned gas from your Lada. Twice.

  24. Thank you for writing this and the other article about American culture shock in Hungary – nice to know I am not the only Southern Californian married to a Hungarian. I could totally relate!

  25. Very nicely written. Although Hungarian, I can totally relate to your dislike about the Kocsonya (aspic). I could not get used to it in 40 years.
    Keep writing.

  26. I was really happy to find your blog. I’m living in Canada with my husband who is Hungarian. He wants to move back there in the next couple of years. I have visited twice and loved it but am terribly worried about finding work and learning the language. Do you have any advice or thoughts on this? Thanks!

    • Hello, Sorry for the late response. There is obviously a huge difference between visiting Hungary and living here full time. I suppose it’s the same as if you moved to any foreign country: new official processes and bureaucracy, familial and workplace cultural differences, etc. The fact that your husband is Hungarian makes a HUGE difference. I don’t think I’d be able to navigate life here without my wife. I’m not sure if you have lived in other foreign countries before, but it can be really tough at times if you don’t have a good grasp of the language. You lose a lot of power in situations where you need to make your case 🙂 Where would you be moving to if you came to Hungary? If it’s Budapest then you’ll probably be fine in terms of work and language issues. Elsewhere things are a bit different. That being said, it’s all experience and adventure. You can always teach English or work some kind of online job that’s based in Canada. Hope this helps!

      • Thanks for your reply! We would be living in kecskemet. The two times I visited we stayed 6 weeks each time so got a good feel for the vibe there. I have not lived in a foreign country before so the big adjustment does worry me. I won’t like the loss of power in my ability to communicate either. That’d be great if I could find an online job but I’m sure those can be hard to come by. It does make a lot of sense though, to continue working for a Canadian based company.

        • I think only you know what works for you. You’d be surprised how things fall into place when you put yourself out there. I haven’t been to Kecskemet but even here in Miskolc there are plenty of other expats, plenty of people to talk to. But still, it’s different here. Very different. Let me know if you guys decide to move. I’d love to know how it works out.

  27. Nice read Colm. I’m the son of a 1956 Hungarian living in Vancouver Canada. Long story short, back in 1998 my father took me back to Budapest to show me his roots. I was always interested in my heritage and maybe that’s why he asked me to go. On our trip he reunited with many of his old friends he left behind when he left at the age of 16. (Alone by the way.)
    We were invited to one of his friends 60th birthday parties where somehow I met my wife. Let’s just say it was a expensive souvenir. Lol
    Me and my wife and daughter have been back several times now and I love it. I speak the language kinda but not by any means perfect and enjoy everything about my times there.
    I will be losing my job next year (company moving to China) and I’m looking at many options of what to do. Moving to Hungary is on my list but I’m nervous as to what I will do over there. We’ve decided to sell our house in Vancouver and try it out for one year. I’m nervous and excited all in one. Reading your blog reaffirmed to me that I’m making the right decision. Thanks.

    • I must add. I love Hungarian food but I’m the same as you when it comes to cocsonya.
      Can’t do it!!!!, but gimme a nice garlic langos any day.

    • Thanks for sharing your story, John. I’m slowly realizing just how many Hungarians there are abroad who somehow feel the pull to come back. I’ve met quite a few people who had great jobs in the US, Canada, Germany, Australia, etc. But still for them, something is missing and they find it here in Hungary. Money does not equal happiness. Of course a certain amount makes life move forward smoothly. As I have come to discover, there are in fact a bounty of jobs here for native English speakers, especially in the emerging tech industry. And with the power of the internet there are virtually limitless opportunities for self employment. It’s not easy but nothing worth doing is easy, right? Sometimes I think I’m a fool for leaving California, but then I realize just how many amazing experiences I’ve had here in only a year and a half. Good luck with your move. I think you will be pleasantly surprised about how many things you were worried about that won’t even come up. For me it’s definitely been that way.

  28. Hi there,
    The article made me laugh and then the comments made me cry.
    I’m a mix from Partium(if you have been initiated in some pre-Trianon history-geography you surely know it),but by identity always felt more Hungarian.When I came to Budapest for the first time I instantly felt at home.It has a grounding effect on me,combined with mystery.I feel lucky that I need to cross the Danube each day,the view makes my day every day,no matter how crazy it was.Btw kocsonya can be found in neighbouring countries as well,we made the out of chicken version at home,I’m no fan of pork 🙂

  29. Very interesting reading this paprica project page, i found it by accident.
    I am married to hungarian man, I myself am original from Finland, we met and married in england and after living 50 years there, we retired and moved to hungary,8 years has gone since we settled on the shore of lake Balaton,and we could not be more happy, we have everything what one can wish for. Life is really good for us in many ways.I have learned to cook hungarian food,husband has been good teacher.but no good to teach me the language, sorry to say,
    Finland and HUngary has lot in common in culture and both have difficult
    language to learn. hUNGARY is unique with hard working people and they are
    proud amd also very helpfull to give a helping hand in need.
    Long live hungary.

  30. What a nice, interesting blog. I am a Hungarian and also a bit of a globetrotter, having lived on the East Coast of the US for 8 years and now an expat with my husband (also Hungarian) in the Czech Republic. What strikes me in your blog (perhaps having lived now long enough in Central Europe, after moving back from the US to Hungary in 2005) is the refreshing lack of judgement. Everyone in Central or Eastern Europe has their opinion, it seems and they will let you know it. Czechs are the same. I hope you’ll find the perfect land! Should it be a vineyard? We have one in Monoszlo, a small village in the Balaton Felvidek.

  31. Dear, what about the languaje?

    • Still working on that 🙂

  32. Budapest and surrounding areas and Magyar are very special. Magical in fact. I recently became a Magyar from my grandparents and studied the language and lived in Budapest after going all over to Sopron, Balaton Pecs etc. This is my 3rd citizenship and I could live in Canada or my mother country of Germany but there really is something so magical and beautiful about Hungary and the Hungarians and I can’t explain it. I lived in Asia for 3 decades and my heart always goes back to Hungary. I need to improve language skills as this will allow me to understand the heart even more. I was in Slovakia many times over the past 8 years reclaiming my grandparents’ land and after being in Hungary I thought how amazing that one small border and within an hour or 2 drive, the heart and mind of the Hungarians is so pure and loving compared to the cold and corrupt hearts I dealt with in Slovakia. You are VERY special Hungary and Hungarians. Don’t ever forget that. Many options but after being around the world I will make Budapest home and live out my golden years there. I would have never guessed but that is the beauty of life. The Paprika Project has been a wonderful read over these past 2 years. Good luck with more great articles!