“A rhapsody in music is a one-movement work that is episodic yet integrated, free-flowing in structure, featuring a range of highly contrasted moods, colour and tonality. An air of spontaneous inspiration and a sense of improvisation make it freer in form than a set of variations.” –“Rhapsody“, wikipedia
Two of Hungary’s favorite sons, Franz Liszt and Béla Bartók, came up with the perfect metaphor for Hungary and its people, that of a rhapsody: Beneath a slightly reserved and soft-spoken exterior, there is a spontaneous, youthful exuberance, a combustible, free-flowing liveliness, to all Budapestians I met, especially the younger generations.
(Disclaimer: I spent pretty much all my times on the Pest side of the city, which–as I found–tends to appeal to a younger demographic.)
As I was crossing the Liberty Bridge (Szabadság híd) into Pest, I happened on the two young ladies above, clambering up the bridge’s railing. Curious, I stopped and watched. Realizing that they were setting up for selfies (quite awkward, considering there were no convenient spots on the railing to prop up their cell phone), I offered to take their photos. After the initial hesitation, they agreed and proceeded into a number of poses, some included jumping. Since there was moving motorist traffic just on the other side of the railing, I gestured for them to settle down.
And captured the perfect, unreserved Colgate smile. (So the wind did not cooperate on her friend.)
At first glance, Budapestians (and, I assume, Hungarians in general) appear reserved, closed, aloof, even rude. This is especially true of the older generations. I am told this is the result of a life under Communist oppression, which only ended less than 30 years ago. And, as a whole, history has not been kind to the Hungarians: generations of domination, under Mongols, Turks, Germans, Russians no doubt left them suspicious, overly cautious.
Do not lose hope: I also found that, once I find a way past that initial reservation, there is almost always a kind and welcoming spirit. It’s especially worth it to remember that food, to Hungarians, is something akin to religion. If one can somehow get food into the conversation, one will have made great progress. My approach? “What would you recommend for lunch today?” It never failed that I always got a detailed run-down of a full, three-course meal (sometimes with recipes included), plus deserts; and a suggestion of a restaurant.
After that point, all topics are fair games.
(And, if you are ever offered pálinka, do take it. It is a terrible insult if you don’t. It’s the Hungarian medicine of life. Keep in mind that it’s similar to American moonshine, an acquired taste. And very potent.
Observe how the host drinks it; it’s almost a ritual. Then imitate. You will have made a friend after which point.)
Another way I found to get beyond said reservation is to show interests in things Budapestian. And, for a city that is centuries-old, there are no lack of interesting things. I am the curious type anyway, so of course, I asked about every little thing: graffiti, little customs, or just about Budapest’s history in general. Sure, I would get an amused look in return most of the time. But, that amusement is the ice breaker. My words. It worked for me.
(Of note: be just a bit careful asking about the difference between Buda and Pest. To some Budapestians, it’s not an easy topic. To over-simplify the issue, it’s the difference between the “have’s” and the “have-not’s”.)
Worth noting here that Budapestians tend to be very soft-spoken; and that my normal American mannerism–vocal and otherwise–was probably too brash and loud for them. During my first couple of days in the city, as I approached people, I noticed that they seemed to shrink back. If they replied, it was closer to a whisper (and this included a six-foot-something, burly, pistol-strapping security guard).
Forge though all that, gently but persistently. Remember, gently. Once one gets past all that, one will find one of the most inviting, most boisterous vistas of humanity.
Speaking of “boisterous”, meet the Ruin Pub of Budapest.
One has not been to Budapest if one does not spend an afternoon at the Ruin Pup.
It is literally what its name says: a series of bars, built into an old ruin in Budapest inner city. At all hours during the day, workdays or otherwise, there were always constant activities, be it a healthy discussion on whatever topic du jour is, or just friends laughing and catching up over a beer.
And it’s just about as quirky as “quirky” gets.
And I could sit there and write all day. ALL day.
Staying true to its designation, its designer(s) found refuse items and tacked them on its wall or spread them on its floor. This included an old Trabant. (If you don’t know what a Trabant is, think “Yugo”. I know, some of us are old enough to remember the Yugo. And the Trabant.)
I will let its photos speak for it.