I had the first experience that I would really describe as “bizarre” in Budapest today.
I was walking Winston back from the vet’s office, and our route zig-zagged in front of one of the more expensive hotels, Le Meridien. I was feeling a little under the weather today so I was wearing a t-shirt and flip-flops… in other words, I didn’t look like a local. I’ve yet to see a local girl wearing a t-shirt (most Hungarian women dress up far more than I do, on a daily basis. It would make me a little bit ashamed, except I figure that no one knows me here….) I was flagged down by two women who asked if I spoke English. I said yes, in my regular ole’ Texas accent, and they pounced.
They wanted to go to the zoo, and apparently the concierge at the hotel had simply told them to get onto line 1 of the metro and “go towards Mexico”. For those who have not travelled the Budapest metro system – the two ends of metro #1 are Vorosmarty Tér and Mexikoi út. So, somehow, instead of these ladies thinking that they wanted to head in the direction of Mexikoi út… they were trying to figure out which direction Mexico is from Budapest.
I walked them to the appropriate subway entrance and told them that their best bet was to exit the metro at either Hősök tere or Szechenyi fürdö, then to ask the metro official at those exits for directions to the zoo (as I had already tried to give them directions and they were not really understanding them). They (understandably) didn’t understand the words Hősök tere or Szechenyi fürdö, so they asked me to write them down. I did, and this is where it got weird.
One woman asked “Can you say that again, in your language?” I said “Yes, this [pointing to the first] means heroes’ square, and this [pointing to the second] is a bathhouse.”
They said, “No, please say the names in your language.” At which point I stared at them blankly and then said “Hősök tere?” in a very confused voice. One of the women said “Yes! Your language is lovely! Köszönöm szépen! [thank you kindly]”
I said “Szívesen…. ” [my pleasure, basically] and walked off, completely bewildered. As I left, one woman said to her companion, “That was the nicest Hungarian we’ve met!”
I have a feeling my language instructor will get a huge kick out of this on Thursday, because she could assure you that I would never, under any circumstances, be mistaken for a natural speaker of Hungarian.