Back when we first learned about our overseas adventure, I posted some of the frequently asked questions about our impending move. Now that we’ve been here about nine months, I thought I’d add some new FAQs to the list and revisit some of my original answers.
So… what would you say you do here?
By FAR, the most frequently asked question is, “What do you do all day?” And much like I said to every accounting program recruit who asked me, “What’s a typical day like in the life of an auditor?” … the response is that it depends.
The only non-negotiable part of my day is that the dogs have to be walked between 3 and 4 times a day (that is, assuming I don’t acquire any Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty powers and train the dogs to use our toilet). The dog park closest to our apartment closed a few months ago, so the next-nearest park is a little under a kilometer away and takes about 15 minutes to reach (as Winston is incapable of passing a single tree, immobile object, or Gypsy without stopping to sniff / examine / pee on it). The dogs have “made friends” there with the regulars, a motley crew of dogs, including a Doberman named Zek, a pit bull mix named Zeus (pronounced Zeh-oos in Hungarian), a Jack Russell terrier named Miley (yes, like Cyrus) and a little English bull terrier with an eye patch, named Igor. Lexie is in love with the Doberman’s owner (and he with her – he calls her his Pink Barbie because of her pink collar and leash). Usually I let the dogs play for about 30 minutes – less if the weather is miserable – and so the total outing takes about an hour each time.
With around three hours taken up by dog walking, you’d think I have a ton of free time. And let’s be honest, in comparison to my husband who’s working hard for the money, I have a lot of free time. I get to choose how to spend 21 of my 24 hours, and I choose to spend 8 of it sleeping. The rest of it is spent in a combination of going to the market, going to the gym, cooking, cleaning, performing my minimal duties as NAWA Secretary, and socializing.
A lot of that takes much, much longer here in Budapest than it did in the U.S. Part of the reason? I don’t have a car. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE not having a car – but I definitely took for granted the ease of shopping, and the availability of food, in the U.S. I could pull up to Central Market or Kroger, get everything I needed for several weeks, throw it all in my trunk and zoom off. Here, I’m limited to markets I can access via public transit and thus limited to what I can physically carry on the tram or bus. Also, our fridge is only slightly larger than a college dorm room fridge, so I can’t pile it high with food. AND, they use far fewer preservatives in Hungary, meaning meat and produce spoils quickly.
All of those factors added together means that if I intend to cook dinner, I have to go to the market that day – no stocking up on supplies beforehand, other than non-perishables. I’m also limited to what’s in season. In the U.S., I could buy strawberries and blueberries year-round – sure, the price mildly increased out of season, but they were always accessible. Here, the produce is absolutely limited to seasonal items, so right now, the only fruit that’s widely available is apples. Lots and lots of apples.
I buy most of my produce and meat at the markets rather than at the chain stores; this means I spend a lot of time going from stall to stall trying to find the freshest food and the best price. I now have one place that I go for all my chicken, and one for pork, but since the produce is so seasonal, I’m constantly re-evaluating the fruit and vegetable stands based on their latest goods. The place that last week had gorgeous spinach is probably selling rotting cabbage this week.
Long story short, grocery shopping that took me 30 minutes in the U.S. can take me several hours here. On the positive side, I have a relationships with the people that grow the food (my chicken guy knows me and now asks, every time I approach the stand, “Is it going to be 2 chicken breasts or three today?”) and I can get very high quality, very fresh, very TASTY food. You cannot imagine how flavorful eggs, and strawberries, and spinach can be when they’re bought only in season, without preservatives and without spending a lot of time on a truck to get to you.
Okay, I get it, you go shopping. What else?
Okay, okay. I also watch a lot of television and read a lot of books and play with my friends.
Any culture shock?
Nope. Thus far I’ve been fairly shock-free. I was told to expect daily breakdowns at the grocery store and such, and there have certainly been moments where I wanted to tear out my hair. Such as the time I spent 45 minutes in the baking aisle to find baking soda. For those who are curious, baking soda in Hungary looks like this:
Another weird thing? Eggs are orange here. Vibrant, neon orange. Luckily, my sweet friend Holly warned me about this before I bought them so that I wouldn’t throw them out in error 🙂 This is not a great photo, but I showed the eggs to our friend Aaron when he came to visit, and he visibly jumped back from them.
I’ve had some additional moments of frustration with the language barrier, but nothing rising to the level of shock.
What’s the thing you miss the most about the U.S.?
Chick-fil-a french fries and lemonade. And my friends and family. The friends and family probably should come before the fries. 🙂
What DON’T you miss about the U.S.?
Driving for a minimum of 1.5 hours of my day. Driving at all, actually. And politics. I am in a blissful state of being a little bit disconnected from U.S. politics, and a lot disconnected from local Hungarian politics. I did, however, attend a district city council meeting to protest the removal of our dog park. A meeting that was 100% in Hungarian. I understood the words dog, park, city, and “bassz meg” (no, I will NOT translate that for you… and I’m not entirely sure I spelled it right.)
What is your favorite thing about Budapest?
Impossible question to answer. There are too many things that are awesome here. First, the food. The pastries, the lemonades, the delicious pork. Mmmmmmmm. The sights – the Danube at night, the Matthias church, the Parliament, the Dohany street synagogue. The Christmas markets – I have spent more forints than I should probably admit to Richie at the Christmas markets. The new friends we’ve made (hello, pea!) The feeling I get when I finally, FINALLY say something correctly in Hungarian.
But if I have to pick one… the krémes.