Washing Bear?

The Hungarian language can be pretty tricky, but one of my favorite things about it is that when you break down the words, they’re often descriptions. For example, the word for capital is főváros, which literally means “main city”, and one of the cities in Hungary is called Székesfehérvár, which is “chair [meaning throne in this instance] white castle”, because it was at one point where the king of Hungary reigned in a white castle. Rick Steves points out in his Budapest guide that the town of Hatvan is sixty kilometers exactly from Budapest, and “hatvan” means sixty.

I needed to find a laundromat (our down comforter on our bed is king-sized, and therefore far too large to fit into our 3kg-capacity washing machine), and the North American Women’s Association had listed a laundromat in their “Surviving and Thriving in Budapest” guide called “MosóMedve”. I already knew that “medve” meant bear, so I just translated “mosó” and found out that it meant “washing” or “washable”. Cute, I thought, a washing bear! Maybe it’s like Snuggles, the fabric softener bear.

Apparently “mosómedve”, written as one word, actually means raccoon. When I arrived, there was a giant sign with a picture of a raccoon rubbing its paws on articles of clothing (similar to this one). Not quite what I was expecting. I’ve since been educated by Wikipedia that many languages call raccoons some sort of washing animal (a bear in German and Italian, a rat in French and Portuguese). Even the word raccoon itself comes from a Native American term about scrubbing with the hands. You learn something new everyday…

Despite the raccoon imagery, the laundromat was clean and the woman working there was incredibly friendly and helpful. Between her few words of English (which were mostly “wash”, “dry”, and “ten minutes”), and my few words of Hungarian (“how much does it cost?” and “can you please help me?”), we managed to get ‘er done.

I have to say, I was incredibly nervous going there, especially alone. The last time I went somewhere that I knew people were unlikely to speak English, it didn’t go well (my experience with the Posta, just before Christmas, had me ready to head for the USA and never come back!) Over the past several months, though, my willingness to try new things has gotten just a little bit better. I would still say that going to new places alone ranks in one of the lower circles of hell, but maybe like, level 4 or 5 instead of level 9. 🙂


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