Survival skills are needed in any city, such as walking across the street without loosing a limb to a passing vehicle, or slinging your bag across your chest, instead of hanging it on a shoulder where it can be snatched. However, BreAnna and I have a few additional skills we’re picking up here in Budapest.
Skill 1: Patience. Now, I suppose this is a practical skill that most parents impress upon their children, but BreAnna and I are getting a Hungarian crash course. At home, I usually know how long it will take me to reach the store, or my friends house, so I can allot the correct amount of time. On Wednesday, our group had to meet up to go with McDaniel staff to an Immigration Office. We had a meeting time of 8:15am, we headed out the door at 7:30am, and after a quick turn around, got going at 7:40am. We located the correct tram to Blaha Luzja ter, jumped on-board and two stops later we were standing on the platform wondering what to do for 30 minutes. It seems we have expectations of transportation taking longer than it actually does. Now, even though it’s a city, I have yet to see a traffic jam. Why? Because many people take the cheaper option; public transportation. As McDaniel students, we have a $15 monthly student pass that we can use to ride any public tram, trolly, subway, or bus. Since transportation is quick, we find ourselves characteristically early when we only intended to be on time.
Skill 1 Continued: Remember, patience is key. After our group rode to the Immigration office, we walked in and sat. Just like any major office in the U.S., you sit while the electronic screens hold numbers lower than yours, and never seem to change. When my number finally came up, I walked down the hall to the correct counter and sat down again. I passed my papers to the woman behind the counter and again, waited, as she copied, sorted, stamped, and signed my papers. Finally, they took my picture and shooed me towards the waiting room where it seemed everyone had finished…. except BreAnna. Stuck with a complication involving her bank statement, she was still twiddling her thumbs.
Finally she was released and we could go shopping.
Skill 2: Guessing. Surprise, surprise, Madyarul (Hungarian) is often the only language surrounding you in Hungary. While I can now recognize several street names by how they are spelled, I certainly can’t pronounce them. Madyarul covers every box and bag in the grocery store, with only a few food items sporting English words on the front (if we’re lucky). It’s more of a challenge than you would think trying to pick out which baking flour is most likely to be all-purpose. If all else fails, and you’ve lost the guessing game, ask.
Skill 3: Ask. After debating over what might possibly be vegetable oil, in a small grocery store, BreAnna and I decided to figure it out later. I went out that evening while she was napping to try again, and found that my skills at guessing Hungarian had not improved in the course of a few hours. So, I went back to my room and translated salt (só), black pepper (feketebors), and vegetable oil (növényi olaj), and once again trooped up the street for groceries. Well, I found só and feketebors, but I kept staring at the oils. I could pick out olive oil and sunflower oil, but I wasn’t entirely sure that the green bottle with vegetables on it was vegetable oil, namely because there were two different ones, a 10% and a 15% bottle. So, I asked an attendant if he spoke English he said a little, but had to get another store staff to answer my question. Ultimately, I settled on sunflower oil. Asking is a very good skill; it saved BreAnna and I from cooking our food in vinegar, the actual substance in the green bottle.
Skill 4: Scrubbing Dishes. I doubt most people from our group were stalled on this particular skill. In our case, however, we pulled up short upon discovering most of our dishes were dotted with a yellow sticky and sometimes crusty substance. This revelation lead to an inspection of the cabinets, releasing musty smells and location of more gunk dried on shelves and the bottoms of our wall cabinets. We delved into a two-day cleaning frenzy of our tiny kitchen and assorted dishes. At least we’re well aware of what’s included in our current kitchen supply.
Skill 5: Unlocking the Door Frantically. Wednesday afternoon I was pondering over a small box located on the wall above the shower head, well out of reach for two girls standing around 5ft 2. It was plugged into the wall, and I figured if it was meant to be messed with, it would have been placed low enough to be examined. 10 minutes later a violent screeching answered my questions. Poor BreAnna was in the bathroom when the alarm sounded, and echoed around the tiny bathroom. Next to the word gas, was a small red light. All I came up with was, “Get out!” The door immediately gave us another fright; it was locked. We were told to keep our apartments locked, even when we were at home (to prevent cat burglars), and we were effectively locked in a gas-filled apartment. It only took a few seconds to unlock the door and we crashed onto the terrace, releasing the alarm into the building’s courtyard. Since we didn’t have any open fires, I headed back inside to open windows as BreAnna called our adviser at McDaniel. We were told the company (whatever one is affiliated with the school/building) would be sent over to inspect our alarm, which promptly turned off. Still, to avoid suffocation, we left our windows open and braved the winter wind. As we waited for the fix-it guy, we debated over a potential gas smell in the kitchen. Yes, our stove is a gas stove. Finally, as we headed out the door to run errands, we met the company’s guy headed towards our door. He had keys to our apartment, so we were able to leave, and when we returned, the windows were shut and the alarm silent. The only other time it has sounded was when BreAnna was in the shower, and then it was sporadic, on for a few seconds, off for a few more. I don’t understand the logic of having a smoke/gas alarm in a potentially steam-filled bathroom. Our gas fright brings me to our next skill.
Skill 6: Lighting the gas stove. The oven at my house has an electric lighter, and I was a bit nervous about cooking when I had to light the flame myself. So, as BreAnna and I prepared to light the gas oven (which may or may not have been the cause of the sudden gas alarm the day before), we opened a window, made sure we knew where our keys were and got ready to bolt if something went wrong. After teasing my mom about blowing non-existent gas from an electric oven I had gained a bit of common sense, and after each false start, I blew away any extra gas that could possibly be lingering on the stove top. Between the two of us, we got one of the burners going and we were able to make spaghetti. We’ll soon be cooking some Hungarian dishes, and hopefully they’ll turn out nicely.
Skill 7: Dressing correctly. Just because we flew in on an evening with nice weather, doesn’t mean winter is over. There was snow drifting across our faces as we followed our guide on Thursday, and Friday meeting winds that slid down alleyways and zipped around building corners. Even with a winter coat, I could have used an extra pair of pants and a long sleeve shirt on either day. I need to finish unpacking before we start school and find my long underwear. Waiting for the trolly at 7:30am will certainly be colder than at 10:00am.
So, we’ve survived a week in Budapest, and we just have to get through 17 more weeks. I think once the weather warms up and we have a chance to explore it we’ll have some adventures. I rather like being able to move my fingers when trying to take a photograph, so currently, I’ve been leaving my cameras at home.