Colm Fitzgerald grew up in Southern California and now lives in Hungary with his wife, he introduces on matadornetwork.com. Here are nine of the most strikingly unusual experiences he’s had as an expat living in Hungary.
1. Witnessing a pig slaughter
His first story comes from having survived a traditional Hungarian pig slaughter, or disznóvágás. The article describes the event in a somewhat graphic detail, from the initial spilled blood to the dismembering of the sow. Fitzgerald’s job was to stir a giant vat of organs, in which “the pig’s head occasionally floated to the surface”. The family also made Hungarian sausages, hurka and kolbász.
2. Everyone seems to be a smoker
Even though only 30pc of Hungarians smoke, Fitzgerald finds this hard to believe. He recounts an incident when, while waiting in the car for his wife to return, basically every person he saw on the street was either smoking or just about to lit a cigarette. At another time, his dentist got a phone call and promptly started smoking while letting the smoke out through the window.
3. “Food reigns supreme over anything and everything”
He describes Hungarians as “serious eaters” who turn any meal into something of an event. A proper Sunday lunch is at least three courses, starting with soup which is either a broth with meat and vegetables or sometimes a creamy fruit soup served cold. The main course is typically a meat stew over dumplings, served with pickles or sauerkraut, followed by a traditional dessert, such as strudel, Dobos cake, or jam-filled bun called bukta.
4. Toilets are not the same everywhere
Fitzgerald goes into detail about the construction of certain Hungarian toilets which have a little shelf where others typically drop down at an angle. He tries to guess its function, and his best assumption is that it is probably to minimise splashback.
5. “Hungarian is unlike any other language in the world”
Even though Fitzgerald has been a regular visitor for over 10 years and knows how to communicate on a basic level, he still finds it difficult to engage in more complex conversations in Hungarian. With its suffixes and vowel harmony, “Hungarian will bring you to your knees”, he says.
6. Hungarian pessimism, straightforward attitude, temperamental people
Unlike in California where people typically have a positive disposition, in Hungary, the question “How are you?” is usually answered with a string of complaints. It’s either pessimism or realism, Fitzgerald says, but regardless, if Hungarians have a problem, they’ll let you know. To the uninitiated, this often comes across as rude or temperamental, even if it’s not a personal issue.
7. Drivers have the right of way
Pedestrians often have to scramble to get out of the way of cars on the zebra crossing. Fitzgerald recalls almost being run over several times when cars turning onto street with a zebra crossing came dangerously close to hitting him. Pedestrians should definitely look both ways and watch out for aggressive drivers, he says.
8. “Pálinka will find you and try to kill you”
The quintessential Hungarian fruit brandy makes an appearance at almost every party, and refusing a shot is quite like an insult, Fitzgerald says. He also recalls the supposed medicinal qualities of pálinka, treating everything from headaches to menstrual pain and anxiety.
9. Hungarians love their dubbed films
In Hungary, almost every foreign show or film on TV is dubbed, and dubbing has a long tradition in the country. Fitzgerald believes that this goes back to the complexity of the language and subtitles simply would not do it justice. Whatever the reason, his observation is true; most Hungarians still prefer dubbing over subtitles.
If you want to read more about Colm Fitzgerald’s experiences in Hungary, you can find him at The Paprika Project.