Hungary from a British perspective: strange food and dirty underpasses?
Norman Jope’s book, Gólyák és rétesek (Storks and puff pastries) was recently published, in which the less-popular sides of Hungary are presented. WMN published an interview conducted with the author by Katalin Burns.
Norman Jope’s book, Gólyák és rétesek (Storks and puff pastries) was translated from English to Hungarian by Zoltán Tarcsay and was published by Apokrif/FISZ
Norman Jope has been visiting Hungary for almost two decades now, as his partner lives here. Katalin’s husband, Mark Burns, lives in Hungary since 1997 and tells Katalin about his experiences and impressions of Hungary on a daily basis, ranging from the weird people inhabiting the underpasses all the way to the Túró Rudi. Katalin thus grabbed the occasion to present two British perspectives on the less-promoted aspects of Hungarian life.
Let us first take a look at a passage from Norman’s book:
“A shopping bag sporting the colours of the Hungarian flag is my talisman on the crowded streets, with which I try to fend off lost tourists, pimps and believers of Krishna asking for donations. The tricolour has a neutral meaning here, so I can run around the city carelessly with this red-white-green bag.
The British flag, on the other hand, would rouse some suspicion. I’m not a foreigner anymore, but an intruder.”
Katalin Burns: Most of the foreigners visiting Hungary do not go beyond Budapest, and sometimes they are not adventurous enough to explore the city outside the boundaries of the downtown. What do you two think about the Hungarian countryside?
Norman Jope: I wanted to see something in Hungary that is not Budapest right from the beginning, that is why I visited Dunaújváros, to which I took a liking instantly. It was built around the time the city centre of my hometown, Plymouth, was rebuilt. The architecture and the general feeling of this strangely captivating town are enlaced with the striking marks of Stalinism, though with the less scary signs of the era. Throughout the years I visited at least 50 places around the countryside, like Pomáz, Gödöllő, Debrecen and Kecskemét.
I even wrote about the Great Hungarian Plain on several occasions in my book. I think it is an astonishing and attractive place. It is very inspiring.
Mark Burns: I was teaching at Szolnok for years, so I could get a real taste of what life is like in the countryside. I went to the Tisza cinema regularly, I knew the shops, the lunch bars. The town left a good impression.
Though I have to mention that
I was always reminded of our Western perceptions of the ‘Communist East’ based solely on what we saw in films,
when it came to Szolnok, especially at the end of the 1990s. This feeling was further strengthened by the huge army base where I was teaching and the enormous train station.
K.B.: Old-fashioned coffee houses are lacking in Britain, such a coffee house culture as the one we had and still have here was not ever present there. Do you like going to coffee houses?
N.J.: Nowadays we have coffee at franchises in England, it is true that we do not have traditional coffee houses. The traditional Hungarian coffee houses bearing almost historical significance from the Habsburg era cannot be translated into English. Although, I think that these coffee houses are mostly frequented by tourists nowadays.
I like those cafés in Budapest where you can meet the locals. Where the puff pastry is good, and they have plum dumplings flavoured cake.
M.B.: To me, there is not much difference between a Hungarian confectionery and café. I was surprised by the range of cakes that I was presented with for the first time here. Knowing about the historical and cultural background of confectioneries in Hungary, this is not surprising. You can have lunch at British cafés; they do not restrict themselves to warm drinks and dessert. I like going to confectioneries in Budapest and just have an Esterházy cake.
K.B.: Some say that you have to be born here to like Túró Rudi. What do you think about it?
N.J.: I find cottage cheese to be an amazing invention, I do not think that we have something similar to that in Britain.
If one could only find a good name for it in English, I think it would be a big hit in Great Britain.
Cottage cheese in a chocolate coat… well, it is a pretty crazy idea, but the contrast works amazingly! I prefer the giant version because I like feeling like I really ate something.
M.B.: Túró Rudi is as a strange concept for me as putting jam or cottage cheese on pasta and making it the main course. I remember being shocked when I found out that a mini Mars bar costs several times more than a Túró Rudi.
These are pretty peculiar things, like the pottage… What is it, really? Oatmeal with vegetables?
K.B.: What do you think about Hungarians’ self-perception and their attitudes towards Europe? What do you think about Brexit?
N.J.: The strong national sense took me in some Hungarians.
I can only attribute this to the uniqueness of the Hungarian language and to the hardships of history.
Some Hungarians are convinced that these two factors separate them from the rest of Europe. The amplitude of this strong nationalism can contribute positively to Hungarian culture, but I can still see the negative effects of it too.
Hungary is respected and appreciated in Britain, much more than Hungarians think so. If I could play even a small role with my book in overcoming the differences between the two nations – especially by digressing on how Brexit impacts everyone – then I am content.
M.B.: I agree that nationalism is stronger in Hungary than at home. At one instance I was having a beer with one of my local friends, and when I wanted to clink glasses with him, he explained darkly that this is not a custom anymore in Hungary since the execution of the martyrs at Arad in 1849. I understood him, but I was a little bit offended by the way he handled the situation.
I am too against Brexit, but the situation is not black and white for me. I know that many people are afraid of migrants, most of those arriving from Eastern Europe, because of the way the social scene changes. Others argue that they do not want to be restricted by Brussels.
I, myself, am a believer of the interplanetary federation depicted in Star Trek.
Finally, another passage from Norman’s book to close the article:
“There is a Rossmann here, a CBA and a hardware store. The neon lamp near the city hall has burnt out partially but is still wishing a ‘happy holiday’ to the residents. A British flag is on display at a clothes’ shop, in front of it two guys in trainers with their faces hidden.” (Ózd, the great and powerful)