"I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment... and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance than I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn." -Thoreau

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Language Barriers (and some pictures!)

Hello, hello!

It occurred to me that it would be appropriate to start off this post with a Hungarian greeting.... but, unfortunately, my Hungarian remains virtually non-existent. The only words I know how to pronounce or recognize are köszönöm (thank you) and 205b (my room number).
Yes, this is pathetic.

I have decided that perhaps it should be some sort of requirement for people to venture off to a land where a significant (though certainly not impossible) language barrier exists.
It just so happens that Hungarian is a non-Indo-European language. Of course.
What this translates to is utter impenetrability. Never before have I looked at signs, labels, or any decent-sized body of text and had absolutely no clue- or worse, no hope!- of what its contents is. (Okay- never when looking at a language where I recognize the characters.) It's really rather disconcerting.

I have become more used to navigating the local parts of Buda on foot, and am starting to get a vague idea of the whole transportation thing. So it's gotten to a point where I feel more or less comfortable walking around in Budapest, and it can be easy to forget that I am in a foreign country.
And then I get hungry, and decide to look for food.
And then I realize that I am incapable of ordering food or of communicating my desires to a non-English speaker.
And then stress emerges.

Although my roommates and I are now capable of navigating the grocery store without embarrassment, we have had moments where we decide to not buy something because we're not sure it's what we think we is. Scanning the product description does no good... because Hungarian is not Indo-European!
Life is hard.

It's also startling when I find something written in English or hear English music being played. For a moment it is normal, and then I realize, 'Wait! I understand that!'
It is surprisingly comforting.

So. Yes. I think it might be enlightening for some to experience the sense of hopelessness which can emerge when you are surrounded by incomprehensible words and people who may or may not  1) be able to understand you or help you and 2) be okay with the fact that you do not speak their language.
I think I shall certainly be returning to the states with a greater sense of empathy and understanding.

But anyway, my first Hungarian language class is tomorrow! So hopefully I shall improve my food-procuring abilities and prevent starvation!

Other than exciting language barriers, there has been a lot of... taking care of business (buying transportation passes, applying for a residence permit, purchasing a cell phone, etc) and doing touristy things and enjoying down time. Good stuff, I guess. Class starts tomorrow, though. I'm excited, but a little uncertain what to expect.

As promised, I finally got around to taking a few pictures of my new home!
Here is the front of the building:

These are stairs that lead up to where the dorm is...

And some images from the interior...

The last is the view from my window. It makes me happy :]

Well, classes start tomorrow... I must be up early! It is past my bedtime.
More exciting updates and pictures to come soon!

Au revoir!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

I am in Budapest!

Hello World!


After a long day of travel, I finally arrived in Budapest yesterday!
This is very exciting.

Whilst travelling, I was most impressed by the apparent competency of my foreign travel companions. My flight route was LAX --> OHare -->München (aka Munich, but München is much more fun) --> Budapest.
I felt completely at a disadvantage during the whole international portion of my travels, given that while I, a foolish American, spoke only English (well, and Spanish, but I heard little Spanish), all the foreigners seemed well-versed in a multitude of languages. It was very amusing to have flight attendants look at me and list off a number of languages to figure out how to address me.
If only I were that cool.

Fortunately for me, English is widespread, but I can't help but wish I were cool and European and well-versed in a handful of European tongues. (Adds note to bucket list.) I don't think I've ever felt quite so American.

Eventually, I survived the approximately-20-hours of travel time, and was greeted at the airport by a friendly BSCS representative, only to discover that one of my flight companions was also to accompany me in this whole crazy Budapest thing. He seemed pretty cool and very excited to be in Budapest (which I greatly appreciated), but I was mostly gratified by the fact that his pile of stuff was larger than my pile of stuff.
Ha! Success!

After some taxi travel through this city of seemingly endless pretty buildings, we arrived at our home for the next three months. (Pictures to follow eventually.)
We are dorming in the Eötvös Collegium, which is a pretty building to satisfy my yearning for pretty buildings.

I am rooming in a triple with two other awesome Carleton girls, which I think was a good decision on my part. Friend-making and adventuring! Huzzah!

Last night I had my first Budapest adventure.
My roommates and I decided to venture to a nearby mall for the purposes of procuring dinner, as well as entertainment.
We weren't very impressed by the fast food places inside the mall, so we decided to shop at the grocery store there instead.
Well, that was pretty exciting.

The actual shopping experience was pretty uneventful, because product labeling is pretty excellent and not all that language-dependent. It's not difficult to figure out what things are.

Checking out was an altogether different experience.
Our cashier was not very English speaking, and this led to some fun times.

1) We were supposed to remove our grocery items from their basket.
We did not know this, and his repeated attempts to command us to do this in Hungarian were remarkably unfruitful. And slilghtly mortifying. Eventually, a nearby customer figured out we were clueless English speakers and clued us in.

2) Unlike in the U.S., the scales at grocery markets are apparently useful in Hungary. We did not realize this. Our friendly English-speaking fellow customer had left at this point, and our cashier was now trying to communicate to us that we were to have weighed out our fruit and gotten a price for it in the produce section. Again, he said this many times in Hungarian, and we were left exchanging helpless looks with one another.
Ah, language barriers.
Eventually, he pulled out a piece of paper and managed to write out "measuring bananas," which provided us with instantaneous illumination as to what he wanted.
Again, mortifying, but slightly hilarious.

3) You are supposed to purchase the bag into which you put your groceries. Preferably, this should occur before (or at the same time as) your grocery purchase.
Another embarrassing and hilarious moment for the clueless American girls.
We have finally figured out the whole de-basket groceries and pre-weigh fruit thing, and have apparently successfully completed our first transactions. Woo!
But then we realize a conspicuous lack of bags or bagging, stand around awkwardly, and finally figure out we need to buy our grocery bag.
So we finally do that, bag our groceries, and leave the grocery store in a fit of laughter and many apologies to the poor cashier, who seems glad to have survived this encounter with a group of idiots.

Mind you that this whole process was even more amusing because the failures occurred in two consecutive transactions, since my roommate was bearing the direct embarrassment, and I was following in her shadow (but still attracting attention as fellow clueless American girl.)

All in all, it was an exciting, humbling, and amusing adventure. We've decided to learn key Hungarian phrases like "I'm sorry" (we felt the need for this phrase a lot...), "Thank you," "Please," and especially "I don't speak Hungarian..." (likely to be paired with an "I'm sorry.")

I think this Budapest thing is going to yield some fun times :]

And now I must get ready to do some touristing! Farewell!

P.S. Another amusing thing is how google (and all these other websites) assume that because I am in Hungary, I must speak Hungarian.
Ha! If only, if only.