I don’t particularly look Irish. I don’t look not Hungarian either. There’s nothing discernable from how I dress or walk or laugh that sets me apart from most Hungarians I know. Except, of course, for when I speak. This is particularly pertinent at flea markets. In Hungary, flea markets are great unlevellers. Even for külföldiek (foreigners) who are well versed in how the markets work, there’s a two-tier system in operation.
I love a good market. I love a good bargain. And I get a kick out of scoring a find. Blessed by a visit from the peeps from Páty recently we did both Hévíz (Saturday) and Nagykanizsa (Sunday). The markets are breeds apart when it comes to stock and stalls; the former is more touristy, with clear sections for antiques, crafts, and produce, while the latter has vestiges of Chinese tat mixed in with some genuine granny’s attic stuff and the more traditional carboot swash.
On our way to Hévíz, we stopped at what passes for a yard sale in this part of the world, a regular fixture in a house in Sármellék. They occasionally have some good stuff and this week I scored a fab watering can for 700 ft (just under €2 and just over $2) and have seen similar ones on the Net for 20 times that. And the lovely lady remembered me from last time and gave me a cute framed painting as a present. I was well chuffed.
In Hévíz, at the first stalled we stopped at, manned by Ian from England, I spotted some art deco figurines from Aquincum, a porcelain factory founded in 1854 by Tivadar Hüttl. It operated in Budapest until it closed in 1993. Figurines dating pre-1948 were stamped with a blue eagle (check) and the word Budapest (check). I’m not one for figurines (growing up, they were dissed in our house as dust collectors), but something about these caught my eye. The detail? The folksiness? Perhaps – but I rather suspect it was the orange. Anyway, I could chat with Ian. We speak the same language. We came to an agreement and I’d like to think both of us went away happy.
The next day, at Nagykanizsa, the inimitable EB took charge. As the only native-Hungarian speaker among us, she was our bargainer, our intermediary. I know my way around that market and know enough to recognise when I’m being (mis)taken for a gazdag külföldi (trans. a rich foreigner) but I’ve never figured out a way to prevent it. I took advantage of the opportunity to be schooled by a master. EB managed to get me a lovely little wooden carving I’ve been coveting for three years (I kid you not). I’d asked about it on and off and it was never anywhere near what I was prepared to pay. She got it for six times less than the last price I was quoted and chatted yer man into giving the name of of the carver – Nagy Ignác from Hódmezővásárhely – of whom I can find no trace. Delighted with her bargaining, we fixed upon a new folksy wine rack. Himself named a price he was prepared to pay. I came in at 25% less and she got it for half again.
Her comment to me: Your Rs give you away.
Ye gads! I’ve been asking, in my best Hungarian mennyibe kerül? (trans. how much is it?) but no more… now I’m going to do as she advises and simply ask ez mennyi? (trans. how much is it?). Those bloody Rs have cost me a small fortune over the last few years,
This two-tier system irritates me no end but people find opportunity where opportunity lies. Not every trader is like that, though. Some are one-price-for-all types and those I go back to again and again. To my mind, it’d be better to sell something at the price a Hungarian would pay for it than to be stuck lugging it home and back again next week just because a foreigner refused to be extorted. That said, I suppose for many foreigners, even the higher price is a bargain. Each to their own.
While I’m grateful for the lesson, I’m a tad concerned that busting my self-imposed budget will become the rule rather than the exception. Probably best renovate the barn before I lose the run of myself entirely.