Those who say that Hungarians don’t have a sense of humour must never have sat in the waiting room of a village GP. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
One of my birthday presents was a retro apple corer that came with a 10-year guarantee. I was a little dubious when I opened it, as I immediately thought of our late apple tree and the very poor harvest we had this year. But after I battled with the quince bush yesterday to relieve it of its fruit and decided to try my hand at making quince jelly, I thought I could put the corer to good use. Quince are for all the world like little wizened yellow apples. The thing worked like a charm. I was peeling through them, loving the gadgetry. But then I got a little cocky and lost the run of myself. I wasn’t paying proper attention and instead of coring a quince, I cored my little finger. Lord knows, I’m blunt enough to need sharp implements, but my focus is another matter entirely.
After much ado, various consulting phone calls to medical friends, and a trip to the next town to get some steri strips, the blood finally stopped. When I woke this morning it looked okay but to be on the safe side, I took myself down to the village doctor whose bi-weekly visit had dovetailed nicely with my mishap.
I was dreading it. Not because I’m afraid of doctors but because I didn’t know the protocol. I doubted that there’d be a take-a-ticket system or even a receptionist to take a name and call me in, in turn. And I was worried that my Hungarian wouldn’t stand the pace. I had googled all the important words:
- kés vágott (knife cut) – easier than trying to explain a retro corer
- vérzés két óra (bleeding for two hours) – it did, honestly!
- tegnap este (yesterday evening)
- nagyon mély (very deep)
I figured I could string them together and make a reasonable go at explaining myself.
I met a chap outside having a smoke and asked him where the doctor was. He took a little time to untangle my pronunciation but then pointed the way. The 8 people already waiting looked up when I went in and as is customary, each of them said hello. Hungarians are extremely polite in such situations with greetings commonplace in all walks of waiting rooms and in lifts. I smiled at everyone, knocking thoughts of any further conversation on the head with my mangled jó reggelt (good morning). Feeling very uncertain of myself as a külföldi (foreigner), I made a beeline for the corner and sat.
I had planned to pull out my kindle and although it would be perfectly acceptable in Ireland, or the UK, or even the USA, somehow it felt as if I’d be snubbing my fellow villagers. Hungarians are big on protocol. So, I sat. And I watched. And I listened in a vain attempt to figure out what was going on.
They were a mixed bunch: a Roma family of three and another young Roma woman; two middle-aged men; and two women, who between them had seen a fair few birthdays. There didn’t appear to be any seating order and while everyone but me had some paperwork with them, I didn’t notice anyone who came after me being given anything to fill in, so I figured I was safe. When the door to the inner sanctuary opened, I saw two women inside but I couldn’t tell which looked more doctor-like. Both of them saw me, looked a little quizzical, clearly not recognising me, but said nothing.
Outside in the waiting room, there were no private conversations, no whispering. Everyone spoke at full volume and others chipped in, arguing the toss when there was something worth debating. There was some talk of the German house that had beem broken into last week. There was more talk about someone dying. And there was a very animated conversation about someone who had done something yesterday. They swapped ailments, told stories, and chatted about the person who’d just gone inside. Any coughs or groans that leaked through the walls were greeted with either classic diagnostic facial expressions or sniggers – depending on the perceived credibility of the patient.
Not one of them looked sick. Or seemed off colour. They were all in great form. Had we had some pálinka, we could have been at a party. I suspect that for some of them, the visit was a social one. They were in and out so quickly that they’d barely time to warm the stethoscope. There were lots of perscriptions floating about and little blue-and-white passport-type books that I was irrationaly envious of.
They came in waves. We numbered just four at one point when the next wave hit and five more joined our merry bunch. Some older, some younger, some together, some alone, each one saying hello to the room and getting a chorus of greetings in reply. Hungarians are sticklers for their sziasztoks.
When it came to my turn, an elderly man cut ahead of me. I stood, uncertain what to do as the room held its collective breath. But he assured me he wouldn’t take a minute, didn’t venture past the threshold, and reacted well to the good-natured jeering he got from the crowd.
I took longer than anyone else had. I’m sure I upset some karmic balance. I was swabbed, plastered, tetnused (even though I’m current with my shots, I didn’t manage to get this across). As I was leaving, I held my freshly bandaged finger aloft as if in evidence to justify the time I’d taken and landed briefly on one sympathetic nod as I departed with a final Állo and a szép napot (have a nice day) thrown in for good measure. I think the doc wants to see me tomorrow afternoon at her practice in the the next village over. Why I’m not sure, but I’ll go along out of curiousity and because she told me to and hope that that’s indeed what she said.