I met a woman recently at some birthday drinks or other who, at the time, had been in Budapest for six months. To my shame, I can’t remember which international organisation she worked for, or even where she was from herself. What I do remember though is that the Hungarian friend who was with me was the first Hungarian this woman had met socially. After six months!
Her week was planned around international expat activities, so I couldn’t fault her for being tribal (as I have so many Irish I’ve come across on my travels stateside – those who seem to want little more than to recreate a mini-Ireland around them and in doing so become even more Irish than they ever were at home). She did meet plenty of people from different countries, just not Hungarians.
I was struck by the ludicrousness of this. Here she was, living in Hungary, and rather than getting a sense for how the locals live, what they eat, where they go, what they do (I mean, why else would you move to a country if not to learn and broaden your horizons?), she had opted instead to live within a UN-like cocoon where every nation but Hungary seemed to be represented socially. And yes, I can see the necessity of this in some other countries where expat compounds are de rigueur, but in Budapest?
And it’s not like she was stuck for choice.
There is plenty of cross-cultural stuff to do in Budapest. The city is a haven for arts and literature, for music and dance, for speed-dating and pub quizzes. My personal favourite, the Gift of the Gab, is now in its fourth season. It continues its quest to see who in Budapest has that ability to speak easily and confidently in a way that makes people want to listen to and believe them. The audience and competitors are truly international (and include many Hungarians!) with non-native-English speakers giving native-English speakers a run for their money when it comes to entertainment. Every forint donated goes to support an orphanage in Göd. If you’ve not yet met a Hungarian socially, or simply want to expand your horizons, join us on 25 September at the Cotton Club.
First published in the Budapest Times 20 September 2013