Love on the rocks

While not yet at a crisis point in my love affair with Budapest, I think our relationship isn’t nearly as strong as it was, say, three years ago. Back then, I was in the throes of passion and although not totally blind to her frailties, I was more than ready to forgive the occasional transgression. But as in any relationship, when the first cracks start to appear, everything takes on a new perspective and I find myself in danger of overreacting and blowing things out of proportion.

I read recently about a couple of students who were hitching a lift to Szeged from Budaörs. While they were waiting, they sat down on the grass to eat a couple of cheeseburgers. Two policemen approached and asked to see their ID. One of them didn’t have any and was fined 50 000 forints. The second was fined the same amount for littering (the litter in question was a cigarette box that didn’t belong to them). When one of the two unfortunates muttered ne már (come on!), this was seen as resistance and the pair were taken to the nearest police station. One paid his fine; the other opted for 60 hours of community service.

Down in Zalaegerszeg, a teacher crossing the street with her young daughter didn’t use the designated crossing. It was raining. She was in a hurry to pick up her son from kindergarten and then catch a bus home. Detained by the police for twenty minutes, she missed both and was fined 20 000 forints. (I’m not feeling the love here.) On the advice of friends, she reported the incident (it would seem that the policemen also addressed her using the informal te (which is most impolite in Hungary).  The result? A visit from the guardianship office checking on her suitability as a parent:  she had endangered the life of her child by not using a crosswalk. Overreaction?

I’m sure the police were fully within their rights to do as they did. But really, in the grand scheme of things, what good did they actually do? I’m a spirit of the law person myself, so perhaps I’m biased.   Then, noticing that Hungary is one of seven EU countries bidding to host CEPOL (the European Police College Headquarters), I couldn’t help but wonder whether on-the-job training will take on a whole new meaning.

First published in the Budapest Times 18 October 2013.

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8 Responses

  1. I should in fairness add that in my own, rather limited, dealings with the rendőrség I have never found them anything other than courteous and helpful.

    1. I’ve only had one – and it was unremarkable. Went to report a lost/stolen wallet of ID and they were simply not interested.

    1. And that’s great to see… that murder success rate seems a little high though, given the spate of Roma murders that seemed to have gone unsolved for a long time. Don’t doubt for a minute that Hungary’s boys in blue have a handle on things – am just concerned about the letter of the law championing the spirit of it.

  2. A friend from Stanford University came out to Gainesville, Florida once for a talk. While somewhere (perhaps at the airport, waiting for a taxi), he sat down on the grass. A police office walked by and told him he couldn’t sit there. My friend, 50ish professor from California (left-coast?), said “You mean, I can’t sit on the grass here?” and the reply was something to the effect of “Not in muh State.” My friend let it go at that, having learned over the years that this was not something to “fall on his own sword for.” So yeah, agree, there are great rendőrség out there, and there are others that need to get out and do something else, like work at a prison. Or does the “ség” have any meaning (segítség)

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