Juli and Flo Catch Budapest

Catch Budapest – Learning Hungarian

I couldn’t tell you the number of times I’ve made a determined effort to learn Hungarian. I’ve gone to classes twice a week. I’ve taken an intensive course and even got an A on my final paper. I’ve had private tuition with various teachers. I’ve tried CDs. I’ve bought books. And still, so many years later, I’m still struggling. Read more

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I like the road of least resistance. I can be quite lazy. If you can do it better, quicker, and more effectively than I can, then have at it. I’m not one to feel I have to prove a point. Usually, when confronted with an easier, equally moral option, I’ll take it. I see this so often when it comes to using my pitiful Hungarian. If I’m with someone who speaks it better, I simply don’t try. If I get a firm nem (no) to my initial inquiry as to whether the other party speaks English, which, by the way, is just about the only complete sentence I can pronounce pretty near perfectly in Hungarian, I usually thank them, hang up, and have someone else call for me.

But on Friday last, something clicked in…or clicked off. Perhaps the lazy gene is on sabbatical.

The electricity lads have been after me to do a meter reading. I’ve been away each time they’ve called and their notes were getting slightly more frequent. They dropped a note in my box sometime Thursday to say they’d call Friday between 4 and 6. I  didn’t see it till Friday lunchtime – I don’t check the mail daily because it’s usually window envelopes and junk,  neither of which particularly rock my world. Anyway, I was meeting a mate for a coffee at 4 and didn’t want to reschedule. Himself had plans, too. So I took a deep breath, picked up the phone and rang the number.

The chap who answered, answered simply with a harried Igen (Yes?) I wondered if I had the right number. No mention of the company at all. I asked, haltingly, ELMŰ? Another igen. This time a little softer. 

I asked if he spoke English and got a firm nem for my troubles. I was about to thank him and hang up but a voice in my head taunted me. It’s been a while since I was called a scaredy cat!

So, in pitiful Hungarian, I explained that I didn’t speak the language very well (another sentence I can say almost perfectly!) and that I was slow, hoping that in Hungarian it didn’t have the same alternate meaning as it does in English – there’s nothing wrong with my intellect – just my language skills. He laughed. So perhaps it does mean the same.

Anyway, I went on to say that I had a letter in my mailbox saying I had an appointment that day but that I wasn’t at home. It said that they could come on Monday, even though Monday was a holiday, so I asked when he could come then. He suggested Saturday instead. Now this is where I got a little cocky, I tried my hand at banter. I think I said that working on a Saturday wasn’t a good thing. I got another laugh. Man, I was on a roll.

I asked what time. He said 10am. And then he took off… a fast roll of three consecutive sentences that I completely missed. But I wasn’t even listening. I was on a high. We said our goodbyes. I thanked him for his patience. And as I hung up, I wondered if he’d come.

The next morning, I was out. But himself was here. And they came to read the meter shortly after 10am. Score for me!!!

I’m ridiculously pleased with myself, which is sad really. Ten years and this one successful conversation is what I have to show for it. But perhaps this is the start of it all coming together. Regardless. I’m grateful that I can chalk up a Hungarian language success, however minor.

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On the plains of hesitation bleach the bones of countless millions who, at the dawn of victory, sat down to wait, and waiting – died! So said William A. Lawrence, and in fairness, the man has a point.

Procrastination. It’s a slow killer. It robs us of our time, screws with our dreams, and turns life into as series of tomorrows. Although scoring off the scale in Belbin’s team scoreboard as a completer-finisher, I still need to cross that initial hurdle and start.

Most effectively used at the end of tasks to polish and scrutinise the work for errors, subjecting it to the highest standards of quality control.
Strengths: Painstaking, conscientious, anxious. Searches out errors. Polishes and perfects.
Allowable weaknesses: Can be inclined to worry unduly, and reluctant to delegate.
Don’t be surprised to find that: They could be accused of taking their perfectionism to extremes.
I’ve given a number of workshops lately and if I believed in conspiracies, I might be justified in thinking that the universe was conspiring to send me a message. Three presentations in particular stand out. One said that it takes just 20 hours (45 minutes a day for 27 days) to master the rudiments of anything. Another said that an experiment showed that 90 something percent of people who wrote an appointment for the gym in their calendar actually went. And a third talked about happiness.
The first I like. In theory. But committing to 45 minutes for 27 consecutive days is proving difficult. Now, had I to have some sort of medical treatment that required the same commitment, I’d have no problem finding the time. Or if I was on parole and had to report in daily. Or if I had accepted a challenge to say a decade of the rosary in a different church every day for 27 days and a trip to Mecca was riding on it – then I’d find the time. But to learn Hungarian? I’m struggling. Being of a rather anal disposition, I’d prefer it to be the same time every day. But do I want to commit to being up and at it by 7.30 am every morning? Or curb what little social life I have these days by committing to 7.30 pm every evening? And during the day? That doesn’t suit either.
I know I’d be a lot happier if I could speak to my neighbours. I think I’d be a lot less happy if I could really understand the conversations on the metro or the tram. One of the advantages of not really speaking the language is that I’m saved the drivel.  I can avoid the banality, the complaints, the negativity so evident in tone on public transport. Do I really want to open those floodgates?
But, I don’t want to die not having had a few decent conversations in Hungarian with people I couldn’t otherwise talk to. I don’t want to be the procrastinator Lawrence talks about. So, I’m biting the bullet.  I’m going to try the 45 minutes of concentrated effort. Except that 27 days is a lot and I only have a clear stretch of 14 so I’m going to do 45 minutes twice a day for 14 days starting 10 November. And then we’ll see. Gotta be grateful for small steps.