For anyone moving to a new city, making friends can be difficult. And the older you get, the harder it seems. I’ve reinvented myself a number of times, moving to cities and countries in which I knew one, maybe two people, and oftentimes no one at all.
Back in my 20s it was easy. Most of those I met were of similar age and as young, free, and single as I was. They were open to meeting new people and making new friends. Of course, I’m blessed to be Irish, probably the one nationality in the world that almost everyone seems predisposed to liking. By virtue of my birth I come packaged with an expectation in others that I’ll be up for a party – whenever, wherever.
In my 30s, I noticed a difference. A subtle difference, mind you, but an important one nonetheless. My peer group were now newly married couples, perhaps young parents whose priorities in life had changed. They had husbands and wives to go home to. They had children to bathe. They had stuff to do at the weekend and families to be with on the holidays. I managed. I always do. But it was a tad harder.
In my 40s, it took a lot more effort. Moving to a country whose spoken language still defeats me, a country where things are simply different – not better or worse than other places I’ve lived, just different – this was harder again. And a lot of it was down to me. I had my peculiarities. I was prone to my particular figaries. And I had become a little more discerning about whose company I kept. I’ve noticed that my tolerance levels are gradually declining as the years advance.
For the first couple of years in Hungary, I didn’t seek out an expat community. In fact, it wasn’t until the birth of the Gift of the Gab some two years after I’d arrived, that I had my coming out. I began to meet people. Some expat groups were a little too cliquish for my taste, a little too ‘them and us’ when it came to Hungarians. And I tried a few. And then true to form, the Irishness in Hungary won out.
The Irish Hungarian Business Circle (IHBC) is one of a number of chambers in town and despite its name, its focus is not purely business; there’s a charity and a social arm as well. And the social arm is very inclusive. The regular pub gatherings (this year in the Caledonia) on the First Friday of each month draw people from all over. The volunteer work trips to the orphanage in Göd attract people of all ages. And the regular hikes during the year are one of the best opportunities this city offers to meet new people.
Some hikes have had six hikers. Some have had over 40. The inimitable Malcolm Trussler tailors the walks to suit the numbers … and the weather. Last Sunday saw 20 of us get the train to Nagymáros where we caught the ferry across to Visegrád and from there hiked a nice 10.5 km through the lower Pilis hills to Pilisszentlászló. Sixteen adults, four kids, seven nationalities … and a dog.
As we wended our way through the hills we fell in with different people and had a chance to chat without distraction. No phones. No iPods. No tablets. Just us. Clean air. Good conversation. Afterwards, we ate at the Kis Rigó Vendéglő before bussing back to Szentendre and catching the Hév back to Budapest.
Next hike is planned for October. Dust off those boots and get the thermos ready.
First published in The Budapest Times 2 October 2015