What I miss most…

Ireland, Hungary, and the USA are three countries where I feel local, places I’ve lived for long periods. I still feel Irish and don’t lay claim to being either American or Hungarian but I am fascinated by what people miss when they’re abroad. Ask any American in Europe what they miss about home and, odds on, their list will include Reese’s peanut butter cups and Butterfingers. I don’t see the attraction myself. I’m not a fan of peanuts, or of American chocolate. Ask any Irish person living abroad the same question and I’m sure Tayto crisps and Cadbury’s chocolate would feature alongside rashers, sausages, and black pudding.

But what of Hungarians?

I stood behind a woman in the check-in queue at Budapest airport recently. We were heading to Dublin. With only one check-in desk open the queue was glacier-like. The chap behind the desk was doing his job. Any bags over the allowed limit were turned away, their owners slinking to the side, cursing, wondering for the millionth time whether it was really worth flying budget airlines. As they stepped aside and opened their bags in a frantic attempt to remove the offending kilo or three, the guilty among us got antsy. Would we weigh in under the limit?

My woman thought not. She opened her suitcase and transferred heavy stuff to her carry-on. I had a peek. The contents suggested that she was going to visit someone Hungarian, someone who was missing the creature comforts of home. She had paprikas. She had kolbasz. She had pickled cabbage, pickled cucumbers, and pickled beets. She had enough food keep a family of four sated for a week. Her entire suitcase was food. Nothing but food, except for the homemade palinka.

I’m Stateside this week and doing my bit for the import/export business between America and Hungary. I brought over paprika powder, marzipan, and lots of chocolate. I brought books by Hungarian authors Magda Szabo, Antal Szerb, and Móricz Zsigmond that have been translated into English. I brought bottles of palinka and Tokaj. I brought things that have come to epitomise Hungary…for me. I wanted to give my American friends a taste of the Hungary I know.  And I’ll be bringing back the Reese’s peanut butter cups and the Butterfingers for American friends in Budapest.

It has surprised me though, that when I make comparisons, I make them with Hungary first and Ireland second. Perhaps it’s because Ireland is a country familiar to many in this part of the world, one that doesn’t need locating. Hungary is more exotic, not as well known. Out shopping today, some random stranger asked me where I’d bought the dress I was wearing. I could have explained that it was made by a Hungarian designer who has a small boutique on Ferenciek tere but I said simply that I’d bought it in Budapest, forgetting for a minute that not everyone in the world knows where Budapest is. She looked confused. Budapest, Hungary, I said, with a question mark in my voice. Where’s that, she asked. Europe, I said, waiting for the penny to drop. It didn’t. I smiled and walked away before I was asked to locate Europe on her mental map of the world. What would I have said? It’s beside Russia?

What I’ve missed most about living in America is the hospitality of its people and the stratospheric levels of customer service, comparatively speaking. I’ve missed the quirkiness and the belief that nothing is too weird to try once. I’ve missed the variety of food and culture, a product of the diversity of its people. And I’ve missed the grocery stores – those wide-aisled havens of choice in which I can lose myself for hours. It’s good to be back.

First published in the Budapest Times 4 March 2015

17 Responses

  1. When in Ireland I missed American plumbing. Yes I missed those shower knobs! Not food. Welcome back to the good ole USA

  2. Donald Trump and the oh so morally bankrupt Republican Party. Guns.How weird and beyond human belief is that. Only I guess in a Nation where it appears that there are people with no idea where the rest of the world is. Enjoy your visit. C

  3. “I’ve missed the quirkiness and the belief that nothing is too weird to try once. I’ve missed the variety of food and culture, a product of the diversity of its people.”

    You have not spent much time in Kansas (or similar) have you? 🙂

    1. Yup _ I’ve done my time in small-town America and even there there’s a diversity that borders on the exotic for someone from the skirts of the Irish bog. All a matter of perspective.

      1. Alaska small town diversity is different from middle America small towns. The Alaskan populist are different from the prairie populist. And, so no, not a lot of the “exotic” diversity is many parts of middle America that you may have found living in Alaska. And, yes, you would have to live in middle America a while to really experience what I mean (not just a short term tourist).

  4. “Hungarian authors Magda Szabo, Antal Szerb, and Móricz Zsigmond that have been translated into English”

    It is the 21st Century. Most, if not all, of those author’s English translations can be purchased in the USA at Amazon.com. No need to import them in your luggage.

      1. To me, it is the content in the Books that really matter. Their source is irrelevant. And with less books you carry the more bottles of ancient and very Hungarian Kéknyelű wine you can bring to your friends. 🙂

    1. Absolutely. I don’t care for Tokaj particularly. Just as I don’t care for Guinness. But that doesn’t stop me acknowledging the somewhat iconic status of both.

  5. Welcome to the USA! And nice to read that you cherish the same things about my current place of residence.
    In my mind I’m always working on “the perfect country”, a place that gets the best of every place I’ve visited such as (of course) Swiss chocolate, Dutch bicycle lanes, Czech beer, British humor, German engineering, French sense of romance etc. – it’s a fun little game, especially when you compare your perfect country to others 🙂

    1. You are invited to an official lunch. You are welcomed by an Englishman. Food is prepared by a Frenchman and an Italian puts you in the mood and everything is organised by a German.
      European hell:
      You are invited to an official lunch. You are welcomed by a Frenchman. Food is prepared by an Englishman, German puts you in the mood but, don’t worry, everything is organised by an Italian.
      That joke was proposed by a Belgian as the Official European Joke, the joke that every single European pupil should learn at school. The Joke will improve the relationship between the nations as well as promote our self humour and our culture.
      The European Council met in order to make a decision. Should the joke be the Official European Joke or not?
      The British representative announced, with a very serious face and without moving his jaw, that the joke was absolutely hilarious.
      The French one protested because France was depicted in a bad way in the joke. He explained that a joke cannot be funny if it is against France.
      Poland also protested because they were not depicted in the joke.
      Luxembourg asked who would hold the copyright on the joke. The Swedish representative didn’t say a word, but looked at everyone with a twisted smile.
      Denmark asked where the explicit sexual reference was. If it is a joke, there should be one, shouldn’t there?
      Holland didn’t get the joke, while Portugal didn’t understand what a “joke” was. Was it a new concept?
      Spain explained that the joke is funny only if you know that the lunch was at 13h, which is normally breakfast time. Greece complained that they were not aware of that lunch, that they missed an occasion to have some free food, that they were always forgotten. Romania then asked what a “lunch” was.
      Lithuania et Latvia complained that their translations were inverted, which is unacceptable even if it happens all the time. Slovenia told them that its own translation was completely forgotten and that they do not make a fuss. Slovakia announced that, unless the joke was about a little duck and a plumber, there was a mistake in their translation. The British representative said that the duck and plumber story seemed very funny too.
      Hungary had not finished reading the 120 pages of its own translation yet.
      Then, the Belgian representative asked if the Belgian who proposed the joke was a Dutch speaking or a French speaking Belgian. Because, in one case, he would of course support a compatriot but, in the other case, he would have to refuse it, regardless of the quality of the joke.
      To close the meeting, the German representative announced that it was nice to have the debate here in Brussels but that, now, they all had to make the train to Strasbourg in order to take a decision. He asked that someone to wake up the Italian, so as not to miss the train, so they can come back to Brussels and announce the decision to the press before the end of the day.
      “What decision?” asked the Irish representative.
      And they all agreed it was time for some coffee.

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