It’s pretty strange to live in a place where you absolutely do not speak the language in any way shape or form. Here is my acquired Hungarian vocabulary so far:
Good Morning (but not good evening or goodbye)
Thank You (but not please)
Do You Speak English?
Hello/Goodbye, for use on telephone (cheating, as it’s actually just “Allo”)
1, 2, 3 (but not 4-10)
I would like…(point to the thing you want)
This actually gets me through a surprising amount of interactions. The language barrier, however, keeps rearing its head in other ways.
For instance, on the second floor of our building is a mysterious office. It advertises itself with a cartoon of a smiling dinosaur in running shoes, but is constantly haunted by miserable young people. They smoke cigarettes sullenly, tag up the first floor stairwell, and avoid your gaze when you pass them in the courtyard. Outside the door, boys get in shouting matches with their fathers, couples comfort eachother, and young girls hiss urgently into their cellphones. Rick and I decided early on that it must be a rehab center or a parole office. I’ve even wondered if it was a family planning clinic. Well, yesterday we saw our landlady and asked her to solve the mystery. “It is a lady,” she started confidentially, “She helps the young people…with these things…how do you say this…where you give the money to the state…the tax. She helps easy with the taxes, for all the people. Her sign say, so easy the taxes, so quick, I make you good price, please I am better than the other lady.”
Today Rick reported that a woman in front of him in line at the Diszcount ABC bought 20 candy bars, all different brands and prices, then tried to pay with Hungarian food stamps.
RICK: The checker started yelling at her.
SARAH (not thinking): What did she say?
RICK (giggling): VASHTY VASHTY VASHTY VASHTY VASHTY VASHTY VASHTY!!!
At least we can’t hear anyone making fun of us as we stumble and fumble our way through life’s simplest interactions. Thank God for small mercies.
4 months ago