I have been thinking about ways to leave the “tourist bubble” and merge with the local community. But it seems, like with most things, that it is not that easy. It doesn’t just magically happen from one day to another. If you really want to become a local you have to work really hard.
And then the question about what makes a local arises. Does it mean that you have to be born in Budapest? Lived here for a few years? Speak the language? Is it even neccessary to be Hungarian? I’m not sure yet.
When I first came here in the beginning of April I knew nobody outside of my family. That, however, is old news now. In the last couple of weeks I have made it my mission to make new friends. Initially I wanted to get to know Hungarians but I soon realised that it is almost impossible to be exclusive to one nationality. I have figured out that Budapest is more international than I thought. I’m also starting to think that it is this mixture of people and cultures that gives the city its appeal and charm.
My first friend here was from Portugal. Our group quickly grew and now I hang out with people from all over the world – Hungarians included. One thing we all have in common is that we are in Budapest for some reason and that we’re looking to belong and broaden our views in some way or another.
The international setting of our group makes it hard to practise my Hungarian. We usually speak English to each other. Most of us met through a Facebook page that aims to bring together people living in Budapest. Most of the members are expats but there are a few “regular” Hungarians there as well.
However, we all have different objectives. It seems that the Hungarians who have joined our group are very interested in English and the world outside of Hungary. Though they have been absolute stars when it comes to showing the rest of us around the city. Sightseeing just wouldn’t be the same without them. They also make sure that we don’t get overcharged and keep us safe from the worst tourist traps out there. Thanks to them I feel more Hungarian than ever. Sometimes I even know more about the hip hide-outs than my Budapest-born relatives.
The other day I met a Hungarian guy who was getting ready to go to Sweden. It was a fun experience for me talking to someone who is doing the exact opposite to what I am doing. I got to help him with his Swedish and he gave me some pointers on my Hungarian. I understood his urge to go somewhere else and discover a new country.
The thing I still have problems with understanding is why he would want to leave Hungary. But then I realise that this is a question which has to be put into perspective. Just like my parents he wants to open up a new world of opportunities for himself. I think this is almost always the main objective once somebody decides to leave their own country.
I noticed something interesting amongst my group of friends. Some of them have lived here for several years and still don’t speak Hungarian. They don’t even feel there is any need to learn Hungarian because English is now so widespread in the city. One of the girls I met has lived here for six years and still doesn’t speak more than a few words of Hungarian. However her knowledge of the city is amazing and I would not hesitate to call her a local.
Even though I understand the language better than many of my new friends I would not yet call myself a Budapest local. I guess I’m getting there but it will take a lot more than a few visits per year and some advanced sightseeing.
So to answer my previous questions about what it takes to become a local, the answer is simply I don’t know yet. Surrounding yourself with Hungarians is a good start, I think. Though being local to a place is a birthright it is also something that can be earned. But the mere fact that you are born in Budapest doesn’t automatically give you all the informaton and know-how about the place.
Budapest is a living and breathing entity in constant change. If you don’t keep yourself up to date it is easy to become a tourist in your own city. Though I would not necessarily say that this is a bad thing. We could all benefit from sightseeing our own cities once in a while
(Part Four next week)