Friday, January 18, 2008

A Buda-post

Széchenyi bridge, over the Danube

An end of week gift for you, my loyal reader(s). After Vienna, Amynah and I boarded a train for Budapest. We arrived just after lunch, and made a beeline for our hotel, which was located just on the outer edge of the Buda side of downtown.

Now, as friendly as the Hungarians had so far been, their language is a barbed wire fence encircling a concrete bunker shielding a cast iron safe in which is hid comprehensibility. There are no words we recognized, no Germanic nouns or Romance verbs that might provide an entry point into their sentences: hell, there are barely any vowels. Even a simple word like “service” gets four extra consonants in Hungarian, some of which look like they were put there for storage, in case some other word might need them.

Our ineptitude proved costly. After dropping our bags, we hopped on the subway to go back to the larger Pest side of town (the subway stop nearest our hotel was Moscow Station. How redolent of history is that?) On our arrival in the downtown station we were stopped by a large man with a nametag and an officious manner. He demanded our tickets. We produced them.

Yes, this could be any subway on Earth, but trust me, it's a Budapest subway, and key to the sad tale that follows

“Szk szk szk,” he said.

“?” replied Amynah and I, apologetically.

“You did not stamp this,” he said.

“We did,” we said, pointing out where we had validated the ticket on the tram.

“You rode subway. Where is ticket?”

We said we used the same ticket, at which point he said we couldn’t do that.

“Oh, ok,” I said.

“No. Is not ok,” he said.

“No, I mean I understand,” I said, to which he just grunted.

“You need one ticket for the tram, one ticket for subway,” he said.

“Ok,” I said, comprehending.

“NO! Is NOT ok!” he said, frustrated by my dimness. He flipped my ticket over to show me, cowering beneath the thorns and brambles of his own language, a few lines in English explaining exactly what he had just told us.

“I didn’t read that,” I said, (after all, why would I expect English on a Hungarian metro ticket?)

“Is no good,” he said; to which Amynah and I could only agree. We may well have stood there on the subway platform forever, paralyzed my the not-ok-ness of it all, had Amynah not roused him, asking “So now what?”

“Ah! Now you pay,” he said, energized, and pulling out a ticket book.

“Fine,” said Amynah agreeably, having learned that Ok was not a customary signal of compliance in these parts.

“Yes! A fine!” he said, with great relish, delighted to have finally been understood.

I managed to avoid collapsing in laughter at this point, thus saving the Canadian Embassy staff from ruining their holidays bailing me out of a Hungarian jail. The fine amounted to 40 Euros; our grouchy enforcer did mutter “sorry” to Amynah, a regret that pointedly did not include me.

Freedom monument overlooking the Danube. I'm not sure if this is commemorating the capitalist or communist varieties of freedom


Natalie Joan said...

Love it. Dave and I had the benefit of Dave's previous visit to Budapest, where he made the same mistake. But if I remember the story right, he talked his way out of the fine.

Greg said...

We pretty much walked everywhere in Budapest, but then again it was may when we visited.

It's interesting to see how much the citadel hill changes over the seasons. Great photo!

anna said...

of all your many delightful posts, this may be the one i adore the most...

Mark Reynolds said...

Thanks all!

Greg, I'd love to go back in the spring or summer, but there was certainly something special about seeing everything under fresh snow.

Jul said...

Budapest is the only city in which I have had a run-in with the subway ticket checkers (and in our case, we actually hadn't done anything wrong, but were unable to communicate that fact - but still managed to get out of the fine). The communication was similar....

David Beeson said...

Great to read the story - I'd enjoyed it when you told it to us before but I liked the written version too. I guess it's just a great story