Wednesday, January 16, 2013

5 Things the USA should adopt from Hungary, and 3 Things just to baffle them

There are many things that come from the USA to Hungary. Movies, music, fast food, and even a few holidays like Halloween and Valentine's (I'm a Roman archaeologist, I know where it came from, don't argue, it's a figure of speech and lotsa fluffy pink bears). But, every once in while when talking to my American friends, I come across things that we have that seem to tickle the American fancy. Here is a list of things that Hungary should think about promoting across the ocean. Could be a bigger hit than goulash soup.

1. Easter sprinkling
I have thoroughly covered this one earlier here, but it bears repeating. Douse girls in water and get money/chocolate/alcohol for it? Seriously. If you are going to trade a Hungarian custom for giving us Halloween, pick this one.

2. May trees
That's another fun one. The night before May 1st guy go out and chop down a huge tree, and plant or otherwise place it in front of the house of the girl they like (they usually do it in groups, obviously, and sometimes not entirely sober). I am talking tree tree here, no mere branches (see picture). They decorate the tree with ribbons, bottles, balloons, sometimes little gifts. Because who would not want to get a tree for May Day from a secret admirer?

3. Second breakfast, second lunch
What, you thought it was the hobbits' idea?! I have not even realized until recently that my eating habits had to change when I came to the USA. In Hungary the main meal is lunch, which makes me constantly hungry over here at noon (make a pun, I dare you, I double dare you), and then I can't eat all of dinner. In addition to that, we have smaller snack meals in Hungary at 10 o'clock and then in the afternoon. People seemed to like this in Lord of the Rings, and although I don't think Americans need to be encouraged to eat more, I thought I'd put it on the list anyway. Since I am munching on my 10 o'clock snack right now.

4. Krampusz
This one is so much fun. They tried to rope me into designing the Christmas festivities at my workplace, but they quickly changed their minds when I told them that if I did Christmas Hungarian style, Santa would be dressed as a Catholic bishop and accompanied by a girl dressed as the Devil. You should have seen their faces. Priceless.
Anyhow, Krampusz is fun. You can read more of the background here. He/she (often a she since Santa is always a he) is pretty much St. Nick's sidekick, and kids absolutely love it. Side note: it's not like we worship Satan or anything. Krampusz is a Christmas spirit of the darker sort. We don't have elves with striped stockings, but we do have little devils. You can't have everything.
And while we are on the topic of Santa: we have St. Nicholas' Day on the 6th of December (Catholic calendar, people), when we put our shoes in the window and get them filled with bags of candy and oranges (and if you were a bad kid, little switches or branches to spank you with, from the good old days of corporal punishment). Then, two weeks later, we have Christmas. And more gifts.

5. Kinder eggs
This one speaks for itself. It still cracks me up that it is easier in the USA to buy a gun than to buy a piece of chocolate with a toy inside.

The next three are things that I have mentioned to Americans before and I was surprised at their surprise. These are some of those cultural things that you don't notice until you go somewhere else and people look at you like you are crazy. So here are the 3 biggest things not for adoption, just for the sake of perspective, or, What Baffles Americans about Hungary the most.

1. Names
There is the fact that we put family names first (which messes royally with any paperwork I fill out - I have been Miss Zalka, Miss Csenge, Miss Virag, Miss Zalka Virag, Miss Virag Csenge, and any other possible combination). Then there is the fact that names in Hungary have to be approved by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Linguistics Department. That's right people, no naming your kid Tape Recorder (real life example) or ABCDE (ditto), or any of those that ensure that your kid will have no lunch money till they can change it at age 16 and the damage is already done. Of course this is a two-sided coin; if you come up with a unique name, you have to get it approved. The Academy publishes a book of names every year with the newly approved additions to it, so at this point there is a couple of thousand names to choose from. Still, every time I mention this to Americans I get shocked pale faces thinking our Government dictates how to raise our children. It's fun to watch.
Side note: On the bright side, registered names come with namedays (Game of Thrones, people :). It's kinda like having two birthdays in one year (or, in my case, four). Every name that gets registered is assigned a day (or more) in the calendar. People remember it easier than birthdays, that way. I should have added this on the adoption list, now that I think of it...

2. Cars and washing machines
It similarly shocks people when I say I don't need to have a car to exist in Hungary - and their shock matches mine when I find out not every house in the USA has a washing machine. Laundromats are a very American thing, and I am still not quite okay with them (washing your underwear in public? Seriously, people?). It is interesting to observe that while getting your own car means you are fully grown and independent in Hungary, the same time in the USA having your own washer and dryer at your place means the same.

3. Dubbed movies
Americans would rather make a new movie than read subtitles, and even the mention of dubs gets a range of disapproving reactions from them. In Hungary you pretty much grow up watching American movies dubbed, and many times you don't even know what the actor's original voice sounds like. Contrary to popular belief, the fact that the lips don't move the same way doesn't really make a difference, as long as they are synced up with the voice. (I got into an argument with a friend of mine once who claimed that Hungarian dubs should still speak Hungarian with an American accent. That was the point when I realized that even the concept of dubs is completely foreign on this side of the world...) Hungarian dubs vary from absolutely great to pretty bad, but you don't notice the bad ones until you start watching the original movies (and then they are ruined forever). To this day I can only quote Star Wars in Hungarian. I'll make a note to change that.

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