1. Having a translator is a luxury.
2. Sometimes, getting your point across means you’re going to gesture a great deal, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Really, that’s the crux of this post. In Sarospatak, I was very blessed to have a variety of volunteers who were willing to translate for me. In particular, Sylvia Nagy was exceptionally helpful. Sylvia was in ‘L’elisir d’amore’ at Crescendo two years ago, and a beautiful soprano opera singer/teacher. She speaks six languages, and is half-Hungarian/half-Romanian. Ms. Nagy made an incredible translator not only because she could read Matt and me quite well (i.e. really figure out how we wanted to say things, not just what we wanted to say), but she’s just an incredible linguist.
Initially, I was terrified that the language barrier was going to be a major problem, especially in Sarospatak because it is so rural. What is discovered is that there is no reason to be embarrassed simply because you can’t speak Hungarian. Granted, you need to know the basics (‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘good’, ‘very good’, and of course ‘bathroom’). But if you act like you know what you’re doing, people will treat you with respect. If you know how to gesture ‘hand stapler,’ that will also get you pretty far in a hardware store-
My hat off to Matt Allar.
I don’t wish to make sweeping generalizations, but I think it’s reasonable to say that Hungarians are rather melancholy as a whole. I heard these exact words said day after day by Hungarians participating in Crescendo; by the end of my time in Sarospatak I frequently observed this just walking down the street. This ended up being useful information.
I discovered that if you didn’t act like a ‘stereotypical American,’ people were more willing to work with you. Many Hungarians I met described Americans as overly-perky, outgoing, enthusiastic, and frequently smiling. It is not necessarily a negative stereotype, but that also depends on which Hungarians you talked to. I would say I’m outgoing, but when the time comes for me to tone it down I can do that. In the end, toning it down and being straightforward was what got me further on the communication front. I even got mistaken for being Hungarian many times while in Hungary, which I find incredibly flattering.
When purchasing items for Crescendo, there is a special process by which you complete the transaction. Any shop owner (and Hospital, for that matter) in Hungary has a special notepad dedicated to government receipts. Since some of Crescendo is sponsored by the government, all the purchases made in the name of the organization must be validated through these government receipts. If you’re buying 600 HUF worth of items (about $2.66) you will get some eye rolls, but so it goes.
I’ve attached some photos below of Sarospatak proper…which means all of Sarospatak. Total, it takes 15 minutes to cross the whole city. 10 minutes if you want to go across the Bodrog River to the next town. But here are a few things about Sarospatak that I found particularly interesting:
There are a lot of stores in Sarospatak dedicated just to produce, most of which have an apricot-colored interior and LOTS of Paprika (peppers galore).
Apparently, you can buy Puma shoes. Even in rural Hungary.
I found the architecture of this building particularly interesting. It is split up into stores and residential apartments. The Cultural House in Sarospatak also had a similar look and feel.
Many of the residential apartments were Soviet Block-era buildings like this. In the suburbs of Budapest, you can also see similar buildings. Sarospatak is a mix of 1530-1970 architecture (with a few churches and older structures from the 13th century). You can get another perspective on Eastern European architecture generated during the mid- to late- 20th century through this blog as well: http://benross.net/wordpress/the-architecture-of-the-iron-curtain/2012/11/24/.
More on Sarosapatak as a whole later! Think castles, The Bodrog River…and storks.