Monday, October 12, 2009

The End

I always hated "endless" blogs - you know, you find a cool blog, read through all the archives, then notice that the most recent post was several months ago. Then the uncertainty: will the writer post again? Are they on a break, or gone for good?

I'm not deluded enough to believe this blog has followers who are so passionate, but in any case here it is: the end. I'm calling it quits officially.

What to end with? A simple reflection, I suppose: I started this blog, the Hungarian Experiment, four years ago when I first arrived in Hungary. I'm four years older, four years more experienced in teaching, four years more fluent in Hungarian, and with four years more knowledge about Hungary. None of these things will cease to grow or expand; I'm not going anywhere. But the experimental stage of living in Hungary is over for me. So I'm calling the experiment off, and I'm calling it a success. Thanks for reading.

Edited in April, 2013 to add: my current Hungarian adventures are now part of a new blog.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


So, summer drags on. Not that it's a drag at all; I'm sincerely enjoying every single moment of doing nothing, it just doesn't make for very good blogging.

Here's what has happened so far:

- School finished. There was érettségi. I've managed to almost successfully forget most of it, and that's the way I want to keep it.

- Many people (and by people I mean people of the American, CEPT-teachers variety) went home. Some to visit, some for good. Depression was mitigated by the loads of books and food they left. Mmmm, English books...

- so for about a week and a half, I read a lot. Like, one book a day. Until I had finished off all the new English books. Even the romance novels. (By the way, girls who were at Hevesi Buli - I finished Brigi's weird vampire-alien book and it was... surprisingly tolerable. A minimum of sappyness, an overload of historical details, characters so stereotypical it was as good as parody, and an almost-believable plot. I'll pass it on if anyone else is interested)

- I spent a lot of time - way too much, really - working on my new Residence Permit. I still don't have it. And the old one expired a week ago. Which means I'm stuck in Hungary until the new one arrives, whenever that may be.

- We traveled to Mátra with the family: Tomi, Atti, and Gabi, and respective girlfriends myself, Andi, and Viola. We stayed in a fantastic pension, barbeque'd, walked in the forest, got lost in the forest, etc. The boys all brought their guitars and, ahem, "jammed." I brought a book, Viola played on her mobile phone, Andi looked bored and sighed a lot. Yay, family vacation.

- And, like every summer, we've been out several times at the garden cooking. This time it was gulyás:

Friday, June 12, 2009

Closing Ceremony

Well, I was wrong. Our school closing ceremony wasn't one hour of standing around all dressed up listening to boring speeches. It was only 35 minutes!

It followed the same format as every single other ceremony: the Himnusz, a poem, speeches, singing, the second Himnusz (I don't know what it's actually called, it's just some other important song at the end of every ceremony). Today's poem was something by Juhász Gyula containing a lot of "oh, na"s in it, read by a girl with the most unenthusiastic voice. The speech, thankfully just one, was delivered by the principal. It was long. Twenty minutes. Singing followed; this was relatively interesting, but also long. Did I mention that we were all standing? The girls mostly in heels, and the boys many in suits.

Meanwhile the kids fidgeted and chatted, and the teachers fidgeted and chatted and hissed at the kids to be quiet and stand still. We had all gotten flowers, and one teacher used his to whack kids on the shoulder until it broke. As usual, several girls fainted or got dizzy, and were laid out on benches and brought water. Two girls in front of me taught a third how to play thumb wars until they were shoulder-swatted. Clouds moved over the sun, cardigans were put on; clouds moved away, cardigans were removed and sunglasses came out.

Eventually it ended. The students went to their classrooms to collect their report cards, then go home - they're free for the summer. The teachers picked up their things from the teachers room and left with cheerful goodbyes. Seven-thirty Monday morning, we'll all be back for the oral érettségi exams.

The magic of pipes

A weird phenomenon I've noticed in Hungarian flats (possibly universal; I've never lived in a flat in another country): the bathroom pipes' ability to transmit sound. It makes using the toilet an entertaining experience - you can eavesdrop on conversations in other flats, converse with your neighbors, or listen to what's happening on the street outside. All with crystal clear sound quality!

I mention this because a few minutes ago a rather odd noise started. From where I'm sitting at my desk, it's a not-so-dull roar; when I went into the bathroom to investigate, I was unable to decide which of the following activities my upstairs neighbor was currently engaged in:

- mowing the lawn inside his flat
- drilling through blocks of concrete with a drill bit the size of my arm
- using some combination of vacuum and megaphone
- tuning up his tractor
- using a rock tumbler (remember those??) the size of a small car

Oh well, still less annoying than techno neighbor who used to live there.

Sports Day

Yesterday was our school's Sports Day. Before I get into details, please pause to allow a brief rant: I don't know who the genius was who decided how to fill our last week of school, but... let's just say, they screwed up. Not a little, a lot. Wednesday was our last day of classes. Thursday was sports day - all the students were required to be there, attendance was taken; several key teachers were missing from the day, however. And today we have out closing ceremony. At 2:00. With nothing before nor after it. So basically, we all have to get all dressed up for one pointless hour (hopefully not more) of boring speeches and farewells. Especially fantastic for the students who don't live in Szolnok. Great plan, really. End rant.

Anyway, sports day was yesterday. It was held out at Millér, a szabadidõpark (~free time park) outside of Szolnok. In groups we walked/ran/biked out. Several lucky people also went by car. It took them 5 minutes. Walking, it took us 45. When we arrived, I made a point of showing myself to the gym teachers. (So, a bit of backstory: the whole event was coordinated by the P.E. department. Originally, I had been planning on skipping the whole thing too, but earlier this week one of them burst into the teachers room and starting ranting about how none of the other teachers were taking sports day seriously, they might as well cancel the whole thing, why is it that one department can never support the other, blah blah blah. At the time there were only three other teachers in the room, and her eyes raked over us all, effectively wilting my ambitions to skip. I did have a couple nasty thoughts about how, when the English department gave it's series of six open lessons, I hadn't seen any of the gym teachers there, but... whatever.)

After establishing my presence, I went to sit with 9.c. Like each class, they were building up a fire and preparing to cook. I helped a bit peeling potatoes, but mostly just sat around, nibbled, chatted in English and Hungarian and Hunglish, tried to take pictures (no batteries), and didn't do any sports at all. Students were coming and going, running off to participate in various competitions, borrowing knives and salt, trying to sample each other's food, sneaking off to go smoke, chatting, laughing, and having a good time. In the end, I'm glad I didn't skip (still bitter about the departments helping departments thing, though).

I left a bit early from the park to come back into town and go, again, to the Immigration Office. Long story short, I still don't have the right tax papers, and next week I will be making a trip to the wonderful APEH - basically the Hungarian IRS. So, yeah... more on that later.

Friday, June 05, 2009

More Surreal End of Days

The hazy, lazy, end of the school year continues. My week was like this:

Monday, no school due to Pünkösd (Pentecost). Also, nothing was open, so we drove two towns over to a restaurant for lunch.

Tuesday, no real classes but the school was open for the seniors to come in and view the results of their written school-leaving exams. I helped my contact teacher Ili show the English tests to her class. In the afternoon, I met Tomi and we went to get me check-uped - the first time I've been to a real doctor in Hungary. Interesting experience - everything about it confirmed my previous suspicions about the Hungarian health care system: it's easy, it's cheap, it's (outside of Pest) monolingual, and it's top-notch. Also, it's old-fashioned (she told me I needed to wear slippers to keep my feet warm, even in the summer), and like everything in small-town Hungary it's privacy-less (she knew that I live in a ground-floor flat because she's friends with my landlady).

Wednesday was the only regular day of the week. Other than walking into my first lesson to find the students standing around in a completely furniture-free classroom, everything was normal.

Thursday was stressy. The whole day I spent alternating between rushing and waiting, rushing and waiting. I went into the school early to finish writing a test, all the computers were full so I waited, got the computer which wasn't compatible with my pen drive, waited some more, tried to write the test as quickly as I could, and all the while Rózsa was trying to tell me about the trip to England plans and Petra and I were trying to put together a program for an after-school program (which I ended up not being able to attend anyway). In between classes I was running, photocopying, answering endless student questions. Classes themselves were an enforced standstill - the students were taking the test, so all I could do was sit silently.

After school I ran home, ate, and ran over to my favorite place in the whole county, the Bevándorlási Hivatal (Immigration Office). There were four people in front of me; I waited in line for almost two hours. Finally I got into the office, waited some more, and turned in all the paperwork to extend my Tartózkodási Engedély (residence permit). Well, almost all the paperwork - of course, I was missing one paper. So I have to go again next week. Grrr. On the other hand, the guy working in the office was wonderfully helpful, and also gave me a bunch more information about getting my Letelepedési Engedély (permanent residence / settlement permit, that magic document that will allow me to do this mass of paperwork only once every five years). So that'll be a project for the summer...

Finally, today, Friday. Normally I would have a very simple day: 4th period with the adorable and wonderful 11.D, and 6th lesson with the slightly-less-adorable but still tolerable 11.C. What actually happened today: I went in for the 2nd lesson to observe a class. In the 3rd lesson I had to substitute another teacher. In the 4th lesson I was free because the 11.D are on a class trip (miraculously, I had known this beforehand). In the 5th lesson I observed another class. And after the 5th, the rest of the lessons had been cancelled for a special program. This I had NOT known in advance, and I was planning to give the 11.C their end-of-the-year test. So it all fell though. But at least I'm at home now, and looking forward to a very calm weekend. I need to save up my strength for next week.

Monday, May 25, 2009

New favorite English word

If I played Scrabble, I would be in heaven right now. I just discovered what "Jászság" is in English: Jazygia.

I have no idea how it's pronounced... which is a good thing, or else I'd go around shamelessly dropping it into conversation.

More info about Jazygia, which even Wikipedia refers to by it's Hungarian name, can be found here.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Year-End Review

One of the things I love (and hate) about the end of the year is how unsubstantial it feels. I mean, since the seniors have left, I only have thirteen lessons a week. Of those, many will be canceled because of class trips and other events. Next week is our last full week of classes - both weeks in June actually contain 3 teaching days each. Because of the ongoing school-leaving exams, classrooms are always changing, which adds to the loose feeling. Of course, I enjoy the free time, and freedom, but it's a weird time - like I'm in limbo between school and summer. I think the students feel it too, and they've all started their slide into summer - this, combined with my lethargy, makes teaching the last few weeks a struggle for me.

It happened today that I had my second-to-last class with the 11.d. They're one of my "meh" classes - I only see them once a week, and up til today they didn't make too much of an impression. I certainly enjoy class with them, but... you know the type. They're not good, nor bad; English mediocre; sometimes studious, sometimes lazy; they did make me laugh pretty frequently, but generally I can say I never really paid them too much attention.

And after today I feel a bit guilty about this, because it turns out they've been paying attention all year! As part of the year-end review, I asked them what they remembered doing this year. They remembered everything - even things I'd forgotten. Not only did they remember the topics ("we talked about personality"), they remembered the content (i.e. the vocabulary we learned)! They were enthusiastic about reviewing - I had them work in groups* and each group wrote a mini-test about one of the topics, then quizzed each other. Best of all for my teachers heart, they gave me some feedback about the year. Okay, maybe it wasn't 100% honest feedback, because most of them said they liked everything we did, but the braver students volunteered a couple things they hated. Along with logical, precise reasons why they hated them.

So it was a happy surprise for me to discover, now at the very end of the year, that I really like this class (I'll have them again next year). And I guess it's a good lesson for me, at the end of the year, to remember that I should spend less time worrying and complaining about bad classes and more time enjoying the good ones.

* One group was cooperating less well than the others, and I almost died laughing when the girl turned to me, reached down into the depths of her English memory, and dramatically announced, "Emily! I can not work with them. The ghost... of cooperation... HAS DIED!"

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Tara's pictures of Ópusztaszer made me jealous, and finally prodded me into making a post out of mine.

So a couple of weeks (er, months) ago on a nice sunny Saturday, Tomi and I decided to take a mini roadtrip to Ópusztaszer. It began, as every Hungarian trip must, with the Making of the Sandwiches:

Followed about an hour later by the Eating of the Sandwiches. We stopped at a little turn-off and ate, frolicked in the fields, avoided the many dead animals nearby...

We took an unplanned tour of Csongrád, which was beautiful. I want to go back there sometime when I'm free to take pictures, instead of trying to read a map while speeding down a labyrinth of narrow one-way streets. Anyway, with no major mishaps we arrived:

Tomi took over the camera, and was very thorough in his photography. We now have an entire collection of pictures of wax Hungarian kings. Here's Béla the Fourth and his daughter Saint Margit:
One of the few pictures taken by me. Someday in my grown-up house, I'm going to have a corner cabinet like this one:
After exploring all that the Rotunda had to offer, we continued through the yurts*. They were filled with wood-related things which were utterly fascinating for Tomi and totally boring for me, so I sat a lot while he read everything. And took pictures of everything:

I also asked him to take this picture. It's populations of Hungarians over the world:

Finally we reached the village open-air museum. By this point we were getting hungry and tired - him from all that shutter-pushing and me from all that sitting, I guess. So we didn't actually go into any of the buildings...

Except for the mill, of course:

After the mill we had lunch, bought a couple postcards and such, and headed home. As I was looking at the map just now, I realized that we left out a lot of things - more than I originally thought. I think a second trip might be in order...

* I can't even tell you how much distress this word caused me - I couldn't remember if it was yurt or jurt or yert in English, so of course I wanted to look it up in the dictionary. I don't have an English dictionary at home. So I checked the Hungarian->English at the sztaki dictionary - nothing. I dug out my paper dictionary, and horror of horrors, it wasn't in it! Nor in any of the other Hungarian-English dictionaries I have. What the heck's up with that?

Kánikula conversation

One of my favorite words in Hungarian is kánikula. It means heatwave, so I like it for both the meaning and the sound, which is not very Hungarian.

A couple days ago I was talking with my contact teacher about the decidedly non-kánikula weather (despite the promises of the weather service, it was only medium-warm and pouring buckets) and I mentioned the word. My apparently odd pronunciation of the word made her smile and say, "каникулы." I looked puzzled and she explained, "In Russian we have the word kanikuly. It means the summer holidays."

I mulled over this bit of information for a while, then asked if one was derived from the other.

"Yes. Well, no. They both come from Latin. You know, 'canis,' it means dog."

"Ah ha!" You could probably see my lightbulb. "In English we say the dog days of summer."

"Because the dogs are, what do you call it, panting?"

"Erm, yeah."

Although I've since remembered that that's not true, it has nothing to do with dogs panting, but... that'll be a conversation for another day.

Wikipedia has quite an interesting, if somewhat questionable, article about Dog Days here. I especially love the uncited statistics like "The term "dog days of summer" also derives from the fact that in America 44% of all hot dogs are sold in the summer time." Hm...

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Letelepedési Engedély part 1

I can only imagine that this will be a long series. I think I've also written a "part zero," about my previous failed attempts to start the process, but I can't find it to link to it.

Anyway. I'm trying to get my Hungarian Letelepedési Engedély, Permanent Residence Permit / Settlement Permit (not sure of the exact translation because I've never actually read anything about it in English). Not to go into overwhelming detail, but what I have now is a combination of three documents: my Tartózkodási Engedély, a type of residence permit which allows me to live here; a letter from the OM - Hungarian Department of Education - which allows me to work at Varga; and an official letter from Varga saying that they allow me to work in other capacities. All of these documents need to be renewed yearly, a painful process to say the least.

But "if I know it well" (there's my bit of Hunglish for the day), the Letelepedési has several advantages. One, and most importantly, it's good for five years. Two, it gives me all the same rights as a Hungarian citizen - namely, to live and work here without filling out ten thousand forms in duplicate with stamps on each page. I can even vote if I want to. Third, did I mention that it's good for five years? Plus, after five years, I only have to get it extended, not reapply totally. Once they give me official Permission to Settle, they can't take it back, no more than they can take away a Hungarian's citizenship.

But, while Hungarians have gotten their citizenship simply by the luck of being born here, I have to work for mine. First step, collecting all the documents I need, starting with that which will be the most difficult: Erkölcsi Bizonyítvány, "Certificate of Morality." Lovely translation, yes? Basically, it's a letter from the police saying I haven't committed any major crimes recently. Tomi was required to get one when he started working in the school, and said it was super simple: go to the post office, fill out a form, submit it, wait a couple weeks, and receive your certificate in the mail.

So, a couple weeks ago we went to the post office, got the form, and started filling it out. The first thing they asked for - very first, even before my name - was my ID number. Hungarian ID number. Back to the window, where we patiently explained the situation to the woman behind the bullet-proof glass (by "we explained" I mean Tomi explained and I did my best to look like a helpless-but-deserving-of-help American). She called her supervisor. Tomi explained again. Supervisor glanced at me and told him he was crazy, that only Hungarians could get such certificates. She recommended that I contact the American Fõrendõrség - "Head Police". Like, the FBI?

We went home, called around, found nothing useful. Having exhausted all other resources, I fell back on the Goddess of Information and my personal saviour, Hajni. Her calls to the Department of Immigration were much more successful (when we called, no one answered. Hajni knows private cell numbers). She told me how to fill the form - very simply, to cross out the slot for my non-existent Hungarian ID card number, and write in the number from my tartózkodási engedély (temp residence permit).

So finally today we went back to the post office to submit my carefully doctored Application for a Certificate of Morality. I feel that Fate or God (or Hajni?) was on our side, because instead of the usual cranky hags or bitchy nail-painting teenagers who work at the post office, we were served by the sweet, kind mother of one of my students, who I've known since my first year here. That must be a good sign, yes?

Anyway, that's in the works; we'll see what comes of it. Meanwhile, tomorrow I'm off to Pest to renew my passport. Exchanging Hungarian bureaucracy and red tape for American, as it were. Don't expect a positive report.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Pictures from graduation Saturday:

The ceremony was in the courtyard of the school, like every year. It started half an hour late, and it was ridiculously boring, mostly because the sound system wasn't working and no one could hear anything.

So instead of listening to the ceremony, everyone just talked with their neighbors. Here's Petra and Chad chatting it up.

When the boring, who-knows-what's-happening-now courtyard ceremony was finally over, the students all walked out with their classes. These are pictures of my favorite class, the 13.A.

Carrying their flowers and graduation bags, they left the school behind to start their walk through the city. Varga and the other 4 high schools in Szolnok (I mean the "secondary grammar schools" high schools, not the "technical schools" high schools) somehow concocted the idea that the 5 of them together should parade through the streets and all meet up at a center point.

Meanwhile, all the students from the lower grades, and all the teachers, hold hands and form a cordon to keep back parents and well-wishers, and allow the school-leavers to march down the streets unmolested. Holding hands in a chain while walking isn't as simple a job as you might think; look at that above picture, how the girls are being pulled along, and you'll understand why my hands and arms hurt for a couple days afterward.

Finally we reached the end of the line, and all the school-leavers stood together in a circle, counted down from ten... (environmentalists, turn away now...)

... and released their balloons to float away on the breeze. It was lovely, as always. But when it was finished, I still had to walk halfway across town in my heels and dress to another high school, to congratulate my little someday-brother-in-law Gabi, who was also graduating. Here's a very cranky picture of him and girlfriend:

With Szolnok's spectacular "water tower" in the background.

So that's it. The weird thing in Hungary is, they've graduated but they haven't left the school yet; in fact their major final exam (the "érettségi") has it's written part this week, and the oral exams are going on almost til the end of June. More on that later...

Friday, May 01, 2009

The best-laid plans...

Today we went out to celebrate May 1st. Knowing full well that tomorrow I have to be up early in the morning to go to the graduatation ceremonies (and, ahem, knowing second-hand how much it sucks if someone forces you to get trashed the night before your graduation) I was super careful about alcohol intake. Meaning, I drank little. Very little. I was so restrained and careful.

Unfortch, two half drunks make a drunk, and when someone said, "Hop on, I'll give you a piggy-back," I gamely hopped. And he fell. And I fell. And faceplanted. Somehow, we landed only on my face, not his. So now I'll go to graduation tomorrow completely sober, and not at all hungover, but looking like a battered wife. I would include pics, but just google Rihanna and you'll get the idea...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Two events make a trend?

Another example of life-imitating-lessons. Today with the 9.C, we had a test on the Medicine and Injuries unit. Right before the lesson one girl came and announced that she couldn't take the test because she was, well, injured. She had fallen in gym class and scraped herself up - and not put-on-a-bandaid scraped up, but actually being-sent-home-to-recuperate scraped up. Ironically funny.

But a bit worrisome. I wrote before here how I taught a unit on Crime to 9.C, and they almost committed crimes over the unit-end test. So is this a pattern? Teach crime, cause crime; teach injuries, cause injuries? Because the next unit is going to be Global Problems (global warming, wars, societal defects) and the results might be catastrophic...

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Renewing my passport, complaint one

Average income in US: $43,000 / Cost to renew US passport in US: $75

Average income in France: $37,000 / Cost to renew US passport in France: $75

Average income in Hungary: $8000 / Cost to renew US passport in Hungary: $75

Average income in Burkina Faso: $210 / Cost to renew US passport in Burkina Faso: $75

Hm. From this I've learned two things.
One, that I'm thankful not to live in Burkina Faso.
Two, that the US State Department doesn't expect expat citizens to exist on a local salary.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


"You realize this could be the end of the world?"
"Yes, Bence, but the waterslides are more important!"

Aquasome! on youtube

Monday, April 13, 2009

Locsolkodás - Easter Monday in Hungary

Last night I conducted a cross-cultural survey (i.e., I was talking to random international strangers on, and as far as I can tell, locsolkodás (sprinkling) is a uniquely Hungarian tradition. Oh, how lucky for us. Basically, guys get together with their friends and go visit all the women in their lives. At each stop, they recite a short locsolóvers (sprinkling poem) and sprinkle perfume or scented water on the womens' heads, and the women give them kisses, or painted eggs, or pálinka, or all of the above.

The poems range from traditional and a bit quaint:
Zöld erdőben jártam,
kék ibolyát láttam,
el akart hervadni,
szabad-e locsolni?
(I was walking in a green forest, I saw a blue violet, it had started to wilt, may I sprinkle it?)

To modern and quite dirty (this one is pretty tame):
Zöld erdőben jártam,
részeg vagyok, hánytam
Most el fogok dőlni
Nesze bazzeg, kölni!
(I was walking in a green forest, I got drunk and threw up, now I'm going to fall down so here's your damn perfume!)

More traditional ones can be found here or here, funny and dirty ones here. I think they're great for practicing Hungarian and learning lovely new words.

A poem I wrote last year, in honor of this great tradition:
Oh joy, oh yay,
it's "sprinkling" day -
a holiday quite sub-par.
My hair will stink;
the boys will think
what clever men they are.

And an English locsolóvers, written just for me, this morning:
Roses are red,
violets are blue,
if you don't want it,
I won't sprinkle you.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Differences in American and Hungarian high schools

A couple days ago I was walking down the halls of my school and looking at the tablós. For those outside Hungary: a tabló is a like a big poster, containing all the pictures of the members of the graduating class, plus their teachers. They usually have either a nice background design, or some graphic incorporating the pictures (click here for some examples). These are assembled by a professional photograper or printer (or maybe there are professional tabló-makers?) in the spring and displayed someone in the city all summer - last year all of Varga's tablós were in the windows of the cultural center. Then, when the graduating class has left town and everyone's focussing on the new year, the tablós are dragged back to the school, where they linger in dusty storage for a few months until they find a place on Varga's already-jam-packed school walls.

Which brings me back to me, wandering the halls and staring at the old tablós. It struck me that we don't have tablós in American, but we do have something similar, yearbooks. When I went to write this epiphany down, the following list spilled out:

Anything I missed? Add it in the comments. Also, here is a complete list (not my creation) of cultural differences.

Does anyone know how to make blogger make a table? Mine failed...

ps, two days later - ha ha, I just now noticed that on this of all posts, wherein I actually ask two questions that a loyal reader might chance to answer in the comments, I somehow managed to disable the comments. I'm a genius. Anyway, they're back on, I hope.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Sleeping in: my opinions of and failure at

I've never been a big sleeping-in person. In college, roommates and I had endless discussions on the topic. One argued that sleep was the only time when you were completely relaxed and free. Well, maybe for her, but I'm not exactly living a stress-filled life, neither then nor now. Another roommate pushed the wonderful, incomparable feeling of stretching out in a bed made with fresh linens, a good comforter, and nice pillows. I totally agreed, but I can do this while awake and reading. Sleeping-in just seems like a waste of time.

But. Just because I don't like sleeping in doesn't mean I enjoy being woken by an alarm every morning. And the past few weeks, it's gotten to be every morning, weekends included, that I've had to be awake and up at some unforgiving hour of the morning. So I was really, really looking forward to Spring Break, just to have a chance to sleep "in" until, maybe, 8 o'clock. Maybe even 9!

It wasn't to be; you can see that from the time stamp. Last night I felt a bit of tickle in my throat, figured it was an allergy, and made it worse by sitting outside and drinking a cold beer (because as all Hungarians know, if you have a cold, being outside and drinking cold things actually intensify the virus. I think it has something to do with the cold beer molecules attaching themselves to the virus molecules and giving them extra muscles, like Pop-eye downing a can of spinach. But Hungarian medicine is too far above my head for me to actually grasp the logic). Anyway, I went to bed; in this prone position all the snot ran into my face and clogged up my nose, and I woke up in the dead of the night not being able to breathe. Or rather, being able to breathe only through my mouth and throat, which was so excruciatingly painful that it woke me up.

And so, I've been up since then, breathing carefully, blowing my nose frequently to no avail, and drinking hot things (everyone knows the hot molecules form a cushiony blanket around the pointy-scratchy pain molecules). Maybe tomorrow I'll get another chance...

p.s. Blogger has kindly informed me that this is my 300th post, woo-hoo! Um, I think I'll have another coffee to celebrate?

Friday, March 27, 2009


High on my list of "Things I would never have known if I hadn't become an English teacher": computer games give you a fantastically broad (although sporadic) vocabulary.

Really, in every class I've got one or two boys, usually players of "vohv" (WoW, World of Warcraft) who know the most bizarre terms. Their vocab falls into several categories, some you would expect, some you would not. Like ways to die (evisceration, decapitation, mauling, kidney punch, exsanguinate (!)), weapons and fighters (crossbow, sniper) body parts (intestines, guts, radials), nature (cavern, crag, fjord, misty, bog, outland, swarm, typhoon) and clothing (buckle, slipper, wimple). All of these are words I've heard from vohv students, sometimes used correctly, sometimes not (one boy thought that "maul" meant something similar to "hug").

And I can't escape it at home, either: a few days ago I was talking to Tomi, and he was telling me about children whose parent died, "and they had to go to a, you know, that place.... an orphantry."

"An orphantry? You mean an orphanage?" I asked. He got that puzzled look I see so often on my students' faces, when they know they've said something wrong but aren't sure what, and started laughing at himself.

"Yeah, you know, I was thinking like infantry... but I guess not."

I think it's my favorite thing about life here: Hunglish, English-Hungarian, and the way people's brains work... it's like my whole world is one big word-association game.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hunglish SMS

This is a bit old, but I found it when I was cleaning old SMSs off my phone. It's one of my all-time favorite samples of Hunglish, written with perfect grammar by a woman completely fluent in both languages:

Szia Emily! Thank you a könyvet! You are very aranyos! Elkezdtem to read it, I like it nagyon. Köszi again! Take care :)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Answering by rote: FAIL

Today I was playing a speaking game with my students. I drew a card that said "Tell the others two positve things and two negative things about yourself."

"Well," I began confidently, "A good thing about me is-" and then my brain froze. I stuttered on. "Um, I mean, a bad thing about me is, yeah, sometimes I'm selfish, and, and, and..." I had nothing.

Big deal, right? We all have brain farts now and then. But there's something very important to remember, which I'll point out here for the benefit for all 3 of my readers who aren't other English teachers in Hungary. I spend my life answering these questions. The same ones, over and over. What's your favorite band / music / color / food / class / thing about Hungary? What did you do at the weekend? Describe your family. Describe your ideal teacher / husband / friend. Descibe your personality. These are the question-and-answers that are drilled into the heads of Hungarian students. These are all things that, 95% of the time, I can rattle off without thinking about. Except for today.

Luckily, I have awesome students.

"Well, you're kinda lazy," one said helpfully.

"Yes!" Never been so grateful to be insulted. "Yes, bad things about me are that I'm selfish and lazy. Good things are.... uhm.... I'm a good cook, and...."

"And you have a good accent," offered another. Well, duh, but thanks. I'll adore anyone who tells me they prefer my American accent to the British one they learn normally.

"And you like beer!" Okay, someone else's turn to speak.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Tea is not a legitimate medicine!

1298 days I've lived in Hungary (no, I don't actually keep track, carving each day like a prisoner on my wall; I estimated it out just now). There are many things I've gotten used to. Like thinking in forint, not dollars. Feeling heat in Celsius, not Fahrenheit. Bringing my own bag for shopping. In the more specific region of Hungarian health care, I've also adapted: getting naked in front of a doctor, nurse, and a couple random strangers? Sure, why not. Someone tells me that they have a headache/ leg ache/ minor depression because of the front passing through? Okay, I kinda buy it. I've even been sufficiently beaten down enough that when someone says "Last night I went out with wet hair and now I have a cold," I smile and nod and bite back a lecture about the modern science of germs and viruses.
But this:

Having tea prescribed by a doctor is something I will never accept. Never! I'm not at all sorry to cling firmly to my American roots in this matter. When I go to the doctor, I expect one of two answers. Either a kindly, "Here's some actual hardcore drugs," or a firm, "It's just a cold. Suck it up and get out of my office."

And I do know that tea, especially chamomile, does have some medicinal properties. Had this tea been prescribed for something like a sore throat, or an upset stomach, I wouldn't have questioned it's value. But what was it prescribed for? An eye infection. I just don't get it.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Today, after the normal morning announcements, one of the science teachers got on the microphone and declared that someone had broken into his lab, desecrated one of his stuffed chickens, and left a nasty note. Then he threatened life and limb of whoever it was, promising to spare their soul if they would turn themselves in before he called "his friends in the police." Yes, the whole thing's just as wonky as it sounds, plus you should imagine this speech given in his booming, outraged voice. If I had been the delinquent, I would have been terrified.

I had my first lesson of the day with That Class, who thought the announcement was the funniest thing they'd ever heard. I admit, it was a little over-the-top dramatic (seriously, he was speaking like an old-fashioned preacher drawing down the wrath of God) but nonetheless, there was the serious side - someone willfully destroyed his personal property. I can only imagine how I would react if someone if someone wounded me like that.

But of course, this class couldn't see past the humor. They screeched with laughter and spent the whole lesson repeating the speech, embellishing and retelling it in increasing volume and outlandish voices. Sympathy for the victim of the crime? Two or three students only. The rest, nada. I think they would have laughed at a rape victim if she'd told her story in a whiny voice. I might have guessed that the reason for their hilarity was because one of them was the culprit. But at the time I just chalked it up to their usual juvenile obsession with anything that isn't the assignments I give them.

Anyway, the whole episode with this class disgusted me. Not to start my own self-righteous, over-dramatic tirade, but... Up to now, I always struggled to teach them, and I always fought with myself to care about teaching them well, but I managed to do it because I still liked them as people, you know? It was depressing to realize today how completely selfish, self-centered, and two-faced most of them are. What a disappointment. I can't get over how totally disheartening and disillusioning this was. And what about tomorrow, and next week? How can I walk in and teach a group of people for whom I have zero respect, neither as students, and now not even as decent human beings? How can I communicate with them? How can I grade them fairly? How can I be objective? Why should I bother?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Sounds like a joke, but...

nope, instead just another example of how I'm warping the language of today's youth, and vice-versa:

Two Hungarians and an American walk into a hot room.
The American says: "Hüüj de warm van."
Hungarian 1 says: "Oh my god it's very meleg."
Hungarian 2 looks at us both strangely, and shakes his head wordlessly.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Things I woke up to this week

1) I woke up to a phone alarm ringing. Then being smacked into snooze. Then ringing ten minutes later. Then being accidentally dropped into a glass of water by the bed. Then a long string of cursing.

2) I woke up to an sms from a friend saying "Call me before 8!" I dragged myself out of bed. Called. No answer. (I did get in touch with her later, and she was having a worse morning than I was.)

3) I woke up to there being no coffee at home. Questions as to why revealed that, while I was working late the previous day, some sort of coffee-drinking party was held in my absence.

4) I woke up to a gentle but persistent poking and "Hey, hey! It's 6:45! Don't you have to be at work by 7?" Answer: "No."

Despite these, it turned out to be an okay week.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Érettségi (part first of many)

I'll try not to rant, but this is my biggest frustration with the Hungarian education system, and it's not just me; I have yet to meet anyone telling me it's a good system. So, students finishing from a gimnázium all take the érettségi (matura, Arbitur, school-leaving exam, etc). This test, supposedly, measures all they've learned in 4 (or 5) years of high school. They take 5 exams, 3 required and 2 of their choosing. The required subjects are history, math, and Hungarian language and lit. The chosen subjects can be anything they want, as long as one of them is a language. Seriously, they can take an exam in P.E. is they want.

Here's the problem. In mid-February the seniors choose what tests they want to take as their optionals. After that, they have absolutely no motivation to do anything in their other classes - and why would they, because their grades don't count. Yes, you read that correctly. The only thing that counts at the end of the year are the grades they get in their érettségi. So I can give them as many 1s and 2s as I want, but these grades don't go into their record. They only thing they're good for is a) harassing the students who still care about being good students or b) leverage over the students whose parents still care about their grades.

I was thinking about it the other day and if I were the mother of a Hungarian senior, I wouldn't care what marks they get their last semester - after all, as long as they get good érettségi marks, nothing else matters. On the other hand, if I were a Hungarian senior myself, I would still work and try to get good marks - but just because I liked being a student.

One of my students told me a great joke about the érettségi. It perfectly illustrates my third problem with the exam, which I will get into in detail some other time. For now, just the joke:

Three students go to take their history exam. They each pay some protekcio. Student one is pretty dumb, needs all the help he can get, so he pays a lot. Student two is average, so he pays a little. Student three is a bright kid, figures he can pass on his own intelligence, so he doesn't pay anything.
Student one goes for the exam. The teacher asks, "When was World War Two?"
Student one answers, "Um..... the sixteenth century?"
"Great!" says the teacher, "It's a five (the highest mark)!"
Student two goes in next, and gets the same question, "When was WW2?"
"It was in the 20th century..."
"Okay," says the teacher, "and how many people died?"
"Maybe... about a million?"
"Good enough, it's a five!"
Student three goes in confidently. "When was World War Two?"
"From 1939 to 1945."
"And how many people died?"
"One million."
"By name?"

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Crime Unit: a success?

They say that teachers should teach things relevant to their students' lives. This week, I taught about crime, murder and blackmail and treachery, and my 9th graders threatened to commit them.

We've been doing a unit on crime for the past few weeks, and to finish off the unit I planned one last vocab quiz. Instead of making it myself, I decided to let them write it, figuring they would write a much harder quiz than I would anyway. You should know that the class is divided into two halves, and I teach each half twice a week. For the purpose of this post, I'm going to call them Sneaky Class and Kind Class.

So on Tuesday, I had a lesson with Sneaky Class, and told them the plan: write down 20 vocab words on a sheet of paper, and it would be a quiz for the other half of the class (meaning, they would have to define or use each of the words). For some reason (foresight, maybe?), I also insisted they write their names on it. Sneaky Class wrote their quizzes. On Wednesday I repeated the procedure with Kind Class. And today, Thursday, everyone took a quiz. In the 6th lesson, Sneaky Class took their quiz with a minimum of sniveling (I suppose that should have been the tip-off that something was amiss). At the end of the lesson when I collected them, I glanced through them and saw that they had done pretty well.

Enter the 7th lesson, and I was accosted by the Kind Class begging not to take the test. "Don't worry," I tried to soothe them, "the other half of the class just took it, and it wasn't that bad. So I'm sure you'll do fine."

They did not do fine. They struggled, sighed gut-wrenching sighs, swore under their breath, and managed to complete about half the test. Many of them cursed the writers of the tests. Remember how I'd had Sneaky Class write their names on their tests? Now each student in Kind Class knew exactly who to blame for their troubles. In the middle of the lesson, one girl broke under the pressure and blurted out, "I'm going to kill her! Those stupid liars!"

"What?" My eyebrows went up a bit. "What do you mean?"

Unabashedly, she sputtered, "Those liars! They told us that they wrote easy tests for us, so we should write easy ones for them. But they wrote hard tests! Very hard!" The rest of the class grumbled in agreement. I sighed, shrugged, tried to help them as much as I could, promised to grade easily... but as I collected the tests, I could see that it's going to take a VERY easy grading scale to even out the grades between the classes.

As I took one girl's paper, she asked me, "Do you like (name of Sneaky Class girl who had written a particularly difficult test)?" "Well, sure," I replied. "That's too bad," girl continued, "Because you won't see her for a while." "Oh?" I asked, not catching on. "Why not?" "She's in the hospital. Or, she will be in the hospital. I will put her there."

So I may or may not have started a vendetta between the two halves of the class. I have to say, I'm a bit disgusted with Sneaky Class (although not totally shocked) for pulling a stunt like that. They were not my favorites to begin with, and if I made a list now they'd be damn near the bottom (although they've got a long way to go before they overtake TerrorClass). The only redeeming fact is that probably only two or three of them are bad apples... I hope.

Final note, the high point of my day - it made me laugh so hard that I stumbled into the teacher's room nearly in tears, and got many a funny look... just after the 7th lesson, I walked upstairs directly behind a member of the Kind Class. Right in front of the teacher's rooms, she ran into one of her friends from the other half of the class. KC girl nodded, said hi, and was about to continue walking past, when suddenly she remembered the injustice just done to her and veered course dramatically with an ominous, "Hey, I need to talk to you...!"

Saturday, February 07, 2009

"Resolutions 2009"

Well, "I won't procrastinate" will never be a resolution for me. Anyway, back in January I resolutely resolved not to wrangle with New Year's Resolutions this year. And I'm keeping that promise: I won't call them resolutions. They can be my "daily determinations". Or "erstwhile ill-fated intentions." Or "mad missions". Or... okay, I'll stop.

Have you noticed that so far, there's really an "absurd" number of quotation marks in this entry? I just started reading The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks, and maybe she's inspired me. De-spired me? Whatever, I feel like I can justify all my marks, including the ones in the title. since these are neither resolutions, nor will they be (I hope) just for 2009.

Are you picking up on the fact that this whole venture may have been cause by lack of coffee? It's a dangerous place for me to be in. Anyway, the goals:

1. I will exercise 5 minutes a day. Weekends optional. Five minutes is totally doable, right?

2. I will do something, anything, in Hungarian every day. One exercise. One translation. Ten new vocab words. Free-writing, journaling even... just something.

So, baby steps. These both seem very reasonable and (what the hell is a word that means doable but is an actual word?). Any bets on how long the goals will last? I'm guessing an optimistic 3 weeks on the Hungarian and a realistic 5 days on the exercise.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Due my school being small and poor and having too many students, several of our "classrooms" are not actually classrooms, but, say, a former closet. Or a closed-off corner of the gym. Or the old teacher's apartments (where Chad, Petra, and I myself all lived for a time), which is across the courtyard from the main school building. I have several classes here, and they can be easily measured up on a lazy <---> ambitious continuum: some will ask the key from the reception, let themselves in, and wait nicely in their seats. Some won't ask for the key, but will go out into the courtyard and stand huddled together for warmth by the door, waiting for me. And the laziest sit around the reception, waiting for me to come, fetch the key, and open the door, after which they will gradually get up and meander their way out.

My class today was one of the get-the-key-and-get-in-nicely classes. Which is why I was surprised, while crossing the courtyard, to see several of them busily amusing themselves all around the courtyard. One was playing basketball with a gym class*. One had found a broom and was chasing after the basketball players. One was leaning over the fence to make out with her boyfriend standing on the street.

And I bring this up because just this morning I was gloating about the awesome weather here, and this is the other shoe dropping. This behavior is all the weather's fault. Warm weather breeds teenage craziness. As a human being, I have to love spring time (ahem, see previous gloating entry), but as a teacher...

*another curse of the warmer weather - all winter the P.E. classes were safely inside the gym and I was able to cross the courtyard without worrying about being knocked on the head with a basketball/football/frisbee. But now they're back and I'm under fire every time I have a class outside.

"Winter" in Hungary

My dad sent me this picture a few weeks ago, because I'd expressed disbelief that snow could actually be higher than someone's head. Living in Hungary the past few winters, I've been so calmed by the winters here that I seemed to have blocked out an entire childhood of New Hampshire October-to-May whiteness, as well as a teenhood of Minnesota and Wisconsin blizzards.

During the same conversation when I accidently admitted to my dad that I'd forgotten what snow looked like, my mom mentioned that it was a "nice" 20 degrees, but was going to get to 20 below the next day. I nodded (yes, I nod on the phone) and "uh-huh"ed absently; the numbers didn't sink in until later. I'd forgotten that 20, in Fahrenheit, is actually BELOW freezing. And -20 is WAY below.

And I'm just saying all this because at the moment, I'm looking out my window, the sun is shining, the sky is blue and clear, and the forecast is predicting 15 C. That's almost 60 F! It's February 6th. February was the month when I fell in love with Szolnok... maybe you can see why.

Friday, January 30, 2009

If I die in my sleep tonight, check my left foot's alibi

My left foot has decided it no longer wants to be part of my body. It's been playing kamikaze for the last few days - first, it tried to make me fall by twisting my ankle while walking across some soft earth in high-heeled boots. Then, that stick-out-y bony part just down from my big toe impaled itself on the corner of my desk. And just now, my middle toe tried to self-amputate on the coffee table.

But it makes for a good story; the last ten minutes are exactly like the entire week I've had. I came home after a long day and wanted to relax a bit - namely, drink a coffee and put on clean, comfortable clothes. So I grab a clean shirt and on the way to the kitchen I take off my outer shirt and throw it into the bathroom hamper. I put a cup of water into the micro to heat. I go back to the living room to get my clean shirt, remember that I had left it in the bathroom, can't find it in the bathroom, and go back to search the living room. As I'm searching I suddenly think that the coffee water'll overheat, spin around and whack my toe, which was sufficiently painful to make me fall down. Of course my bottom half is still dressed in school clothes - nice pants and nylons for warmth - so now I'm sitting on the floor watching my toe bleed through my nylons. I carefully maneuver my bloody foot out of the nylons and past the pants, and grab a tissue. And now I'm sitting on the floor half-naked, clutching a blood-soaked tissue to my foot, thinking about how the water in the microwave is getting hotter and hotter and I'm going to burn myself when I try to drink my coffee and for the love of god, what has my left foot got against me anyway?? Why is everyone on the planet and everything in the world (mechanical appliances and machines especially) against me???

So multiple those last 10 minutes by 6, then by 24, then by 5, and you've got my week. Nearly everything that could break, fail, annoy, disappoint or go wrong did in fact break, fail, annoy, disappoint, or go. But! TGIF, people, TGIF. I'm nothing if not optimistic. I plan on spending the next 48 hours sitting carefully at my desk, reading blogs and doing very little work. First order of business: I'm sewing myself some cushioned booties.

Monday, January 26, 2009

See, Mum, I do eat well!

So what has prompted me to finally write again? Please choose from the following answers:

- Jeremy taunted me with his "one month" comment.
- I actually have some new stories to tell.
- My students did/wrote/said something funny worth sharing.
- I was reading Jamie/Brigi/whoever's blog and became jealous of their continued posting ability.

Nope, trick question, none of the above. The real answer is, I cooked something both delicious-tasting and photogenic (ha ha, at least the delicious part was true), and I need a bit of a brag. So I present to you baked spaghetti a la Amy-and-Nancy*, my now-infamous "salad is the one dish no one can mess up" salad**, and oddly-positioned garlic bread. Tessék:

That's all for now. More pictures/stories/excuses next month :)

* Amy and Nancy, I think half of Szolnok still talks about the dinner you made...
** Well. The salad disaster was not entirely my fault; someone-who-shall-not-be-named put my green ingredients (cucumber, peas) in various hiding places; plus we were running low on lettuce..... so maybe 'salad' was the wrong word to use... whatever, it was delish