Kimmo Unkarissa
A Text in English

[04.12.2003] This text is originally written for the "Coffee Break" -web pages of the English Department of University of Miskolc. I wrote it couple of weeks ago because an American teacher in the University, Ted Bailey, asked me to write down some impressions in English.

It contains mainly same things as the texts I've written earlier in Finnish, but in a different tone, since this text is aimed primarily for Hungarian audience, whereas the Finnish texts are for Finns (and mostly for my friends and relatives).

This is the text taken from the webpage, so it has some alterations by Ted (according to him only some misspelling has been fixed -- I don't know, I haven't compared them).

Here it begins:


Here's what I knew of Hungary a year ago: Nothing.

When I was five, we had a Hungarian woman in our kindergarten teaching us music. She looked slightly different and had a funny accent, but the main reason we were always running from her lessons were the rhythm exercises. We decided, my friends and I, that they were stupid. Hiding under a pile of pillows and running out in the snow with just my socks on was naturally smart. However, there's a lot of good memories there.

(She also taught me to play the piano few years later -- although I wasn't probably the most motivated 12-year-old to practice piano, I wasn't running from those.)

So my first connection with Hungary was mostly a positive one. For me, at least.


OK, I also knew the name of the capital of Hungary. And the location of the country: somewhere near Austria. And I knew that Hungary was part of the eastern block during the Cold War. I had also heard of the 1956 uprising (after all, I'm also a history student back home). So I knew surprisingly much.

Of course, in schools they also told me all this rubbish about our common ancestral, genetic roots (the bend of the Volga) and the more real connection of our languages -- though I had no idea how close or distant Finnish and Hungarian actually are (very distant, I tell you).

And I also knew that Austria was divided into small pieces at the end of the First World War.


Here's how much people in Finland know about Hungary: They don't.

That's why I'm here.

First I was thinking of going to Belgium (what's that?) but after serious contemplation I realized Hungary would be cheaper. So here I am.

I wanted to know something of something no one knows anything about. I came here to explore the uncharted territories. I even came to Miskolc (although that wasn't exactly my choice) -- the nowhere of Hungary.

(Actually, I should have gone to Great Britain, since to graduate from the University of Oulu an English major has to have spent at least three months in a native English-speaking country.)

But here I am, in Miskolc, and I haven't regretted a bit.


Let me introduce myself:

I am Kimmo, a 23-year-old English student. I came to Miskolc as an ERASMUS-student from the university of Oulu, in central Finland (actually it's called Northern Finland, but if you want to find the city, it's in the west coast of the center of the country -- my actual home town, Puolanka, is in the exact center, middle of nowhere). I came here for a semester, and as I'm writing this, I've been here for two and a half months, and will be here for a month more.

All this time I've been here, I've been writing long letters in the Internet on how am I doing here, what's it like here and who am I here with. These texts are in Finnish. Many people who have seen me writing these long texts have asked me why don't I write anything in English. I usually tell people that I don't like my limited capabilities of expressing myself in English. I speak, and especially write, so much better in Finnish.

But finally I decided to yield. I guess it's just right for the subjects of my writing to also know what I write about them. It's not all nice. Only mostly.


Three months ago, a week before coming to Miskolc, I still knew nothing about Hungary.

So I guess I didn't do my homework well enough, but it wasn't all just my fault. I searched through several libraries (and unlike the university library of Miskolc, Finnish libraries tend to be good) trying to search for something about Hungary, but all the books I found were either from the 80's or older, about linguistics or currently borrowed. So all I could find was some brief introduction to how weird the Hungarian language is.

I had heard three warnings though: 1) People don't speak languages. 2) Everybody smokes. 3) The public displays of affection may be slightly distracting for someone coming from a more abstinent culture (like Finland -- five meters is close enough, thank you). The last warning was just funny, but the first two made me slightly nervous.

And three months ago I was also able to place Miskolc into the map of Hungary: somewhere in the north-east corner.


When I was interrailing around Europe, whenever I asked someone whether they spoke English or not, they almost always said "yes" (or "little") whether they actually spoke it like a native or not at all. Especially in the shops, since all good salespeople want to make a sale even by lying about their language competence. Apparently not in Miskolc, though.

If I go to a shop (or anywhere) here, and ask if they speak English, it's not only that they say "no", they also look at me like I was from a distant planet. Often they also look clearly frustrated with my lack of language competence.

Even if I try to impress the salesperson with my Hungarian skills, it's no good. Sooner or later the person asks me some ten-word sentence in Hungarian, and only thing I can understand is that it is a question, and I have to answer with "nem értem" or "I don't speak Hungarian, I'm sorry". And after that they either choose the answer to the question on my behalf or ask the same question in English -- in a manner I would understand if they would ask it in Hungarian as well. (I know "ital", or something like it, means "drink", but they never ask me for "ital", they ask some long and complicated sentence; however, when speaking English, they just ask for "drink?")

Of course I'm not saying everybody should speak English -- I think it is a hideous language -- but I've been told that German is spoken just as rarely. I'm sure Hungarian must be a magnificent language, since I know Finnish is (and these languages are related), but still it would be useful to know some other, more international languages as well. Of course the audience which is reading this writing of mine is not the audience to whom I should be preaching this (since apparently you must understand English to read this text), but I just wanted this off my chest.


But in a way it has been great fun! I went to a shop since I wanted to buy a camera, and I wanted to know if the guarantee would be valid in Finland. I went to the shop and asked one of the saleswoman whether she spoke English – and not only all the other sales personnel gathered around me, also the customers came to decipher the meaning of my alien sentences. Then they negotiated a while in Hungarian and answered positively to my queries about the guarantee.

Sadly, they didn't have the camera model I wanted, so I had to go to another shop to tease other people with my strange language. The same was repeated -- with the exception that this customer actually really had to translate my questions to the woman behind the desk. Answer turned out to be the same, so I bought the camera.

(Later I found out I should also have asked for the possibility of buying it tax-free, but it was late then. So I supported the Hungarian government with an extra 70 euros. I hope it will be spent wisely.)


It is also fun how the people of Miskolc most often react when they hear us foreigners speaking English to each other. First they stare, then they start to whisper to the others next to them, then they all stare... This is an attitude I've found I have also picked up here in Miskolc. Foreigners around here are so rare I feel like I'm inclined to share my knowledge of their existence with everyone I know.

The best reaction I've encountered so far was from a girl, about twenty, I guess, we met in Kazincbarcika. We went there to see a movie, but we didn't know where the theater was, so we had to ask help from this girl. She understood the question, but didn't have the words to answer it, so she took us there personally (that was very kind of her; thank you, whoever you are). After that she ran loudly and clearly happily to a friend of hers and told her all about us foreigners who she helped to find the cinema -- yes, she even pointed us with a finger -- "I'm talking about those guys!" So I guess we became the primary subject of her next week's small talk: Foreigners in Kazincbarcika!

Sometimes you don't need to do much to make people happy.


Here's how much I like the fact that everybody smokes in Hungary: I hate you all!

Fortunately you all will die of lung cancer before you turn 50.

Unfortunately I've come to know some of you here, so the idea of you dying prematurely makes me somewhat sad.

Before I came here, I used to get an automatic and inevitable headache, if I had to stand somewhere someone had been smoking fifteen minutes before. Here, in mid-October I got a mysterious headache, and the only reason I could imagine for it was that it was the first day in a long time without passive smoking. So I've become more smoking-resistant, maybe even slightly addicted. This is not a good thing.

I wasn't expecting Northern Europe of course. In Finland about 20 percent of the population smokes, and smoking in public places is illegal (even in some pubs and restaurants) -- if there's a "no smoking" -sign in Finland, it actually means no smoking -- in trains, there's (usually, some trains are completely smoke-free) one three-cubic meter room, powerfully ventilated, for smokers, and, yes, people do not smoke outside them.

If it wasn't for this awful habit I could really imagine settling down here. After all, there are so many things better here than in Finland (and of course so many things worse). But now I guess I'll have to live in Austria instead.


I guess none of you will understand what I am talking about next.

As I told before, I bought a camera here. Four batteries were included, but naturally they only lasted for a couple of days. So they became empty.

I asked several people what I can do with the empty batteries. They told me to put them into the trash bins in the hallways of the Kollégiums. "Of course not", I said.

They didn't understand.

I tried to explain, and still they didn't understand. I changed tactics. I stopped asking what to do with my batteries, and instead I asked where could I find a place where they collect dangerous waste, like batteries. They didn't understand what I was talking about.

I decided to take the batteries back home so I can dispose of them correctly.


I guess you understand what's wrong in this story:

My brother is in Niger. He has insects in his house. The locals offered him some DDT to get rid of them.

He said no, thank you.


The best thing about Hungary is that even in November you have sunlight. Usually I've slept throughout November, since the awful, rainy, cold, gloomy, dark, black, joyless weather isn't exactly the proper motivation to get you out of the bed. When the clock is ten thirty in the morning and everything is still pitch black... The body tells you it's still midnight, and there's no point arguing with its will to sleep some more, even if there is a lesson where I should be in ten minutes.

In Oulu, and in Puolanka, where I've lived most of my life, the sun still comes up, every day, for at least couple of hours. But couple hours of twilight is not enough to keep you going.

When the snow comes everything gets better. When the real cold period comes, in January and February, everything is just great. The wintertime in (Northern) Finland is just magical. The horrible autumn is the price we have to pay for the beautiful winter and absolutely stunning summer (unless it's raining -- though foreigners usually complain that they cannot sleep since the sun doesn't go down).

And the sunsets and sunrises in Finland are better, since they last longer -- for hours. Actually, in wintertime, they are all there is.


When a foreigner enters your country, he or she should register his or her address to the officials within 30 days of the arrival. There was a note saying this when I received my passport containing my visa (why on Earth do I need a visa?!? Hungary joins the EU in five months!).

As a good Finnish boy, raised to respect the authorities, of course I wanted to do this piece of bureaucracy -- even though I met lots of Hungarians who thought it to be unnecessary. So we went to look for a place where we could register. We were told in Finland we should do it in a police station, so we went into one.

They told us it was a wrong one and politely pointed us to another one where we should go.

In the next station the people were just as polite: they told us where is the place where we should do our registration. And the people in the next one were equally polite as well. And still in the next one. No one had any idea where we should do the registering (or if we should do it at all), but they all were very glad to offer us their guesses.

That, my friends, I have noticed to be very Hungarian -- or very Miskolcian, at least. No one seems to have any clue what's happening, but still they always answer something. If I want to send a postcard to Finland, the price is from 100 to 200 forints, depending on whom I ask! No, it's not the weight of the letter or whether I send it by airmail or not, it's a completely random number depending on the mood of the post official.

This is weird for me. If in Finland I go to ask for something and they don't have any idea -- they tell it. And if they should know, they start calling around until they find out the right answer (or the right price). They don't offer a guess as a right answer. If someone gives me an answer I'm used to believing them and I'm expecting to hear the same answer whomever I ask.

And if teacher's door says he or she is available on Wednesdays from 13.00 to 14.00, in Finland it actually means that the teacher will actually be there at that time. I wouldn't understand the idea of writing something like that in a door if it didn't mean anything. And in Finland if you set up a date, you are supposed to show up -- even on time.

In Finland I've always been the one who others complain about being late, but here I feel like I am the manifestation of punctuality, or something.

And yes, the registration: Finally after four days of searching we found the correct office -- the immigration office. But we had already been a month here, so our attitude towards filling the forms were not as enthusiastic (or as willing even) as it would have been earlier. We had already become so Hungarianized as not to care. So now our official addresses are something like our real ones. Anyway, they probably tossed the form in the paper bin after we left.




Here's how much I know about Hungary now: Too much to fit into nothing short of a novel.


I love you all.

Tulostettava versio tästä kirjeestä

© Kimmo Kristian Rajala 2003. Saa lähettää palautetta. Nämä sivut ovat osa Leipä ja piimä -sivustoa.