Wherein DF travels to Mitteleuropa and recounts his merrie adventures to his adoring broad readership.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Magyars: who are they?

The marauding Magyar tribe made its debut into western european civilization in, I think, the ninth century, when they poured over the carpathian mountains into the danube basin, set up camp, and then set about raiding and generally causing havoc among the various feudalities and kingdoms of the early medieval world. Eventually defeated in a battle the name of which I cannot recall, they succumbed to the civilizing (so to speak) influence of christianity in 1000 AD or so and have occupied the geographical space more or less associated with modern day hungary ever since.

But what are these people like? you are wondering. Allow me to paint a portrait with words:

1. They are notoriously irascible. I was here for only a few hours when I saw several yelly street altercations, of which the most entertaining took place between a possibly insane man wearing tight shorty-shorts and a sailors cap (not as village people as it sounds) and a youth on a bike. The youth whipped past on his bike too quickly for the mans liking, and they had words. I moved on to observe from a distance, and it did not seem like things would come to blows. Oh, hot-blooded Magyars, in your collective ethnic heart, I know you'd rather be marauding and pillaging. The world has passed you by, alas.

2. They are terrible drivers. Almost killed twice on my first day here, I was (not sure why the Yodaspeak just there). Cars are careening all over the place, roaring through red lights, screeching and honking and only after much looking will I cross the street, even on a walk signal. There is, overall, a bit of a dog-off-its-leash feeling about Hungary. The infrastructure is not quite good enough to have great social control, so things are just a shade more lawless than one might find in the EC.

3. They are all alcoholics. Well, a lot of them anyway. I went by the public market (about which more later) and was surprised to find that -- at 10am on Monday -- people were already in full boozing mode, chugging beers, doing shots, and generally getting their drink on. The night before, I went into a convenience store to get a bottle of water to notice that the customer in front of me bought three tallboys of beer and a tiny bottle of hard liquor. No doubt an alkie's purchase, but to up the ante, he opened and drank the nip of gin at the counter while he was paying. Definitely upstages the other leading candidate for most egregious Euro-alkie, the guy at a bar in Berlin who was pounding beers with his girlfriend, but when she went to the bathroom, snuck a flask of whiskey out of his pocket and slugged away. Hungarians 1, Germans 0.

4. Their food is vastly underrated. I have only once been to a Hungarian restaurant, and it was really a Hungarian-French restaurant (Moniques, in West Covina of all places, now sadly closed), and I dont remember much about it except wonderful, delicious Langos. Langos is fried dough, in the same sense that caviar is fish eggs. The great food stand at the public market may well have been the food apex of this trip: delicous, filling grub for scandalously cheap prices, all served up in a casual setting that doesnt require giving a damn tip (which is expected in Central Europe, though only about 5-10%). We're talking langos (see above), beef goulash, sausages, and various other heavy but totally delicious treats, all for about $5 American. Heaven, go to hell, for I've already seen ye.

5. They are fat. Or, in any case, if the baths are any indication, the book "Hungarian Women Dont Get Fat" never made it to press for a very good reason. To be fair, the baths are populated largely (no pun intended) by old people (about which see below), so not a representative sample, but still, Geezus H. And would it kill the fat men to not wear a Speedo? there is something spectacularly unselfconscious about being as big as a tank, yet strapping on a tiny piece of latex and then letting your gut hang out so that all the world (seeing you head on) would think youre nude, but again with the Geezus H. To look on the bright side, it made me feel like a regular Chuck Atlas to be around these folks.

6. Their language is incomprehensible. First, its not Indo-European, so there's simply no basis for comparison to anything youve ever heard (unless you know Finnish, or perhaps Korean). There are also four Os, three As and Es, various Is, and an assload of diacritics, which meant that I abandoned any attempt to say anything but "kosonom" (thanks), which I said with some frequency.