If you would have asked me two years ago — before I came here for the first time — I would have said that was strange. The language is unlike any other in the region, which creates an aura of mystery.
After my second time through, though, I’m shocked that more folks from the West don’t visit. There is a massive English-speaking population here, certainly enough so that you arrive and get by without too much trouble. (The number of menus written in English astounded me.)
Yet Americans arriving in Budapest cause a stir. Heck, there’s even a local celebrity — Treehugger Dan — who came here some years ago, set up a used book shop, and never left.
While I’d been told to expect some ripples because of my visit — I was slated to give two talks at the Budapest Business School — I happily shook off the warnings as cultural niceties. (“You are a big deal, my friend.” Yes, yes. We have all used these words before.)
My second day in the city clued me in as to what I might expect. A blogger — one whose English was just good enough to get ME in trouble — had quoted something from my teaching blog, and had added an editorial comment — a comment about the current conservative government — that made it appear as if I labeled the country a “former democracy.”
Attila, the head of the AvantGarde Group, was understandably concerned. In short order, we were able to figure out a few things:
- The quote used in the piece was from a flyer to recruit students from Ball State University, where I teach, for the annual week-long trip to Budapest; and
- The actual text called Hungary a YOUNG democracy, not a FORMER democracy; and
- The pithy comment about Hungary being a FORMER democracy was written by the blogger; and
- Nobody had contacted me to ask for clarification.
Having survived that kerfluffle, I went about my business until I arrived at the Budapest Business School to find about 150 people — including some representatives from the Hungarian government — waiting to hear me speak about the history of storytelling, computer games, and what that teaches us about modern networks.
(As an aside: it was very weird to see my picture on Hungarian posters promoting the event. At least, I think it was promoting the event.)
My friend Irene, who traveled from London to visit, came to find me. She got a bit lost, as is easy to do on these side streets, eventually asked for directions. She was trying to explain what she was doing and the response she received: “Oh, you’re going to see the American.”
After the event, there were press releases — although I have no idea if there was any dent within the media. Heck, I’m not even sure what the media who came said about what I talked about. (There was one outlet that wrote I said exactly the opposite of what I had, though, which was fun.)
No matter, the event is over now and I’m sitting in Terminal 2 at the new Budapest airport hoping to escape back home without causing any more culturaly-inspired events.