Saturday, September 25, 2010

Hello I Must be Going: Ten People in Hungary and the Likely-hood They Will Greet You

Ranked From Most to Least Likely to Acknowledge You

1) People in an elevator: In Hungary, very busy, business-minded people take the time to greet you in the elevator, whether you are a colleague or not. It can be confusing, especially as Hungarians say ‘hello’ when leaving.

2) People in the gym locker room: Again, it can be a bit jarring to be pantlessly greeted by a passing stranger. I think they do it for that reason.

3) Bartenders: As with the rest of the civilized world, Budapest has its share of bartenders who take pride in their work, and want you to feel welcome. Usually, though not always, these are the not bartenders who are forced to give their tips up to the management. If you go to a bar long enough, they will even greet you by name, though you will have to wait much longer, sometimes years, to get a buy-back.

4) Homeless: and sometimes they don’t even want money, though usually, they do.

5) Store cashiers: it’s about a 50/50 chance you will get a craggly dragon-lady whose hemorrhoid cream is not up to the task. The good news is that the other 50 percent actually don’t seem to mind that you are giving money to the business that keeps them in a job.

6) Bus drivers: I was brought up to thank a bus driver and say good-bye. I still do, if I exit at the front. Bus drivers are genuinely surprised when you say good-bye to them, and occasionally even wish you a good day.

7) The random Hungarian you met at a party: Ignoring acquaintances is blood sport in Budapest. There are people whom I have met multiple times, had hours of conversation with, who will look deliberately straight through me on the street. It baffles me every time. I have no idea why people behave this way; if you do, please let me know.

8) The random expat you met at a party: The longer they have been living in Budapest, the less likely they are to greet you, having from being iced-out time and time again themselves. Expats in Budapest are a particularly susceptible group and have assimilated the worst habits of their host country; indeed, sometimes they perfect them (sloth, pessimism, cynicism, cronyism).

10) Your neighbor: If this list teaches us one thing, it is that the closer you get to home, the less likely you are going to get on a cozy first name basis with those who cross your path. Older neighbors can be trained to greet you by shamelessly blurting out a ‘Jó napot’ in their faces, but after a while, you begin to see their point: that it is easier to silently pass them by, not acknowledging, unacknowledged.

Matt Henderson Ellis is a freelance manuscript editor and author coach working with writers who publish in print and digitally.