From Ireland to Hungary the long way around: Dublin, Los Angeles, San Diego, Dublin, Longview WA., Anchorage, AK., Valdez, AK., Dublin, London, Oxford, Chichester, UK., Budapest. Now valiantly struggling with the Hungarian language!
Born in Dublin, Ireland, when Tayto crisps were the only crisps worth eating, I've been flitting around the Northern Hemisphere for what seems like a lifetime.
When and how did you decide to move to Hungary?
I visited Hungary back in 2003 and liked it. It was winter. Cold. Snowy. It reminded me of Alaska. I visited again in 2007 and remembered my way around. A minor miracle considering I usually can't find my way out of a paper bag. I took this as a sign from the gods that I should move here. I was living in the UK at the time and not as happy as I could have been. So I upped sticks and left. Without much thought. With no planning. I just handed in my notice and four months later was living in Budapest.
Is it complicated to settle down there?
I hadn't factored in the language issues. Even after eight years of basing myself in Budapest, I can only speak enough to get by. I can understand quite a bit, but can't wrap my tongue around those vowels. Still, more and more people speak English so it shouldn't be a deterrent. Hungary loves its forms. Hooking up to utilities requires patience. Lots of patience. It took me years to get Wi-Fi in the flat - but I hear this has improved a lot recently. There are forms and more forms and more forms again. Nothing is easy and it's all exacerbated by the language.
I was fortunate to meet some lovely Hungarians very early and they helped me through the hoops. Who am I kidding - they're still helping me.
Have you ever lived abroad before? How many countries have you visited?
I spent ten years on and off in the USA (California, Washington, and Alaska). I lived in the UK, too (London, Oxford, Chichester). Hungary is the first non-English-speaking country I've lived in. l travel as much as I can. As to countries I've visited? I can only count those I've been to since I started my blog: 33, not including Ireland and Hungary.
What do you like the most about Budapest?
Budapest is one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful cities I've seen. It is stunning. Around every corner you can find something new that will stop you in your tracks. The coffee culture is alive and well. There's plenty going on in the way of music and the Arts. It's bang in the middle of Europe which makes it a great base from which to travel outwards. The cost of living is reasonable and the quality of life is far better than say, the UK, Ireland, or America.
How is/was the cultural shock? What are the main differences with Ireland, your home country?
Apart from the language, the shock was minimal. But the language thing was big. Having to look up the Hungarian names for everything before I went shopping. Having to navigate a computer from memory as Windows wasn't in English. Not being able to understand announcements in the metro stations - all that was a little daunting. But you get used to it. And people are usually very helpful and happy to see you try, if you persist. Ireland and Hungary are quite similar. James Michener, in his 1957 book The Bridge at Andau described Hungarians as the Irish of Eastern Europe. He wasn't wrong. There's a strong affinity for Irish arts in Hungary and many literary connections. Rugby isn't as popular. Neither is red meat. As for the mystery of the disappearing vegetables...
Do you miss anything from your homeland?
I go home every other month or so and have lots of regular visitors. I travel a lot so thankfully I don't have time to miss any one place. I would like it though if I could find crackers for cheese or some Irish sausages somewhere :-).
What does your typical day as an expat in Budapest look like?
I don't have a typical day - which is one of the things I love about life in Budapest. I travel. I give workshops. I write. I copy-edit. I meet people for coffee, for lunch, for dinner. I go see exhibits. Visit the market. Cook. And many of the expats I know have similar schedules - all freelancing, all flexible, all free.
When did you start your blog? For what reasons?
I started my blog in 2009. I had just moved into my flat and was in the process of furnishing it. I was in regular contact with about 40 people worldwide and time was becoming an issue. A blog was a handy way to keep everyone updated on the renovations. And then it morphed into a travel blog. And then it became something I enjoyed doing. Now I do it more for me than anything.
Did you make new friends with your blog?
Yes. People I've never met comment regularly and we have quite the chat. And I've made some good friends through people who first introduced themselves to me by commenting on my blog.
Why did you register on expat.com and what do you think of the website?
It's seemed a shame to have so much information on living in Hungary and travelling the region and not share it. Expat.com is a great resource for those who are in the planning stages of a move or those newly arrived to a country and looking for advice.
Which advice would you give to the other Expat.com members who would like to settle in Hungary?
Don't think too much about it. Just come. Try it out. You'll either love it or hate it (I only know one person who regretted their move).