The Hungarian adventures of The Anderson Five

Expat interviews
  • Budapest, Hungary
Published on 2017-06-30 at 07:17
Matthew was pleased to discover (upon moving from the US to Hungary) that Budapest is incredibly child-friendly, as he and his wife moved from Bellingham, Washington to Budapest, Hungary with their three young boys. Here he tells about life in Hungary so far, and his favourite things about the country.

Please introduce yourself. Where are you from, what are you doing in Hungary, and what were you doing before you arrived?

My name is Matthew Anderson, and my wife, kids and I are from Bellingham in the Northwest United States, about two hours north of Seattle. Before coming to Hungary, I was working as head of social media at Western Washington University.

I moved to Hungary to get a master's degree in communication and media. I wanted a program taught in English that would allow me the experience of studying in an international setting among a diverse group of people. We have been in Hungary for about nine months, and we absolutely love it.

What is the process to move to Hungary?

We sold our house in Bellingham and most of our things to help finance the trip. Because I'm a student here, I was able to get a student residence permit. My family are all here on family reunification residence permits; we were able to apply for them all at the same time. The immigration staff were super helpful in guiding us through that process. One thing to note: If you can help it, don't apply for a student residence permit in September. That's when all the other students are doing it, and you can wait in line for hours. But in August? No line at all.

What is your favourite thing about Hungary, and what is your least favourite thing?

I love how friendly everyone is toward children in Hungary. It is without a doubt a child-friendly country, and we've greatly appreciated that. Playgrounds are everywhere in the city, and the boys are never lacking for a place to play and other kids to play with. My least favorite thing is probably something I'd say about any city: Living in an apartment can get cramped, especially with the noise our three boys produce. We don't have a yard, so we can't just send the kids outside to let off some steam.

How easy or difficult it is to find accommodation in Hungary, and what type of accommodation is available for expats?

It was actually quite easy; there are several websites that list flats for rent. Even though we didn't know anyone here when we arrived, we were able to set up showings for a few apartments by emailing the listed contacts and going from there. One thing to note, though, is that these websites are only in Hungarian, so it pays to learn a few common words (or to translate the site).

Both individual houses with yards and flats in larger buildings are available. We'd never lived in a big city before, so we focused on finding a flat in the downtown area. Not everyone responded to our inquiries, but certainly there were plenty who didn't mind renting to international people. The websites usually show in advance whether expats are welcome to apply.

What are the year's biggest holidays in Hungary? What is some essential etiquette in Hungary?

The biggest are probably Christmas, New Year's Day, Easter, St. Stephen's Day and the Day of the Republic. Gorgeous Christmas markets are set up in the city from November through January, and the whole atmosphere is festive. Our boys absolutely loved New Year's Day, because it's an entire day of noisemaking. All day long, people are out on the streets, dressed up and blowing horns. The city basically shuts down to celebrate Easter weekend. Aug. 20 is St. Stephen's Day, which remembers Hungary's first king with a full day of celebrations in the parks and then fireworks over the Danube. It's probably the biggest national holiday. Oct. 23 remembers the Hungarian revolution of 1956, and there are commemorative speeches and demonstrations throughout the city. The prime minister usually gives a big speech in front of the Parliament Building.

As far as essential etiquette: It's definitely expected that you give up your seat on public transportation to the elderly or those with children. That's the biggest thing.

How do you find the lifestyle in Hungary?

There are two ways to live in Hungary: the expensive way, like a tourist, and the cheap way, like a local. You can get anything you want here in Hungary if you try hard enough (and pay enough money), but it's not worth it. We've enjoyed seeking out the way that the locals live (eating what they eat, shopping where they shop, living where they live, etc.). Hungary is not as Western as many countries in Europe, and we've enjoyed that.

How is the transportation system in Hungary?

In the main city, Budapest, the public transportation is amazing. We don't have a car, and we are able to get everywhere we need to go either by walking or taking the transit. Budapest is an extremely walkable city. And when our boys get tired of walking, we just hop on the nearest tram, trolley, bus or metro (subway) to continue our journey. Budapest has four metro lines, and they're all simple to use. In addition, tram and bus lines go every conceivable place in the city. We've been buying monthly transportation passes, and that's the lowest hassle (and cheapest) option. You just carry it with you and show it when asked; there's no scanning stations or turnstiles.

As with much of Europe, you can get to most main areas of the country by train. We recently took a trip to Eger, about two hours away, and we were able to catch the train at one of the main stations near our flat.

Have you been able to adapt to Hungary and the society there?

Yes, fairly easily. We don't speak the language very well, and that has been the biggest hindrance. But with the little we know, and the level of English spoken here, we've been able to get by. We've also made friends through school and church who have helped us feel more at home here.

Are there activities for people who enjoy nightlife?

Absolutely! Budapest is famous for its ruin pubs, which basically are bars or nightclubs that are established in run-down buildings. The atmosphere in them is quite pleasant; they're often open-air places with lights strung up and clusters of people sitting around tables catching up, laughing and having fun. We're not usually up late, but we've been out enough at night to get the flavor of the city. During tourist season, especially, the nightlife is quite lively. Lately, we've been seeing a lot of groups here for pre-wedding celebrations. Beer bikes are popular.

What new habits have you developed in Hungary? And what old habits have you quit in Hungary?

We've developed the habit of doing a family Bible study/worship together every night, after which we have been watching pieces of nature documentaries together with the boys. We've really come to enjoy the quiet moments we have together. As far as habits we've quit… drinking beer comes to mind. In general, a six-pack of a craft IPA is much more expensive here (and harder to find) than in the Pacific Northwest, which is famous for its beer culture. But I don't mind.

What is your opinion on the cost of living in Hungary? How much does a bus ticket, a beer, and a loaf of bread cost?

Wages are fairly low in Hungary, and the cost of living is similarly low. We pay 550 EUR for a two-bedroom apartment that's bigger than our house back in the states. A single bus ticket costs 350 HUF (roughly $1.25 USD), and you can use it to transfer from one metro line to another. A monthly pass with no discounts applied is a little less than 10000 HUF, which is roughly $35 USD.

Bread is one of the great deals in Hungary. Bakeries are everywhere (I'd say it's impossible to walk three blocks without finding one), and a huge loaf of bread usually costs 200 to 300 HUF (around $1 USD). Anything that's imported, though, costs at least as much as we would have payed for it back home. For a local draft beer (you'll find a lot of Dreher and Soproni), you'll usually pay about 500 forint or so (roughly $1.50 USD).

Share your most memorable experience in Hungary.

For me, our first two weeks were the most memorable. Our trip here took a day longer than we expected, and we arrived exhausted but excited. We jumped right into finding an apartment, navigating transportation, etc., and we didn't really have time to come up for air (or even see the river!) for at least a week. But we were all together as a family, doing something we'd never done before. It was an adventure, and despite the difficulties, it was a great deal of fun. We had never been to Hungary, or even Europe, and we were all excited to see how it would go.

What do you think of the local cuisine? What are your favourite dishes?

Hungarians are pretty big on a lot of foods that we're used to (and love): potatoes, sausage and onions are popular. Add a spoonful of paprika, and you can create any number of Hungarian dishes. So far, we've enjoyed lecso and gulyas the most. Given the country's history, it's not surprising that the food in Hungary has a huge Turkish influence. Kebab and gyro shops are ubiquitous in Hungary, and the food there is delicious and inexpensive.

Have you had a moment that you almost felt like leaving from Hungary and, if so, how did you overcome that?

Definitely not! We experienced some struggles getting here, but once we landed, found an apartment and settled in, it has felt like home. Traveling as a family has certainly helped. We often talk about “The Anderson Five” and how we're all in this together. The boys have enjoyed thinking of this as an adventure, and it's that sense of shared responsibility that has kept us going.

What motivated you to write your blog 'Budapest Bound'?

We started it primarily as a way of letting our friends and family know what we've been up to in Hungary. I enjoy writing, but don't often have time to do it; starting the blog has been a great motivation to document our experiences living abroad. Also, before we moved here, we had a lot of questions that we couldn't find answers to online. There are a number of great resources about Hungary, but there weren't many with answers to the types of questions we had. So we started the blog to try to answer some of those questions for others who are visiting or moving to Hungary.

Give us some useful tips that soon-to-be expatriates in Hungary will benefit from.

When looking for an apartment, don't trust the photos online. You have to visit a place to get a true sense of what it's like. Don't be deterred by the exterior of a building. Sure, the brick might be crumbling, but the inside can be anywhere from similarly run down to extremely opulent.

Credit or debit cards aren't accepted in many places, and when you use cash, you'll want to hand over as close to the correct amount as possible. You'll get seriously dirty looks if you try to use a 10000-forint bill to pay a 1500-forint tab at the bakery.

Try to learn the language, or at least some useful words and phrases. English is spoken a lot here, but it's quite easy to stumble into a shop or restaurant where no English is spoken whatsoever. Hungarian is a beautiful language.

Share your expat experience!

Contact us to be featured in the Interviews section.