Friday, October 24, 2014

26 Other Things About Living in Budapest

So, I have recently seen this handy list of 26 signs that tell you that you have been living in Budapest too long, and while it is a fairly good list (number 9 is very, very true), it mostly focuses on food and drinking (the number 1 reason most young people visit Budapest). As someone who spent 5 college years in the city (with minimal drinking), here is my take on the same idea:

1. You know exactly which subway car to get into at any given station so you can get off at your destination right where the escalator is.

2. You get off the tram when a large group of college students get on, and you know what a Yellow Grasshopper is.

3. You know whenever Angelina Jolie's in town. And you know someone who's met her.

4. You know the best places to watch the August 20th fireworks without getting trampled, drowned, or set on fire.

5. You have a three-layer action plan for Night of the Museums. And that's just for getting home.

6. You have been hit by a Beer Bike.

7. You have been hit by a bike messenger.

8. You have tested cream cheese, chocolate cookies, and various other food items at the customer research center conveniently located right next to the ELTE Humanities Department. You have also occasionally pretended to pass by in order to score free snacks.

9. You know how to spot a conductor on a bus before they put their arm bands on.

10. You have gone down the Múzeum Boulevard and hit all the used book stores in one spree.

11. You have had lunch sitting on Roman ruins and didn't even think about it.

12. You have been hugged by the Hungarian Holy Mary. Alternately, you have met Béla the white rat, and his owner.

13. There are streets you have never seen not under construction.

14. "We're going up to the castle to hang out" is a normal sentence you use.

15. You know which streets to avoid when you are wearing heels. (Cobblestones.)

16. You have had your fortune told on the afternoon bus. The spell required some money bills.

17. The smell of chocolate pastries immediately makes you think of a subway station.

18. You can spot a stag party from a mile away.

19. You absolutely loathe pigeons.

20. On the other hand, you know what a magpie sounds like.

21. You still call Széll Kálmán Square "Moszkva Square." Because that's what it it's called. End of story.

22. You have a working reference map of subways, trams, buses, trolleys and railroads in your head, with schedules attached. You can figure out the shortest way from point A to point B in seconds. You also know the corresponding nighttime schedule.

23. When you see a weird poster you immediately suspect the Two Tailed Dog.

24. You have tried to calculate the amount of sand in the Hourglass.

25. You have a personal connection with the sloths at the Budapest Zoo.

26. You have traveled across town to catch a movie with subtitles.

(I am sure I'll think of some more later)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

BBC coverage of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution

Today is October 23th, the national holiday commemorating the start of the 1956 Hungarian revolution. I play this video for my classes to show them some historical background for the wave of Hungarian immigration to the USA.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Let It Go - Translated from Hungarian back to English

Ever wonder what people hear when they watch a movie dubbed? Is it still the same? Or is it a whole different experience?
Translating movies is a very delicate and tricky thing to do. You do not only pay attention to translating what is being said; you also have to make sure you get the cultural references, and follow the motion of the actors' lips as close as possible, even if it means tweaking what is being said to fit better. Take all that, and then multiply it by 10000 and you get the effort needed to translate a song, where there is rhythm, and melody, and all of that fun stuff.
With all of this said, I wanted to give you a taste of what Hungarian audiences hear when they hear a song in translation. For this exhibit I selected Let It Go from Frozen, because we have not quite heard enough about this song yet. (*dutifully holds up sarcasm sign*)
Here is the Hungarian version of Let It Go:

And here are the lyrics, mirror-translated from Hungarian back to English, by moi:

A sea of snow covers the mountains today,
The light is blinding, isn't it?
Your heart is encased in ice too,
Here at the edge of the world.
I know I made a mistake,
My horrible deed hurts,
How did it even happen?
Maybe it doesn't matter anymore.

My soul has been afraid of this for so long,
It is really hard that this happened today,
So let the wind come, and the winter, and the snow,
Maybe it is good this way too.

Let is snow,
Let is snow,
It has never been like this before,
Let it snow, 
Let it snow,
The kind that moves your soul!
I wish I knew what else will happen here,
Let a hundred storms come,
And all the while ice covers my heart.

Strange powers come today from somewhere far away,
This everlasting feeling is all about passion,
Here and now, this is a turning point,
So let everything be snow and ice,
The heart speaks in a magical voice,
It calls to me!

It is good (isn't it?)
It is good (isn't it?)
That my problems fly away with the wind,
It it good (isn't it?)
It is good (isn't it?)
I don't cry anymore,
A big step, and a home awaits me here,
What was doesn't hurt anymore.

My heart will blow through everything like a blizzard,
Let my soul race, rage, and sing,
And when finally all moments have been turned into ice crystals
Tomorrow will find me,
And the past will descend on me (?)

It is good (isn't it?)
It is good (isn't it?)
As the shining snow takes me away,
It is good (isn't it?)
It is good (isn't it?)
The power is withing me.
Look at me! 
Everything used to be different,
But a new day awaits today,
And all the while ice sits on my heart.

(So, is it just me, or is our Elsa a little more wild and a little less optimistic?... Because that would totally be fitting for a cultural translation.)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Shhh, the spider's pooping!

If you thought I ran out of weird Hungarian sayings, you thought wrong. Here is another batch, mostly involving... well. It's hard to explain. Read on.

"An angel flew over us."
Usually said when there is a sudden pause in the conversation, or a roomful of people fall silent at the same time. In other cultures, this is the magical moment when the elusive Awkward Turtle raises its ancient head. In Hungary, it is the sign that we have unregistered heavenly creatures in the airspace.

"Shhh. The spider's pooping."
Well, either that, or it's laying eggs (the same word is applicable). Either way, this saying is also used in the situations above, or alternately, to shush children. It might be weird, but it is till more child friendly than "For heaven's sake, would you please just **** shut up?!"
(You know that all children and most adults would watch a spider poop with intense fascination. Or run away screaming.)
I have also encountered an elaborated version of this saying in which not only spiders are pooping, but elephants are also laying eggs. Obviously, in the same quiet and concentrated manner.

Someone's talking about you. While in Anglo cultures burning ears are the sign of one being mentioned (that, or a mild ear infection), in Hungary you know someone's gossiping behind your back when you start having hiccups. This belief recently has been magnificently portrayed in a commercial where we watched an old lady shaken by violent hiccups while watching the afternoon soccer game, just to find out in the end that she was the referee's mother.

If you hit your right elbow on the doorframe, good guests will soon come to your house. If you hit your left, bad or unexpected guests will arrive. If you hit both, you should probably wear protective gear.

"The iron teeth of Time chewed on it."
A poetic way of saying something is old and worn. Alternately, people would also say "time flew over it." Out of these too, funny or clueless individuals often end up creating a third option: "The iron teeth of Time flew over it." Now there's a mental image for you.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Little Rabbit and the Death List

I haven't posted Hungarian jokes since the Aggressive Piglet, so I thought it was time for a new one. It's a Nyuszika joke. Nyuszika literally means Little Rabbit and it's as close as we get to having a folk trickster character. I will post more Nyuszika jokes in the future, but they are best in smaller doses. You'll see.
Here goes the joke:

Bear is walking around in the forest with a piece of paper and a very menacing face. He runs into Fox.
"Hey Bear! What's with that paper?"
"It's a Death List."
"Oh no! What does it do?"
"I kill everyone who's on it."
"Oh no! Am I on it?"
Bear checks.
"Yes you are."
Fox starts crying.
"Can I at least say goodbye to my family?"
"Yes, sure."
Fox goes home, says goodbye to his family, and the next day he is dead. Bear continues walking around and runs into Wolf.
"Hey Bear! What's that?"
"It's a Death List. I kill everyone who's on it."
"Am I on it?"
Bear checks.
"Yes you are."
Wolf starts crying.
"Oh no! Let me at least have a last meal!"
Wolf has a last meal, and then Bear kills him. He continues wandering around, and runs into Nyuszika.
"Hey Bear, what's up? What's with that paper?"
"It's a Death List."
"What does it do?"
"I kill everyone who's name is on it."
"Oh! Am I on it?"
Bear checks.
"Yes, you are."
"Drat. Can you please take my name off the list?"

And thus concludes the joke.
Apart from being absolutely groan-worthy, the joke is kind of brilliant for a number of reasons. One of them being that it is actually a classic Trickster trope in disguise: Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, starts out his career in the Chinese epic Journey to the West by descending into the Underworld and crossing his own name off the list of beings who are supposed to die, thus rendering himself immortal. Talk about winning on a technicality.
The second reason I like this joke is because this was one of the educational-motivational jokes my parents used to encourage me to try for things that might seem unattainable. The joke kind of has that message: "At least ask before you give up!" You get the idea.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Hungarian Book Recommended: The Gold Coffin by Ferenc Móra

Need an epic love and good cry, and you are already done with The Fault In Our Stars? Read this book.

A historical novel from one of my personal favorite Hungarian authors. Móra Ferenc (1879-1934) was a journalist, author, and a practicing archaeologist. All of those things merged together to create wonderful and fun pieces of literature (and also one of the most depressing children's book of all time, but we don't talk about that one - of course that is the only one we have to read in school...). Móra had great empathy and a very sarcastic sense of humor. Which are both good for writing about history.

In this novel, set in the times of the Roman emperor Diocletian, he mostly applies the empathy. The backdrop of the tale is a very turbulent era in the history of the late Roman empire, and the last great and bloody persecution of Christians. The hero is a young man named Quintipor with a mystery in his past, surrounded by many actual historical figures, both from the royal family and from their court.
The essence of the book is a love story, but even more important than that, the book (in my opinion at least) has a soul: The character of Titanilla, daughter of the Caesar Galerius. Móra allegedly modeled her after a love from his own life, but real person or not, Little Tit (no English pun intended) is a masterpiece of a novel character for the ages. Her cheerful, wild, decadent and yet kind-hearted being is set in contrast with Quintipor's naively good mentality, and an unlike romance blooms between the two, despite the difference in their social standing. Into this mix the author adds the theme of new-found Christianity, and the result is poetic, heartbreaking, and unforgettable.

If you can find the English version, read it. Some are available online, last time I checked, and some libraries in the US also carry them.

Monday, August 25, 2014

May Your Earlobes Reach Your Ankles!

This is another one of those things I never realized was not universal until I tried to apply it in a situation in the USA, and people thought I was being weird. Oops.

When it is someone's birthday in Hungary, you will notice that people walk up to them frequently throughout the day to tug (gently! unless they are friends, in which case, mercilessly) on their earlobe while saying their good wishes. This is generally in practice, within and outside the family. The wish goes:

"Isten éltessen sokáig, füled érjen bokáig!"
"May God give you long life, and may your earlobes reach your ankles."

No one is entirely sure, but it is assumed that long earlobes mean long life. They are essentially wishing for you to reach old age in a Buddha-like state of enlightenment and hipster aural fashion. Since your ears actually grow as you grow older (including the stretching of earlobes), the wish actually makes sense in a strange way.

So, next time I find out it's your birthday and I immediately reach for your earlobe, you will now know that I am not trying to steal your earring. Cheers!

Monday, August 18, 2014

5 Hungarian Souvenirs That You Shouldn't Bother With, and 5 Options to Replace Them

This weekend we celebrated the 40th annual Birmingham Ethnic Festival in Toledo, OH. It is one of the biggest celebrations of Hungarian heritage in the USA. I spent a lovely and entertaining afternoon browsing the booths along the main festival avenue, and eating some Hungarian food. I have to note, however, that while the Hungarian-ness of most souvenirs on sale cannot be doubted, the variety of such items was... well, not great. What I mean is: Hungarian marketing limits itself to a very narrow set of objects that might or might not be enticing to foreigners. So, if you are a foreigner in Hungary or at a Hungarian event, here is a quick and dirty guide to your options.
Let's see one of the all-time hits first:

1. Paprika
Let's get real, people: Our ancestors did not ride in from Asia carrying paprika in their saddlebags. While we Hungarians do love our spicy food, paprika is something that I can find in great variety and good quality in most American grocery stores. Just because there is a Hungarian flag on it, it's not worth the extra cash.

2. Pálinka
I have stated my opinion on pálinka before. If you and your friends and family are known for their taste for exotic liquor (or their tendency to take hard bets), sure, buy a whole crate.

3. Embroidery
It is gorgeous, it is traditional, and it is absolutely all over every freaking Hungarian souvenir ever. Like, ever. Most of what you see on souvenirs, however, is the visual culture of one specific region in Hungary, and it is one specific style, used to represent the entirety of Hungarian culture. I would love to see more diversity. Also, as pretty as embroidered blouses might look, I am a full-blood Hungarian person, and I have never worn one in my life. Neither has anyone of my extended family. Just sayin'.

4. Cookbooks
So far, the list has given you the impression that Hungarians like to press towards foreigners: We eat and drink a lot (and we paint embroidery on our food and drinks). I kid you not, 90% of foreign language books about Hungary that I found are all cookbooks. And if my history of cooking Hungarian food for American friends is any indication, only a small number of the recipes will ever be worth trying more than once.

5. Anything with the Parliament building on it
It is the symbol of Hungary. It is stunning and pretty and goes well with the Danube view. It is also a little more than 100 years old. There are many other historic buildings, even in the immediate vicinity of the Parliament, that are worth checking out.

If you really are interested in something that is Hungarian, and less of a tourist kitsch, you might want to check some of these things out instead:

1. The Subjective Atlas of Hungary
I adore this book, and the project behind it. It is a collection of random images, art projects, facts, and tidbits that describe and represent Hungary more than any coffee table photo album ever could. It is not afraid to make fun of our weaknesses, and it shows hidden beauty in mundane places. Get a copy if you can, or check it out online. This should be in every Hungarian bookstore.

2. Hungarian books that are not cookbooks
Believe it or not, we have a few in English! Not many, but they are worth reading. I have already mentioned our favorite historical novels, and this gorgeous short story collection. If you keep visiting this blog, I promise I have more recommendations lined up in the near future!

3. Anything with a puli on it
I am not going to tell you to go home with a puli puppy (although you could! Zuckerberg did). But pulis are cute! And they look good on t-shirts. Believe the MopDog.

4. Hungarian cartoons
Sadly, most of the masterpieces of Hungarian cartoon animation have never been released with dubs or with subs. But if you look really hard, you might find some that were, and they are worth watching! For example, there is the classic Cat City, the adorable Vuk, and some collections of Hungarian Folktales are also available with subs (post coming up on that series later). Let's put some pressure on the Hungarian souvenir business, and maybe we'll have more!

5. Hungarian music that is not folk music
Folk music is amazing, but it is not all there is. If you are in Hungary, allow yourself to browse the Hungarian Artists (Magyar Előadók) section of the music shop, and give a chance to some contemporary Hungarian music! Ask Hungarians what they enjoy. I will also post suggestions on MopDog later on.

Hungary is a LOT more than paprika, pálinka, and kitsch.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Barbarians in Academia

So here is a word that just occurred to me during a conversation I had today, and that apparently doesn't quite sound as compact and fancy in English as it does in Hungarian. Because of that, feel free to appropriate it to patch up a hole in the great English linguistic quilt.

You know those people who are very good at one specific thing, and completely ignorant of everything else outside the bubble? People in academia, for example, who know their own tiny field of [research] but can't [solve a basic equation] to save their life. Or people whose knowledge of Estonian film history surpasses any competition, but have never seen a French movie.

The word we Hungarians use for those people is "szakbarbár." The best way to translate it would probably be "specialized barbarian" (as someone who has played Barbarian characters in the past, I can totally get behind this). It applies to people who like to pose as experts of a narrow field (often they really are) but they lack perspective due to their ignorance of... basically the rest of the universe. "Szak" incidentally is also our word for "major" in a higher education setting. Does that make specialized grad students "major barbarians"? You tell me...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Hungarian book you have to read (in English): Love in a Bottle

One of my favorite classic Hungarian short story collections has recently been published in English!

Love in a Bottle by Antal Szerb

Antal Szerb (1901-1945) is one of my ever favorite Hungarian authors. His prose in sensitive, eloquent, and his stories are marvelous. He had a great sense of humor, and a great eye for beauty.
This volume contains some of his best works. The reason why I posted this review on the 24th of June is because one of the short stories (Ajándok's Bethrotal) takes place during Midsummer Night. In this tale a girl called Ajándok (Gift) falls in love with a mysterious stranger that appears in her village on Midsummer Eve. He turns out to be a traveling wizard (garabonciás), and their love takes a dark turn...
Beside one of my favorite love stories, the book also contains an Arthurian tale which gave the volume its title. Love in a Bottle tells us about the time Sir Lancelot grows tired of being in love with Guinevere, and asks a wizard to take Love out of his heart.
All the stories in the book are, simply put, gorgeous. They will make you laugh, cry, and sigh. Definitely read it if you have the chance.

Even The Guardian published a review for the book! Read it here.

(It's also available at! Brownie points for Walmart.)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

God's zoo is greater - More potentially useful phrases from Hungary

After round one of phrases you might want to learn and keep handy in case of a linguistic emergency, here is another little collection of the endless ingenuity of Hungarian vernacular.

First up, an updated version of "God's zoo is great," since many kind people reminded me after the post that you can always embellish more. With that in mind, I present to you:

Nagy az isten állatkertje, és alacsony a kerítés / mindig van benne üres ketrec.
Translation: God's zoo is great, and the fences are too low / but there is always room for more.
Meaning: I'm surrounded by idiots, and we have more of them incoming.

And now on to some new things:

Más farkával veri a csalánt.
Translation: H/she is beating the nettle with someone else's tail (or other similar, masculine, body parts)
Meaning: Making promises on someone else's account; promising things that will make someone else's life more complicated, and being blissfully oblivious about it, because it's not your appendage in the nettle.

Házinyúlra nem lövünk.
Translation: We don't shoot at pet bunnies. (literally: house bunnies)
Meaning: Workplace relationships are ALWAYS a bad idea.
Additionally: "We don't shoot at pet bunnies... unless they attack first." (Meaning: "Workplace relationships are STILL a bad idea, but I didn't start it.")

Ő sem egy harci delfin.
Translation: S/he is not exactly a combat dolphin.
Meaning: They are not smart. At all.

Annyi esze van mint egy talicska aprómajomnak.
Translation: S/he is as smart as a wheelbarrowful of tiny monkeys.
Meaning: A wheelbarrow full of tiny monkeys is not smart at all.

Lóg az eső lába.
Translation: The rain is dangling its legs.
Meaning: It's going to rain.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


It's the last week of school, and students are completely out of control. Doing some storytelling today at a high school I was reminded of a tradition that most schools follow this time of the year, and I thought I'd share.
Seven school days before the start of summer break, the class starts spelling out "VAKÁCIÓ" (vacation, summer break) on the blackboard. Backwards. You write one capital letter a day, starting with the last one (sometimes starting a day early with the exclamation point), and decorate it in some way. Sometimes A is two palm trees leaning together; O is a beach ball; things like that. This is usually the job of the artistically gifted members of the class to do their best.
As the last week progresses, the letters don't only help remind people that school is almost over, but they also have the added bonus of leaving increasingly less space on the board for useful school work. For this reason, students usually try to make the letters as big as possible, to slowly push the teachers out of business.
(Note: This really works a lot easier in a school system where a class owns the classroom, and the teachers are the ones moving around.)
I honestly don't know how the rising popularity of digital boards will affect this tradition.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

This is what happens when foreigners taste pálinka

This video has been going the Internet rounds for weeks. The last alcohol that gets tasted in it is Hungarian pálinka. For those of you who have not tried that liquor yet: The reaction you see in the video is completely appropriate.
(Note: Although it's very strong, high quality pálinka has a nice and fruity taste, so it's mostly my general dislike for hard liquor that's speaking)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Crash Course in Creative Cursing

Want to wish something especially uncomfortable on your worst enemy?
Wish it in Hungarian!
Following up the previous post on traditional Hungarian sayings, this time let's look at some of our more elaborate and much beloved curses.
Prepare the brimstone.

Nőjön be az orra lika!
Translation: "May their nostrils grow in!"
Apply when: You are really out of all other options. Originally from the children's book about Süsü the Dragon.

Szopjon le a vacogó cápa!
Translation: "Get a blowjob from a shivering shark!"
Apply when: Arguing with men.

Szarjon sünt!
Translation: "May they shit a hedgehog."
Apply when: You really hate someone.
In case of greater aggravation: "May they shit a porcupine, ass first."

A hátad legyen elöl!
Translation: "May your back be your front!"
Apply when: You want to win a moment of confused silence.

Vigyen el a rézfaszú bagoly!
Translation: "May the Owl With the Copper Dick take you!"
Apply when: You want to display your knowledge of Hungarian folklore.

A bőr hűljön rád!
Translation: "May the skin cool on you!"
Apply when: Very frustrated.

A ló nyalja meg a meztelen szemedet!
Translation: "May a horse lick your naked eyeball!"
Apply when: In need of something brutally graphic.

Hogy a hetvenhétlábú, büdöstalpú marsi pillangó zuhanna rád!
Translation: "May the seventy-seven legged Martian butterfly with stinking feet fall on you!"
Apply when: You have a good lungful of air, and time to elaborate. Another gem of Internet love, originally featured in a fascinatingly vulgar YouTube re-dubbing of Pixie and Dixie. Yes, you read that right.

And finally, for advanced contestants:

Aki a mesémet meg nem hallgatja, hetvenhét holló vájja ki a szemét, hetvenhét sárkány vigye el a lelkét!
Translation: "Whoever doesn't listen to my story, may seventy-seven ravens cut out their eyes, and seventy-seven dragons take their soul!"
Apply when: About to start a storytelling performance. See if someone starts texting.

Friday, May 30, 2014

In Hungary we have a saying...

So, I was watching Louie the other day, and there goes the Hungarian girlfriend's aunt:
"In Hungary we have a saying: If you didn't f*** the cow, it is not your cow."
Obviously, this is Louie being a comedian, not authentic Hungarian culture. It did, however, give me an idea for a post.
There are more Hungarian sayings, obviously, than I could list in one go, so this might become a regular thing on MopDog. But just off the top of my head, here are some of my favorites:

Nagy az Isten állatkertje.
Translation: "God's zoo is great."
Meaning: There is a fascinating number of idiots of all flavors and persuasions in this beautiful world.

Ki mit szakít, azt szagolja.
(Wisdom from my great-grandma)
Translation: "The one you pick is the one you smell."
Meaning: You shall bear the consequences of your choices. More specifically, you are stuck with the guy you pick, so choose wisely.

Pénz, paripa, fegyver.
Translation: "Money, horse, weapons."
Meaning: Everything's in order / Ready to roll. For youngsters: An ancient way of saying "Phone, keys, wallet."

Csalánba nem üt a mennykő.
Translation: "Lightning doesn't strike the nettle."
Meaning: Having the Devil's luck (or, bad people survive everything)

Szégyen a futás, de hasznos.
Translation: "Running is a shame, but useful."
Meaning: Choose your battles.

Eldűlt benne a Szentlélek.
Translation: "The Holy Ghost fell over in him/her."
Meaning: They got sleepy.

And, finally, one of my all-time favorites:

Rácsapott, mint gyöngytyúk a meleg takonyra.
Translation: "Pounced on it like chicken on warm snot."
Meaning: Self-explanatory.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Here's a bone to chew on

Hungary has recently announced the winner of the contest for designing the Hungarian pavilion for the 2015 Milan Wold Fair. The result is this beauty:
For those of you who immediately jumped to the false conclusion that Hungary 2015 decided to represent itself with a humongous fitness weight designed by creatively inclined Orcs, I will break it down: According to the designer's website, this piece of artful architecture symbolizes the harmony of tradition, nature, and humanity. Or, at least, Hungarians.
While the first guesses usually include "dead whale," "Christmas turkey," and even "Blood Eagle," this pavilion is in reality the depiction of some kind of an Ark of Nature, topped on both ends with shaman drums (possibly for greater buoyancy.) The designers wished to convey the idea that shaman drums create a spiritual connection between Man and Nature (and they probably voted against building gigantic happy 'shrooms instead. Or maybe Sweden already had that idea copyrighted. That's right, that was a Vikings reference.) The ribs are supposed to invoke images of openness, striving towards the sky, and "protecting flower petals." I wonder what flower they were looking at.
Also, I greatly regret to inform all interested parties that this creation is not capable of rolling sideways. I think they missed an opportunity there.

For comparison, here is our pavilion from 1992 in Sevilla:

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Beer, wine, liquor, and poppies - The family friendly games of our childhood

It's finally springtime, the meadows are in bloom, the dog is picking up prickly things in his fur, and all the bright red of the poppy flowers reminded me of a little game we used to play when I was a kid.

The game is known as "Sör, bor, pálinka" - "Beer, wine, pálinka," pálinka being a kind of hard liquor often made from fruit, that people regard as a true Hungarian staple. Tastes like crap if you ask me.
(Yes, I said it. This is a blog about Hungarian weird, not Hungarian marketing.)
The game is fairly simple: All you need is a big field of poppies that are not all in bloom yet. You pick some of the buds, and then you ask your opponent: "Beer, wine, or pálinka?" The goal is for them to guess what color the petals will be when you open the bud. Red is wine, pink is beer, and white is pálinka. You get points for guessing right, and take turns.
It is a sort of gambling game, until you become old enough to figure out that the bigger the bud is the darker the petals will be. But up to that point, you can entertain kids with it forever. And then go find an effective chemical way to clean their grubby little hands.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Graduate like there's no tomorrow!

Still on the graduation theme, here is another thing we like to do: Go completely crazy in a school-sanctioned way. This event, known as the Bolondballagás (Crazy Graduation) usually precedes the actual serious ceremony by a few days/weeks. I am sensing a trend here, now that I think of it: Everything that involves drinking and partying, we do BEFORE the actual graduation exams. Because logic?
(Also, for those of you clutching your pearls, the legal drinking age in Hungary is 18)

Crazy graduation is exactly what it sounds like. The senior classes go to school dressed up in costumes, fueled by enthusiasm, mischief and possibly alcohol, armed with water guns and other shenanigans, ready to turn a perfectly good school day upside down. I can't talk for the entirety of the country, so I'll tell you my own experience.
I was a pirate for crazy graduation, and my best friend dressed up as the Crow (our class was too worn out at this point to come up with a cohesive theme). We also had sexy nurses, guys decked out as Baywatch babes, and a bunch of other things people prefer not to remember now. We went to school, all dressed and painted, and then proceeded to wreak havoc in the institution. We broke into classrooms, wiped the board, handed out chocolate to the kids (my school went from first grade all the way up to high school, but we mostly left the ankle biters alone lest they become uncontrollable with excitement). We marched up and down the hallways singing, teased the teachers, and then collectively boarded the next bus and headed downtown. Since most schools in town did crazy graduation on the same day, senior classes all converged on the main street, comparing costumes, clinking bottles, and generally having a great time. I even met my childhood crush sporting a miniskirt and high heels (and he rocked them). By this time, my artistically inclined Crow friend also painted my face in various colors. By the time people partied themselves out and dispersed, we ended up in the local gaming club (neeeeerds) and continued to pay for snacks with chocolate pirate coins. Since this day was the one between our two crazy nights of serenading (see the previous post) I dragged myself home in the afternoon, delightfully exhausted. The lady I shared the elevator ride with back to the apartment gave me a once over and pouted disapprovingly. "You look horrible, young lady." To which there was only one answer from a seriously sleep-deprived pirate: "Well, you do too."

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

So long, and don't forget to serenade your teachers

We are coming up on graduation season fast, so I thought I'd share another strange contemporary Hungarian custom that I just recently discovered does not exist elsewhere (namely, the US). The custom in question is the great and noble tradition of serenading the teachers before (high school) graduation.

In most cases the graduating class visits some of their more significant teachers over the course of an appointed night, and sing under their windows together. Unofficially, it usually means a night of moderate debauchery, over the course of which people get increasingly drunk, and the songs get increasingly scrambled. Some teachers tend to invite the entire class into their homes after the serenade and treat them to pastries and drinks before they send them on their merry way. Other teachers try their best to keep their location a secret and their infants/pets/neighbors undisturbed in their sleep.

My high school class, being a cohort of legendary overachievers, decided that we were going to go big or go home: We serenaded every single teacher on our collective list, which (because Hungarian education) meant teachers for Math, Advanced Math, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Geography, History, Advanced History, Art, Music, English, German, Spanish, French, Religion, PE, and possibly a few others. Since teachers don't tend to live in communes, that meant we had a two-night trip around the extended suburbs of the city, from dusk till dawn, in a caravan of three cars crammed full with a number of students I should not name (Hungarian teenagers seldom drive at all). I only vaguely remember all the details; I was the only person with a guitar, so the trip was way more exhausting for me than for the rest of the bunch.

My mother has been teaching high school for decades, so I have had experiences with the receiving end of the serenade tradition as well. For most of my childhood years we lived on the eighth floor of an apartment complex, which did not stop the teens from serenading; they usually showed up around midnight, and treated us, the seven floors below us, and the two other apartment complexes framing the yard to loud and painfully long renditions of all the traditional serenade songs. As a kid, those were my favorite nights in the spring, although sadly I was not allowed to drop things on them from the balcony.

Talking about songs: There is kind of a canon that exists around the country that less creatively inspired classes can place their trust in. One of the all-time favorites is this gem of a song from the '90s:
The refrain very appropriately translates as: "This is who we were, wild and good, innocent among sinners; this is who we were, and there will be a sign that we leave behind when we leave..."
(I'd like to note that it is an unspoken rule that students shall not leave empty beer cans in the teacher's front yard)
More creative classes can present truly inspired performances: If they are lucky enough to have musically educated people in the class, they usually bring out all the violins, guitars and fanfares, and pick songs that are better in quality and in presentations. Also, classes get bonus points in my book every time they sing "Another brick in the wall."

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Marvel goes Budapest

I am starting a collection of Hungary-references in Marvel, mostly because they are so few and far between, and most of them are hilarious. When you live in a small and not well-known country, you are fine tuned to pick out the few mentions your homeland gets in Western media. Sadly, we don't have a Hungarian superhero yet (not even a Hungarian-American one), but we have not given up hope.
Here are some of the highlights so far:

"You and I remember Budapest very differently."

Yep, that's from The Avengers movie. Apparently Black Widow and Hawkeye went on a mission to Budapest and got up to some shenanigans that were better for her than for him. Go figure. The fun part? Marvel did not stop there (in retrospect, they should have). They went and did an entire mini-run to explain what, exactly, happened in Budapest. And because they took the throwaway quote very literally, they actually messed with Hawkeye's memories. They also introduced "Andras Bertesy," a Hungarian villain who deals in arms, drugs, women, and dark magic. Also, sells to Al Qaeda. That is how far East we are of the West, people.
Fun fact: Thugs do speak Hungarian in one of the panels. Courtesy of Google Translate, judging from the grammar.
If you want the whole story, read Secret Avengers #1 (no, not the current #1. The #1 from last year. Because Marvel.) If you want to see the incredible fandom theories the quote spawned on the Interwebs, Google "Marvel Budapest." At your own risk.

"They are speaking Hungarian!"

Oh no, they better don't! Remember that scene from Iron Man 1? Apparently Yinsen, while fluent in all kinds of Central Asian languages, was baffled when the terrorists started yelling through the door in Hungarian. Maybe because Hungarian is not a Central Asian language? Go figure. After a while he did yell back "Egy perec!" which was meant as "One minute!" but really came out as "One pretzel!" Sadly, the hilarity did not carry over into the Hungarian dub of the movie. Our terrorists spoke French, if I remember correctly.

Adopt a mutant from Budapest!

Guess who adopted a baby from Budapest? Angelina Jolie? No! Jubilee did, in the latest reboot of the X-men comics (X-men #1, 2013). Shogo, the mysterious Asian baby and future armored badass was picked up by our favorite X-vampire and officially adopted, paperwork and everything. We don't know yet what the deal is with him, but Jubilee seems to be really happy. And, according to Storm, the Hungarian "rendőrség" did not mind the adoption at all. Also, nice of them to spell their Hungarian words correctly for once. They also accidentally leveled a Hungarian high-tech cybernetics hospital, the Szent Margit Institute, in the process. Well, at least we had one.

At least we are good at turning out villains?...
So guess who popped up when I searched for Hungary in the Marvel universe? Probably the biggest Marvel villain no one knows is originally Hungarian. Yep, that's Madame Hydra (also known as Viper). You have seen her in the latest Wolverine movie. She doesn't have close ties to Hungary apart from being born and orphaned there, but there it is. Hail Hydra?...

We really need a Hungarian Marvel hero.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The most famous Hungarian alive

Guess who is Hungarian and has almost 2 million followers on Facebook? This guy!
No, I am not talking about Mark Zuckerberg. I am talking about the dog. Duh.

Beast (public figure) is currently probably the most famous Hungarian alive. He is a puli dog, one of the most easily recognized and also fluffiest staples of our country, and he has the good luck of being owned by one of the wealthiest people on the planet. Beast also has his own Facebook page and 1,855,817 followers. That's more than Pope Francis, people.

So, the world-famous Beast and that Facebook guy both have strong enough ties to Hungary for us to shamelessly claim at least one of them as their own. There were even articles about them visiting last year; to prove my point, the articles are mostly about the puli, not Zuckerberg. You can read one of them here.

For the second most famous puli in the world, see this adorable, oldie but goodie, Budweiser commercial:

We really need to cash in on the puli popularity more.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

So, A to Z is over. But wait! There is more!

To all my fellow A to Z-ers: Congrats on reaching the finish line!
To all my old and new followers: Thank you all for sticking with me through the entire alphabet!
To everyone else just wandering in: Where have you been all month?

The A to Z challenge is officially over for this year. HOWEVER, that doesn't mean the MopDog is dead. It takes more than 26 days to exhaust a puli, and definitely takes more than 26 letters to exhaust the naturally renewing resource that is Hungarian weirdness.
So, first things first: If you enjoyed the MopDog A to Z, sign up to follow the blog (to the right, to the right) in email or through your Blogger feed, or follow me on Twitter (@TarkabarkaHolgy).
What do you get for following, you ask?
MopDog is a regularly updated blog, so your weekly dose of Hungarian WTF will be delivered right to your doorstep with much wagging of tail. Thus:
What more could you possibly want in life?

Z is for Zanzibar, and ending on a musical note

So, there are a bunch of semi-serious and serious words starting with a Z that I could use for my very last A to Z post this year... But I have not been very serious so far, so I am not going to start now. Instead, I'll just throw some Hungarian music at you, hoping to get you hooked and make you stay around after April. See if that works.
Zanzibar is a Hungarian pop/rock band founded in 1999, and on top of them providing music for my teenage angst (which, me being a late bloomer, did not happen until college), they also have one of the most adorable founding stories. The group consists of four guys, and a female lead singer, Rita, who was originally a cop. On January 1st, 1999, she pulled over a car full of post-New-Years-Eve guy musicians, who declared her their new lead singer then and there. She let them go; the next day they ran into her at a bar, where she was catching up on new year's partying and singing a Janis Joplin song. That time, they were serious about the offer, and she became the raspy female singing voice that marks all their songs.
You will find a bunch of music videos is you search for them on YouTube, so I'll only post a random one here.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Y is for Yvonne Kerékgyártó, and some Hungarian young film scene goodness

I was going to showcase weird Hungarian letters for y (since we don't have any words that start with y), but then I remembered that I know a quite remarkable young Hungarian person whose name just happens to start with that letter, so here we go.
I met Yvonne through friends when she was working on a trailer for a film concept she had, and asked my help with the folklore elements of the story. I ended up getting involved with the production of the trailer as professional gawker and occasional folklore adviser during the three days of shooting the footage. It was my first first-hand experience with the world of film, and I enjoyed it immensely. Although the film itself did not get produced (so far) you can see the finished trailer here. The lady who sings the song in the trailer, actress and singer Anita Kosik, is also a friend of mine.
Yvonne is a very talented young director. She graduated from the Hungarian Film Academy and her first feature length film is coming out this year (I am very excited). The movie is titled Free Entry, and you can see the trailer for it here.
If you would like to see more of her work, you can search for her name on YouTube, or look at her Vimeo profile. I wanted to introduce you to her work not only because it is very professional and intriguing, but also because she is one of those young international people that make their work available in English, and think on an international scale. And also because I believe in showcasing awesome things young people do in Hungary, to balance out all the weird I talk about in this blog.

Monday, April 28, 2014

X is for X Factor Hungary (and other talent shows)

(Told ya I'll solve for X!)
If 24 days of this challenge did not convince you that Hungarians had the X factor, this post definitely will. Whatever X is.
The international musical talent show known as The X Factor has had four seasons in Hungary so far, but I personally only watched one because my attention span and patience are both limited on these things. Megasztár, the unlicensed clone of the Idol series, came before The X factor, and lived for six seasons before the TV channel decided it was time to actually buy a licence and switched to The Voice.
Most Hungarians live in the mistaken belief that these shows are about singing voice alone. Even the judges tend to rank boring but well-trained singers higher than performing talent, which has always personally bugged me. I am saying this up front because I would like you to introduce you to my personal favorite of the above mentioned shows, a guy called Király L. Norbert, who came in third in the first season of The X Factor. I rooted for him all the way mostly because he was that one guy that just went "hey, they gave me the big stage, live television, and a microphone, I'm gonna have a blast with this until they kick me out!" and had spectacular and adorable fun on the stage, in a universal vacuum of zero f*cks given about the drama kids around him competing for best musical voice. It made the show worth watching. (Trickster warning)
This obviously does not mean that we did not have a lot of other great people with great singing voices on these shows. The best ones sometimes won and sometimes didn't, but as we know, that does not usually mean a thing. The following choices and opinions are all totally biased and personal.
Ibolya Oláh came in second in the first season of Megasztár, and is still everyone's favorite. She is Roma, she grew up in an orphanage, and she also came out a couple of years ago, so she is representing a bunch of minorities as a role model for music loving people.
Póka Angéla is one of my personal favorites, also from season one. She learned gospel singing in the US, so she's got the voice down, and on top of that she also had the musical taste, the eyes, and the personality.
Eszter Szabó was also trained singer when she signed up for the show. Her intro song is worth watching just for the reactions of the audience and the judges.

And then there is Magdi Rúzsa (remember her from the Eurovision post?), who was just born like that, and we still all feel sorry for everyone who had to compete with her. Obviously, she won.
If you want to hear more of any of them, go YouTube them. It's worth it.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

W is for the Water Spider!

Vízipók-Csodapók (Water Spider - Wonder Spider) is a children's cartoon series that is single-handedly responsible for teaching generations of Hungarian kids about the miniature flora and fauna of sweet water ponds.
The series (40 episodes) aired on TV first between 1976-1984. It was written by Dr. Kertész György, the head of the Biology Department of the ELTE teacher's college in Budapest. It is beautifully animated, and, according to legend anyway, he also wrote some of his colleagues into it (the adorable water snails, for example, are supposed to be PhD candidates).
The story revolves around the Water Spider who lives in his crystal palace (a nest built of spider silk and air bubbles) under the water, and his friend the Garden Spider (Cross Spider) who lives above on a tree. They have a spider-silk phone line connecting them so they can call each other whenever something exciting happens (even though Garden Spider hates the water and doesn't understand why Water Spider has to live down there). Apart from the two friends the series also features many other miniature creatures such as water snails, the Ants, the Ladybug, the Backswimmer, the Caddisfly larvae, and dozens of others you have probably never heard about. It opens up a fascinating underwater and over-ground miniature world that teaches children (and adults) to appreciate tiny details and tiny life. It also has very deep other messages, such as "Just because a spider is not exactly like you" (says the Little Ant to the Garden Spider) "it can still be a very decent spider."
Here is a link to episode one. Sadly, no English subtitles. I wish someone made a dub for this.

Friday, April 25, 2014

V is for Vuk, everyone's favorite fox kit

Prepare yourself for an overdose of adorable.

Vuk is the tale of a tiny fox. Originally written by Hungarian writer István Fekete, famous for his novels featuring various creatures of nature, the story was turned into a children's cartoon in 1981 in the iconic drawing style of Attila Dargay.

The story essentially tells us the coming-of-age story of Vuk in the wilderness, his adventures featuring various other animals (frogs, hedgehogs, etc.) and his narrow escapes from the Hunter and his dogs. It is one of the big movies of my childhood, and similarly holds a special place in the heart of many Hungarians. One of the reasons I love it so much that it is adorable, but still realistic; the cuteness doesn't overshadow life in the forest and its (sometimes harsh) realities. Less melodramatic than Bambi and definitely less traumatic than Fox and the Hound (and many other beloved children's cartoons featuring wild animals), it is fun to watch, for children and adults alike.

Fun fact: The fox's name, Vuk, is actually an acronym, explained by his father: it's short for "Vadászok, Utamból Kotródj" - "I'm on the hunt, get out of my way."

Side note: The English dubbed version is available on YouTube. I was trying to find a subbed version so you can hear the original voices, no such luck.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

U is for Uzsonna, Tízórai, and All The Other Important Meals of the Day

You thought the Hobbits are the only ones with a Second Breakfast?

A balanced Hungarian diet consists of five meals a day. An un-balanced Hungarian diet, incidentally, also consists of five meals a day. We are consistent that way.

Reggeli (Breakfast) is usually whatever you can salvage from the fridge and the cupboard (I'm giving you the young adult version here)
Tízórai (Tensies) is essentially a second breakfast of some sort. It sometimes entirely consists of Túró Rudi. Doesn't necessarily happen at ten o'clock sharp, but does happen somewhere halfway between breakfast and whenever you expect to do lunch.
Ebéd (Lunch) is supposed to be the main meal of the day (which is what I went through a starving period in the US until I got used to the different schedule). It usually consists of a soup course, a main course with some kind of meat and/or pasta and sides, and a dessert and coffee (at least in my family). At fancy weekend lunches with the family, there is also wine.
Uzsonna (Afternoon meal) is something to hold you over between lunch and dinner. It is something like a five o'clock meal or teatime, except with food. Fun fact: Lunch boxes are called uzsonna boxes in most places in Hungary.
Vacsora (Dinner) is a second bigger meal in the evening (very often the leftovers from lunch, unless someone is taking you out to eat).

Obviously everyone's eating schedule, and how many of the above mentioned meals they get depends on things like how busy they are during the day (and how many they can afford). But we do have words for all of them.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

T is for Túró Rudi, because what else is there in the Universe?!

If you have to name one essentially Hungarian thing, one thing that anyone will name if you stop them on the street back home: it is the Túró Rudi.

Túró Rudi, for lack of a better explanation, is a kind of candy bar. It is sweet cottage cheese coated in crispy dark chocolate.
(I'll give you a minute to get over the nausea. You are welcome.)
It actually tastes like heaven and unicorns (whatever unicorns taste like). There are other variations, some have different flavors of fruit jam in the middle, and some are coated in milk chocolate (also known as blasphemy). Some sacred sites around the country even have shrines known as the Túró Rudi Dispenser Machines. For the sacrifice of your lunch money, they give you a taste of happiness:

The full name of the product is Piros Pöttyös Túró Rudi, or Red Dotted Túró Rudi, to mark the original flavor and distance it for knock-offs such as the Fitness Rudi (eck). As the marketing tagline says: "Red Dots is the Real Thing." Túró means cottage cheese, while Rudi is (according to folk linguistics) is short for Rudolf. This often trips up Hungarian students at English language exams (and American teachers, trying to decipher why this "Cottage Cheese Rudolf" guy tastes to good).

Some heretics claim that Túró Rudi was first invented in the Soviet Union, and we only re-branded it in 1968, adding the red dots and the myth. But sshhh.

The tragedy of the Túró Rudi is that it does not carry well over long distances (dairy product), which makes it the No. 1 reason any expat will visit Hungary periodically, and gorge on it for a week or two (I know that's why I do every year). The good news is that it can also be made at home, although the results may vary in taste. The filling needs cottage cheese, and 1/10 of the amount powdered sugar and butter (and sometimes lemon peel for flavor). The coating is just dark chocolate. But if you want the real experience, I suggest a pilgrimage to the holy land of Túró Rudi. It will be an enlightening experience. Amen.

(Blessed are the makers of all dairy products.)

S is for Süsü the Dragon

Süsü is one of the most beloved characters in Hungarian TV and literature. He was created by children's author István Csukás.

Süsü is a dragon who was exiled from the land of the dragons by his father, the king, for an oddly specific reason: Süsü only has one head. While dragons in Hungarian folklore and fairy tales have many heads (directly related to their power levels), and most often have seven, Süsü was born with the slight disability of only having one head. Also, he is too kind for his own kind; he enjoys looking at butterflies, eating wild pears, and learning etiquette. In fact, when his father sends him against an enemy, he nurses the enemy back to health instead of killing him. For all of these, he gets kicked out of home (Süsü literally means silly or simple in certain contexts), and starts out on a journey looking for a new life.

Süsü soon teams up with a wandering prince looking for adventure. He learns about the rules of chivalry and manages to scare half the kingdom while doing it. Then the two travelers come up with a plan: Süsü will pretend to fight the prince, win, and then he will get half the kingdom and the princess' hand in marriage, finding a new home.
The plan doesn't exactly work out: Süsü turns out to be too soft-hearted to hurt or scare anyone, and their secret is outed on the battlefield. In the end, however, things turn out well: Prince and princess fall in love and become king and queen (the old king is happy to retire), they have a little boy who becomes best friends with Süsü, and Süsü becomes the official dragon of the kingdom.

Süsü and the royal family go on to many adventures. At some point, Süsü and the prince save the kingdom from a siege from an evil king in quite a heroic way. Eventually, Süsü gets news that his grandfather arranged for a marriage for him with a lady dragon. After constructing a very elaborate all-kingdom plan to get Süsü out of the wedding, the lady dragon shows up and turns out to be quite lovely and kind. Finally, Süsü gets his own home and his own family, right next door to the human kingdom.

Süsü was the first non-picture book I ever read as a kid, so it holds a special place in my heart. It is a lovely children's story that teaches values like kindness, friendship, bravery, and finding pleasure in the small things in life.

Here, enjoy the opening song of the puppet show series based on the book:

Monday, April 21, 2014

Happy Wet T-Shirt Day!

(This is a side note. For today's A to Z post, scroll down one.)

It is Easter Monday, which means one very important thing in Hungary: It is Sprinkling Day!
(Easter Monday is a national holiday in Hungary, much like January 1st)
Sprinkling Day, simply put, is the wet t-shit contest of our forefathers. And foremothers. On this day, the boys and young men of the village/town go around visiting houses where girls/women live, carrying buckets of water (classic), bottles of soda water (practical), or vials of perfume (pffft). They knock on your door, and when you open up, they recite a short poem of the "Roses are red, violets are blue" variety, asking your permission to sprinkle you, you gorgeous flower, so you don't wither away this spring. If you say yes, they douse you in water/perfume, and then you pay them in dyed eggs (classic), chocolate (for kids), alcohol (not for kids), or money (practical). Then they move on to the next house and you put on the next shirt. Repeat.

Yes, people, this is a fertility rite. What gave it away?

At the end of the day, all guys go home loaded with gifts, and all girls' hair washing schedules sync up (Nowadays, sprinkling is mostly done with perfume, and if you get twenty different kinds a day, it stinks to high heavens.) My survival technique is to push my little sister out the door first. One time, I woke up to the neighbor's two little boys walking into my bedroom and dumping a glass of water on my head.
Sprinkling Day also tends to turn into a popularity contest: Girls keep count of how many boys showed up at their house. It is, essentially, Valentine's Day meets Spring Break meets Trick-or-Treating.

In some areas girls were allowed to return the sprinkling favor on Easter Tuesday. Sometimes the sprinkling took on more of a trick-or-treat quality: If the sprinklers were not allowed in a house, they would prank the family. According to my grandfather, they once propped up a barrel of water against the front door, and rang the doorbell. (Then again, that might just have been my grandpa, not tradition).

If you know a Hungarian woman, don't forget to sprinkle them today. Keeps 'em fresh.

R is for the Right Hand of St. Stephen, or lack thereof

You can't have a good Catholic country without a good juicy relic.
Remember István, the guy that sings about war and religion? The guy that was our fist Christian king? We are talking about the same guy today. A bare 50 years after his death, he was declared a saint by the Pope (things like that were on the fast track back in those days, especially when you were the converting sovereign of a new kingdom). And once István was a saint, that meant that every bit of his body was also a potential relic.

Enter the Holy Right Hand, also known as the Szent Jobb (which is Hungarian for Holy Right, duh). We don't know exactly when it stopped being attached to the rest of our holy king, but probably very soon before or after he became a saint. The right hand was revered in its own monastery, until it wasn't. Hungary had a long and tumultuous history, involving the Mongolian Invasion, the Ottoman Rule, and other lovely times of intense cultural exchange, so the Jobb, much like other pieces of art and history, went on an adventurous multiple-century Odyssey before it found its way back on the map in the 18th century. It is currently being kept in the St. István Basilica in Budapest, in its own chapel.

According to some historical sources, the relic originally included the entire right arm of our revered king. But, as Medieval business goes, the more relics were needed from a limited pool of saints, the smallest bits they got chopped into. At some point during the middle ages, the arm was detached from the hand, and then further divided to satisfy all the demand for mummified sacred royalty. As it stands today, the relic includes the wrist and the hand. Periodically it is carried around on August 20th (For Americans: Our version of the 4th of July) in great pomp, and it frequently visits other cities around the country. Sometimes on a boat.

How do we know after a thousand years that the hand belonged to István? We don't, really. It is one of the favorite pastimes of scientists and historians to banter about it. There are facts on both sides. Some people think it is the hand of a mummy that the Turks sold back to the Christians as a relic (since they ruled Egypt at the time, so mummies were easy to come by cheap). There is a possibility for a DNA analysis (we have various bits and pieces of confirmed kings around the country), but it has not been done yet.

If you stick around after A to Z is over, you can read some more about our national relics (among other gory things). Follow in email or through Blogger on the Right.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q is for (Twenty) Questions, and what it has to do with the Jewish-Roman wars

Everyone's familiar with the game known as Twenty Questions, right?
Well, when I first came to the USA, I wasn't. Turns out, I gave the blank stares to all my friends when it came up because I know the same game under a different name.
In Hungary, we call it barkóba.

The world elegantly underlined by Spellcheck above is the simplified version of Bar Kokhba. As in, Simon Bar Kokhba, the leader of the Third Jewish Revolt against the Romans in 132-136 AD.
Wait, what does this have to do with a children's game?

Nothing, if you ask the rest of the world. But in Hungary, for some reason (probably the strong influence of Jewish culture that gave us several writers, poets, and also most of our Nobel prize winners), the game has always been known as barkóba. And there is a story to go with it.

According to legend, one day the Romans captured one of Bar Kokhba's soldiers, and before letting him go to serve as a warning to the rebels, they cut out his tongue and cut off his hands so he would have no way of giving away any information about the Roman camp. But Simon Bar Kokhba, being the leader he was, found a way to interrogate the soldier anyway, by asking him simple yes or no questions that he could answer by nodding or shaking his head.
Ta-da! Twenty Questions.
(Although it probably took more than twenty to get all the military information out, which is why our version of the game is not limited to a certain number of questions at all.)

Happy Sunday break, A to Z people, I'll see you back here on Monday bright and early! I shall tell you about mummified hands, dragons, and more weird Hungarian randomness.

Friday, April 18, 2014

P is for Pipás Pista, Cross-Dressing Assassin for Hire

Eat your heart out, Quentin Tarantino.

The year is 1886, and the place is Átokháza (literally Cursed House), a remote village somewhere on the Hungarian plains. A little girl is born into a dirt poor family. Viktória Fődi is abused by her alcoholic father, and sent to work at another farm at the age of 13. She takes up smoking a pipe, which is the only good thing resulting from her job. She is abused by her boss, gets pregnant, and is forced to marry a man who is also abusive. Has five children, only one survives.
And then her husband dies, and the girl decides she had had enough.
What follows after is the stuff of many folk legends.

By this time, the scared little girl is gone. Viktória is tall, strong, a tireless worker, and most men know that she can wrestle them to the ground with no effort at all. She lives alone on a farm, works for others, and has her own table at the local tavern, no questions asked. She dresses in men's clothes. She is known as Pipás Pista (Steve with the pipe).

One day, another woman approaches her. She tells her about a man. A contract is made, she is paid in food. And thus begins Pista's career as a killer for hire. Women around the countryside ask for her help in getting rid of husbands - good for nothing, or abusive husbands, specifically, which holds a personal interest to her. She brings a length of rope every time, and hangs the man from the rafters, disguising the incident as suicide. They call her an executioner.

She was arrested in 1933 together with some of her accomplices, accused of two murders for certain, and another seven possibly. She was first sentenced to death by hanging (poetic justice), which was later changed to life in prison. That is where she died in 1940.

There are many legends and anecdotes going around about her, past and present. Her character appears in comics, books, documentaries, and museum exhibitions. Some of the above may be the embellishments of the people who tell and re-tell the tale. The tale itself, however it is told, is dark, and makes you re-think many romantic notions about the 19th century countryside. Either way, she is a character worth knowing.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

O is for the Owl with the copper d*ck

Yeah, you read that right.
(oh, slight ADULT CONTENT, by the way.)

Here is an image from an art exhibition that portrayed some of the weirdest Hungarian sayings in their literal rendering (yes, that's a door handle):

This folklore gemstone is our version of the Boogeyman. One of many, actually. The Hungarian term, rézfaszú bagoly, means exactly what it says in the title.
Would you like to hear the explanation behind the copper appendage?
Too bad, there is none.

The full saying states "Vigyen el a rézfaszú bagoly" which means "May the owl with the copper dick take you away." I am not sure why, where, or what comes after, but I definitely would not wish it on my enemies.

Something tells me we will not see this particular creature of legend in Rise of the Guardians anytime soon. Even though it would be epic.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N is for Nicknames, in case everything you ever called your significant other was Just Not Sweet Enough

Have a Significant Other but never knew what to call them in moments of "awwww"? Tired of repeating "babe" and "sweetie" over and over again? Worry no more, you can always borrow any of the lovey-dovey nicknames below, all translated directly from passionate and exotic Hungarian! Spice up your relationship with more than just "honey"!
Here we go (with phonetic pronunciation guides):

Nyuszibogyó (New See Boh Gyoh) - Bunny Berry
Nyuszibogár (New See Boh Gar) - Bunny Beetle
Nyuszifül (New See Fuhl) - Bunny Ears
Nyuszikutya (New See Kooh Tyah) - Bunny Dog
Nyúlmalac (Newl Mah Latz) - Rabbit Piglet
Cicabogár (Tzih Tzah Boh Gahr) - Kitten Beetle
Tücsöknyúl (Tuh Czok Newl) - Cricket Bunny
Mókustojás (Moh Kush Toh Yash) - Squirrel Egg
(I swear I'm not making this up)

Bogárkám (Boh Gahr Kham) - My Little Beetle
Macikám (Mah Tzih Kahm) - My Little Bear
Mókuskám (Moh Kush Kahm) - My Little Squirrel
Tündérkém (Tuhn Dehr Came) - My Little Fairy
Manócskám (Mah Noh Czkahm) (I realize I didn't make it easier) - My Little Kobold
(I can see a trend in possible My Little Pony spinoffs here)

Cuncimókus (Tsun Tsee Moh Kush) - Cunci Squirrel (not sure what the first part means)
Kincsem (Keen Czehm) - My Treasure (also a very famous Hungarian race horse)
Cicafiú (Tzih Tzah Fee Ooh) - Kitten Boy (for manly men, obviously)
Cukorfalat (Tzuh Kohr Fah Laht) - Bite of Sugar
Csillagvirág (I'll not ever attempt this one) - Starflower
Szívem csücske (See Whem... eh, nevermind) - The corner of my heart (csücsök specifically means a pointy corner, like on a pillow)

And something for less significant others:
Pocok (Poe Tzohk) - Gerbil (usually for younger siblings)
Kisdisznó (Keesh Diss Noh) - Little Pig (ditto)

Use all of them at your own risk.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M is for Makó, who is very far from Jerusalem

There is a saying in Hungarian: "[It is far off as] Makó from Jerusalem." We usually say it when someone is really far off the intended mark, or something is particularly far away.
There is a town called Makó in Hungary, so most people automatically assume that the saying refers to a geographical distance (which, by the way, is about 5000 miles, according to Google Maps, and includes tolls.) However, the saying does not refer to the town. Instead, it refers to a guy who also happened to be called Makó.

No, not that guy. Another guy.

Aaaanyhow, the story goes back to the age of the Crusades. Since attacking the Holy Land was an international pastime in Europe in the Middle Ages, obviously the Hungarian Kingdom could not pass up the opportunity to get in on the action. Our King András II recruited an army and set out in what was to be known as Crusade No. V (1217), and also as a very embarrassing disaster in the history of the crusades. We really didn't win any glory, and the campaign ended up being a very expensive tourist trip for our good king who eventually had to pawn his wife's crown to get back home. Ouch.
(András II is not one of our most popular kings.)

According to legend, Makó (or Chief Makó) was one of the soldiers in the Hungarian crusader army. Waking up from a drunken stupor on the deck of a ship one morning, he looked around and thought he was gazing at the walls of mighty Jerusalem. Turns out, they were still in Spalato (modern day Split, Croatia) and the army had not even left the port yet. And because soldiers are big on nicknames and hazing, the event soon gave birth to the widely known saying: "It is far off as Makó from Jerusalem."

Monday, April 14, 2014

L is for Linda kicking ass

Welcome back from your Sunday break! Ready for another week-long round of Hungarian weirdness?
You'd better be.

Let me introduce you to Linda. She is just a Hungarian girl fresh out of high school, who wants to be a cop. People, including her parents, are not very fond of the idea, but Linda knows what she wants and she will not give up on her dream. She joins the police and works her way up the ladder. While even the police tries to keep her away from fighting actual crime, fight she does, and she does it with kung-fu and a lot of screaming.
Linda is the main character of a Hungarian TV show that first aired in the '80s. Admittedly, the creators wanted to present a show in the vein of kung-fu action movies, but also add a lot of humor (and a female lead). As a result, there is pretty much an entire generation of girls in Hungary named Linda, and for a while, the police force experienced a heightened popularity, especially in the number of women who applied to join. Also more women started pursuing martial arts. Go figure.

Here, feast your eyes on some Linda action:

Vandalism is bad, kids:

I know what this looks like, but she is ours. We all love Linda.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

K is for Kontroll, one of the few Hungarian movies of international fame

I'll say this up front: Kontroll is actually a darn good movie.
I wanted to say it because I have been feeding ya'll all kinds of Hungarian weirdness lately, but today, we talk about something that we are all very much proud of, and not because it makes foreigners twitch. 

This film came out in 2003, directed by Antal Nimród, the same guy who also did Predators. (Fun fact: He has a cameo in the first Machete film. He even speaks Hungarian in it.)
The movie was filmed entirely in the Budapest subway system. Its official description is "comedy-thriller" but it has been called many things, from action to film noir. The easiest way to describe it is that it is a story about people on the subway, both ticket inspectors and travelers, and some daredevils who like to race the subway trains (that actually happens from time to time, they don't always win). There is a lot of symbolism, a lot of situation comedy, a lot of weird funny characters, and a lot of cameos from everyday occurrences that are familiar to everyone who travels on the Budapest subway.
Definitely worth a watch, and not hard to find online.

Friday, April 11, 2014

J is for the Jungle Book

I swear I will run out of musicals real soon.
Like, right now. Promise.

J is for the Jungle Book (or, as we say it, Dzsungel Könyve, but Dzs was already taken), which on top of being a Kipling classic, is also a Hungarian musical, first released in 1996, which makes it the music of my childhood.
The story is the same, more or less, so not many surprises there. The music, on the other hand, is delightful. My favorite song is generally known as "Monkey Funky" and I have repeatedly used it as a theme song for various monkey tricksters in my storytelling work:

(Note: For extra laughs, turn on the English captions. The entire song is just a series of puns, and the translation is obviously the courtesy of Google Translate...)

Another crowd favorite is the song of the vultures, who apparently run a funeral home business:

And here is a dark and lovely little song sung by Shere Khan who is riling the wolves up for murder:

Bonus note: Péter Geszti, our very own (desperately white) punster rapper wrote the puntastic lyrics to the monkey song (which he also sings) among other hits; he also happens to be the voice of Sid the Sloth in Ice Age.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I is for István, a Király - an opera that rocks

Does your country have a classic rock opera about a religious war fought a thousand years ago?
Because ours does.

István, a Király (István, the King) opened in 1983, and it has been staged and filmed in countless versions ever since (I kid you not, my high school even had a showcase of it starring our vice principal and our English teacher). It tells the story of our very first Christian king, István (Stephen) who founded the Hungarian Kingdom, and was crowned in 1000AD (to make it easy for students in the future).
The story, historically, actually starts with István's father, Chief Géza. While he had no intention converting to Catholicism, he recognized early that the Hungarians needed to become a Christian kingdom in order to survive in Europe. So he raised his son, Vajk, into the religion, and declared him his heir. This was, however, the way Christian European kings did things, and not the way pagan Hungarians did. Eastern nomadic people often inherit power according to a different system: The closest adult male relative, the strongest possible candidate, follows the chief in power, not the eldest son. This left the Hungarians in a weird situation after the death of Géza: Some of them sided with Vajk (baptized as István) and his Western Christian entourage (courtesy of his German wife), while some of them sided with Koppány, his oldest male relative, who was not only not Catholic, but also claimed the wife of Chief Géza, Sarolt, István's mother, as his wife, according to tradition.
And the rest is war. And a lot of singing.
Koppány (spoilers) lost in the end. His lands were given to the church, he himself was cut into four pieces and nailed to the gates of four prominent cities in the kingdom. Hungary became a Catholic kingdom, István became King István I, and then they sang some more.

Koppány in the rock opera is not a decidedly bad character, however. He is presented as decadent (three wives, huh), but a leader who wants his people to be free from the Church. Over and over again his main song (with the chorus "Fly, bird of freedom") has been used in political ways to promote Hungarian national sentiment. And rock and roll. Also, the guy playing Koppány used to look like Khal Drogo, back in the '80s... Observe:

István, on the other hand, is presented as a good guy, but also a deeply conflicted character who was raised Christian and now he has to fight and kill in order to keep his country from falling into chaos. He does not enjoy the war, and the responsibility is putting pressure onto his life, both as a king and as the husband of a foreign princess. His prayer ("You are so far from be, but still so close") is one of the most beautiful parts of the show.

Interestingly enough, the story addresses the fact that they have no real personal hatred for each other; they are just on opposite sides of politics. There is a really cool duet they do when István offers to give up the throne if Koppány agrees to become Roman Catholic (he is officially baptized as Orthodox). The song is aptly titled "It's too late for peace."

The rock opera ends with István's coronation, and a celebratory song.

The latter two of the videos above come from the Csíksomlyó production of the rock opera. That is especially interesting because while Transylvania used to belong to Hungary, now it is part of Romania, so a huge part of the audience shown in the video is Hungarians who live in a foreign country as an ethnic minority. This gave a special meaning and atmosphere to the whole production. I don't think there is another rock opera or musical that has been applied to current political rhetorics as often as this one. But the music is still good.