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.

Hiccups
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.

Elbows
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!"
"Sure."
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?"
"Sure."

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.