Monday, November 30, 2015

MopDog Monday: A hatful of whut now?!

Watch my hands closely, this is going to get complicated.

When someone goes off to take an exam, present a performance, or otherwise do something challenging, you often hear Hungarians say "Egy kalappal!" as a wish for good luck. This phrase, however, does not literally means "Good luck!" It means "A hatful for you!"

A hatful of what, exactly?

Superstition holds that wishing "good luck" is... actually bad luck. Which is why people tend to say "break a leg" or something similar instead, in order not to jinx anything. So, in the case of ventures that need some extra luck, things work in reverse: Wishing something bad for you (like a shattered femur) is actually supposed to bring about something good (like a passed Anatomy exam).

In addition, it is a common superstition that encountering feces in some form (stepping in dog poop or being pooped on by a bird) on your way to some important event actually means good luck. (I always wondered where this came from - it seems like people were trying really hard to put a silver lining on things. "Hey, you'll walk into your job interview with pigeon shit on your shoulder, but at least you have a better chance that they'll hire you?")

(No one said superstitions are supposed to make sense)

So, putting two and two together, Hungarians, when they want to show their support in your endeavor, will wish you...

... a hatful of shit.


And if they want to be extra funny, as well as supportive, they will even go beyond that. Which is why some Hungarians will wave you along on your epic quest, yelling after you somewhat cryptically:

"The yearly yield of entire China!"


Good luck out there, everyone. May the hat be with you.

(Side note: Ironically, "a hatful of shit," when used in Hungarian in its entirety to describe something, simply means that said thing is, well... crap. Gotta admire language.)

Sunday, November 29, 2015

MopDog Advent: Hungarian Christmas carols

In this new (and totally not retroactively posted) series, I will be posting a Hungarian Christmas song every Sunday until... well, Christmas.

This first one is probably also the most well known. It is THE Christmas song.

Here is something you need to know about Hungarian Christmas: Traditionally, the Christmas tree is part of the magic. It appears miraculously, brought by the Angels, together with the presents, on Christmas Eve. Kids usually leave the house during the 24th, and the parents put up the tree in a hurried frenzy. When I was little, I would return in the evening (usually from the grandparents' house) and the living room door would be closed; then there would be the sound of bells from inside, and the door would open, and the radio would start playing this song, and I would see the tree for the first time.
(And then I was not allowed to touch the presents until the song ended. It's a loooong song.)

As far as Christmas magic goes, this is definitely the song that goes with it.

The Angel from Heaven

The Angel came down from Heaven to you, shepherds (shepherds)
For you to go in a hurry to Bethlehem, and see (and see)
The Son of God, who was born in a manger (in a manger)
Will be your Savior, it is true (it is true)
Beside him is his mother, Mary (Mary)
Her holy son lies among the beasts and rests in a manger 

Monday, November 23, 2015

MopDog Monday: Liza, the Fox Fairy

I finally got to watch one of this year's Hungarian movie sensations: Liza, the Fox Fairy. Hungary historically tends to be a lot better at animation than at live action (at least in my opinion), but this one was definitely a very fun film to watch.

Here is the trailer, with English subtitles:

Yup, this movie is weirrrrrd. It was intended to be. It takes place in an imaginary 70s Budapest (one that is not blocked off from the West). Liza, the main character, is a nurse to the widow of the Japanese ambassador - therefore, the entire setting is a strange, surreal mix of American culture, Hungarian retro, and Japanese pop. The story is a sort of dark comedy: Liza just turned 30 years old, and she wants to find the love of her life - but sadly, men keep dying around her in all kinds of mysterious (and hilarious) accidents. Liza is convinced that she is a kitsune and she is cursed to bring death to every man who desires her (she gets the idea from a Japanese museum brochure). In the meantime, the police is on her tail (pun intended), trying to figure out if she is a serial killer, or just a very unlucky girl.

The film is strange, funny, colorful, lovable, and has a soundtrack that will burrow into your brain forever (a mix of Japanese pop and Finnish country music). If you can rustle it up with English subtitles, I definitely recommend watching it.

Here, have some more earworms:

Monday, November 16, 2015

MopDog Monday: How to "can't even" in Hungarian

"Can't even" is such a widespread phrase in English (especially in the USA) - and so often parodied or critiqued - that lately I have been wondering what the Hungarian equivalent would be.

First, I had to find an approximate definition for what "can't even" means. Here are the two that I managed to rustle up:

"I can't even [deal with this right now]" (in a good or in a bad way)
"I can't even [find anything to say to this]"

With those in mind, here are some of the Hungarian options:

Nem kapok szikrát
Literally: "I can't get a spark"

Megáll az ész és körbenéz/ácsorog
Literally: "The mind [intellect] stops and looks around/stands around"
(More often it is just "the mind stops," the rest is for emphasis or elaboration)

Pofám leszakad
Literally: "My face [mug] falls down."
(It means something is outrageous, unbelievable, or ridiculous)


Agyam leszakad
Literally: "My brain falls down."
(Same thing)
(By the way, "leszakad" is more violent than "falling" - it could be explained as something breaking and crumbling, or being torn down to the ground)

Agyam eldobom
Literally: "I'm trowing my brain away."
(Means I'm going crazy, I can't believe this, I can't even)

Eszem-faszom megáll (NSFW)
Literally: "My mind and my dick stop."
(Fun fact: This is how they translated "unbelievable" in The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, and it became iconic)

Monday, November 9, 2015

MopDog Monday: Animals speaking Hungarian

This is an incredibly fun game to play with speakers of different languages. Since Hungarian animal sounds are generally not well known, here is a handy list to show off your linguistic prowess next time the party game comes up.

So, what do animals say in Hungarian?

Dogs: Vau vau

Cats: Miaú

Cows: Múúú

Hens: Kot-kot-kotkodács

Roosters: Kukurikú

Ducks: Háp háp

Pigs: Röf röf röf

Frogs: Brekeke

Horses: Nyihaha

Sheep: Beee

Goats: Mek mek mek

Cuckoos: Kakukk kakukk

Magpies: Csörr csörr (or cserr cserr, depending on dialect)

(Warning: Sounds are not written phonetically. Pronounce them at your own risk)

Did I forget someone?...

Thursday, November 5, 2015

American Horror Story follows in the footsteps of Hungarian folklore

Another creepy thing we did before it was cool.

I have been watching the new season of American Horror Story (Hotel), and couldn't help but notice a trope that was eerily familiar... And right after that, I realized how weird it is to say out loud to my friends that a lady furiously scrubbing bloodied bed sheets "reminds me of high school."

Context. Is everything.

There is a trope in the tradition of Hungarian folk ballads known as "the woman who murdered her husband" (yeah, we are a cheerful bunch). The most recognizable image of these stories is the guilty woman trying to scrub the blood out of her sheets. In some versions she had killed her husband herself; in others, her lover did. In either case, she is noticed by other people, who ask her where the blood came from. She lies (claiming she accidentally soiled it with chicken blood), but eventually gets arrested and tired for murder.

The most famous iteration of this story is called Ágnes asszony (Mistress Ágnes), and it is a literary ballad written by poet Arany János in 1853. We learn about it in great detail in high school Literature classes, and pretty much everyone is familiar with at least the opening verse, describing the woman washing bloody sheets. In this version, she is allowed to go free at the end of the trial, mostly because the judges realize she has already gone mad. She goes back to the stream to keep washing the sheets day and night until they are left in tatters.

You can read the full English translation of the ballad here.

Maybe we should start a Hungarian Horror Story series.
Maybe that will be my A to Z theme next year.

Monday, November 2, 2015

MopDog Monday: Day of the Dead and Hungarian cemeteries

Every year, in the weeks leading up to Halloween, Hungarian social media is flooded by angry memes and images protesting against "foreign traditions." The gist: Halloween, as it is known in the US and the UK, is not a traditional holiday in Hungary.
What we do have, however, is All Saints' Day (November 1st), and the Day of the Dead (November 2nd).

The downside: No trick-or-treating, or costumes and parties (we do those in February during Carnival)

The upside: Solemn family occasions of remembering the dead. We go to the cemeteries, and light candles on all the family graves. Cemeteries around Hungary look eerily beautiful this time of the year, and as a child, I always loved lighting the candles and sticking them to the headstones. This is also how I learned about my ancestors, who they were, and how we are related. It was a regular occasion of passing on the family stories.

In order to understand better, you need to know what Hungarian cemeteries are like. When I first arrived to the USA, I was very surprised at cemeteries: The headstones were small, they barely had any information on them (sometimes just a last name), and there were no flowers or candles in sight, unless the grave was fresh. It was strange to me, because I grew up with grandparents who made it their almost-daily routine to make a trip to the cemetery, bring fresh seasonal flowers from the garden to all the family graves, pick out the weeds, light candles, and have a chat with other people who were there doing the same thing (we call this my grandmother's Analog Facebook). I often accompanied them when I was little, and I played in the cemetery, reading headstones, lighting candles, and looking at the decorations all around. In addition to my own great-grandparents, grand-uncles and other relations, I also often took candles and flowers to the grave of the priest that had baptized me, as well as the grave of a little girl whose story was written on the headstone. Cemeteries, much like churches and pubs, are traditionally a social setting, and a place of active remembrance.

Every year we get more and more Halloween parties popping up in Hungary, with scary costumes, fake blood, and candy. I personally don't mind at all; I think it is a fun holiday (and I love chocolate). At the same time, I also agree that we have traditions that should be kept, and I am glad that I grew up with them.

Light a candle. Remember.