In Which I Infiltrate a Museum Unnoticed?

Yesterday, instead of having Hungarian class, we went to a conference on “Representations of Ireland,” in which Karoli Gaspar’s prestigious teachers in the subject, as well as both the ambassador from Hungary to Ireland and the Irish ambassador to Hungary, were present. We listened to the welcoming speech and an hour and a half lecture discussing religious values in Irish, Scottish, and American fiction. Later, a round-table discussion was open to anyone wishing to speak with the ambassadors about the state of the Irish language and culture in Hungary.

Unfortunately, we did not get to stay long at the conference. Look, I’m not going to lie — those people were really dry speakers. It got tough at some points. But that doesn’t mean that what they had to say was not important! Still, we had to leave in favor of attending our orientation at Corvinus University — an orientation that some of us had no reason to go to.

Here’s how it happened. Way back in April, Professor Feenstra told us that it was required that we select at least one Corvinus course to take. I had absolutely no interest in any of the courses, but I still had to choose one, knowing that I would drop it as soon as I got to Hungary. However, because I was registered (and didn’t want to be), I still had to attend the orientation. Despite the fact that, about 20 minutes after the orientation, I would drop the class and none of it would matter. Oh well.

Corvinus is more focused on business, finance, and art, while Karoli Gaspar focuses much more heavily on language,  linguistics, and literature (nice alliteration!). So you can see why I’m taking my courses at Karoli.

Anyway, enough about the technical stuff. More on that in the future (next Thursday), when I actually register for my Karoli classes. For now, let me talk for a while about my sojourn into Vörösmarty utca in my attempt to find the Liszt Ferenc Memorial Museum. Liszt, for those of you who don’t know, is a famous piano composer — one of my favorites alongside Mozart and my all-time favorite, Chopin. There are matinee concerts every Saturday at the museum, and the one this coming Saturday caught my attention, so I decided to go get a ticket.

I rode the yellow metro to Vörösmarty utca and began walking down the street. I was looking for #35. Long story short, I walked for quite a while until I knew I was getting close. I’ve reached 34b — almost there! Then…36.


So I turned around and got back on the metro to meet up with Feenstra, since I didn’t have time to keep looking. When I came back a few hours later, I spotted the museum before I was even entirely out of the metro tunnel exit. Now, either the people in Budapest build museums VERY fast, or I was oblivious to the world a few hours previous.

Yeah, I was obviously oblivious. Which is quite strange for me, considering how keen for detail I usually am.

However, it was only after I found the museum that the real adventures began.


I approached the worn wooden door, its white paint chipped and split as if it had been hit repeatedly with a hatchet. Upon entering the building, I was greeted by a long, quiet hallway with no signs indicating that I was in a museum. For a moment I paused, thinking that I was in someone’s house. It’s only 4:30, and this place is supposed to be open until 6. What’s going on? Is everyone all right? 

Following the sound of distant footsteps, I turned a corner and was greeted by a series of what appeared to be display cases. I was reassured, finally feeling more confident that I was indeed in a museum.

Still, no one was around, and to my right was the janitor’s closet. I peeked in, half hoping that I found someone and half hoping that no one found me. No one was inside. I continued down the hallway to a flight of granite stairs. Was I ascending into the museum (without paying) after they’ve closed? I wasn’t sure. What kind of Hungarian laws was I breaking? I continued down the corridor, mindful of corners and openings where I could be spotted.

I jogged up the stairs quickly but silently, afraid that a security worker would find me and yell at me in Hungarian and then get even angrier that I wasn’t doing what he asked because I couldn’t understand him. At the top of the stairs, I crept soundlessly to a door. I could hear voices on the other side. Should I go in and purposely allow myself to be discovered and caught? I listened for a while to determine what kind of people were inside. Not a word of English was spoken, but I determined that there was a woman behind a desk speaking to customers over a phone that didn’t ring — it must be the type that has a light show up instead of ringing. Indeed, that would be better in a museum, wouldn’t it? So, rather than just bursting in, I knocked.


I breathed a small sigh of relief. At least she didn’t seem flustered or confused that someone had shown up. She had an admirable scowl on her face, though.

Walking in, I decided to take a chance on the English and say, “Are you closed now?”

She said a jumbled mess of words that indicated that she did not understand me. However, she reached into a pouch and pulled out a ticket. Perfect! I don’t know how she knew, but this is what I came for. Pointing to the bottom of the ticket, where “1300ft” was written, she said, “Forints.”

I nodded and reached into my pocket, pulling out my international student ID card.

“Ah, student!” she said loudly, and I nodded. She switched out the tickets and pointed to the new cost, saying, “Hatszás.” I gave her 600 forints.

“Köszönöm,” I said and began to walk away. She stopped me, grabbed a calculator, and said, “English audio guide.” I wasn’t even aware that I got a free tour of the museum when I bought the ticket, and she punched “700” onto the calculator. I declined and started to walk away, but she stopped me yet again, pointing into the museum. Then, she said, “Cipő.”

This was a new word for me, but her rapid pointing at me feet told me it had something to do with my shoes. I figured out that she wanted me to put cloth protectors over my shoes to prevent damaging the floor of the museum, so slipped them on and tied them, then headed inside.

Once in the museum, there was not much to see — three rooms, each about the size of a standard bedroom. There were numerous pianos of all different kinds, but there were two things that intrigued me more than the rest. One was a piece of music sitting on the table which had been penned with Liszt’s own hand and had numerous corrections and scribbles that he made. The other was the little-known “mute piano,” the instrument that makes no noise. Liszt used it while composing.

It was a nice little self-tour of the museum, and I used the woman’s distraction while talking on the phone to slip back out. I still had the foot protectors on, but I deposited them in a bin of others at the entrance to the museum, then left. So in the end, all of my fears about “being caught” were completely unjustified because the museum was in fact open. Still, I couldn’t help but feel that I was doing something wrong!


In other news, our Hungarian final exam is on Monday. In place of the usual word list, I’m going to post two songs that I really enjoy. The first is the second folk song that I promised in a previous blog. To listen to the music for this song, go here —

Ha Dunáról fúj a szél
Szegény embert mindig ér.
Dunáról fúj a szél.

Ha Dunáról nem fújna,
Ilyen hideg nem volvan.
Dunáról fúj a szél.

Hey, from the Danube blows the wind,
It always reaches the poor man.
From the Danube blows the wind.

If from the Danube the wind did not blow,
There wouldn’t be such cold.
From the Danube blows the wind.

The other song that we learned in Hungarian class is, of course, the Hungarian national anthem. It is unique in that, rather than focusing on national pride or glory, it focuses on the suffering and pain that the Hungarians have endured. It is not optimistic, as we would consider America’s anthem to be. However, I find it (in my personal opinion) to be a very powerful and moving song that conveys very clearly the emotions and sentiments attached to its words.

Isten, áldd meg a magyart
Jó kedvvel, bőséggel,
Nyújts feléje védő kart,
Ha küzd ellenséggel;
Bal sors akit régen tép,
Hozz rá víg esztendőt,
Megbűnhődte már e nép
A múltat s jövendőt!

God, bless the Hungarians
With good spirit and plenty.
Extend a protecting arm toward him
If he fights (struggles with) the enemy.
He who has been torn for a long time by ill fate,
Bring a happy year to him.
These people have already suffered
For the past and the future.

You can find the actual song here:


In this final section of this unusually long blog post, I would like to discuss briefly my observations about blending in with the native culture. One of my main goals once in Budapest was to minimize the amount of time it would take for me to appear to be a native. Through careful observation, I have determined the things that can make me stand out as American. For example —

People in Budapest do not typically wear shorts, even in hot weather.
My physical features do not distinguish me, as my hair color is common and my eye color, facial shape, and height are not uncommon.
Making eye contact with strangers is not typical of Budapest natives.
Smiling at strangers is a characteristically American trait that does not occur in Budapest.
Since Europeans count with different fingers, holding the “peace sign” for “two” or using the index, middle, and ring fingers for “three” immediately points out a non-native.
Since “one” is counted with the thumb and not the pointer finger, giving a thumbs up is a non-native gesture.

After discovering these things, in addition to carrying myself confidently, etc., I can successfully blend with the people of Budapest and appear to be a native after only a short time here. It only takes a little observation to learn to blend. However, this is the type of blending that happens on a tram, in a store, at a metro station, etc. Blending in the with the natives in conversation or close relationships is much more difficult and would take more time to discover the intricacies of their specific culture, how it is different from mine, and how I can change my behavior suitably.


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