Friday, January 31, 2014

WHAT: A video of the dance!

Just a super quick follow-up on my last post.  Last Friday night many gathered in one of the schools in Piliscsaba to enjoy a night of folk dance.  Good thing I learned all those moves at the dance house, click here to see our performance!   My host parents are in the back left corner and my partner and I are beside them.

I will later write more surrounding the history of this dance and the land that it comes from.  I hope you enjoy the video! I certainly enjoyed dancing with these fine folks, and think it's quite special to learn something so unique and important to Hungarian culture.  I'd like to give a special thanks to Réka and Atilla, our dance instructors.
My host parents are directly in front of this picture, and my partner and I are right behind them.  We've been practicing this dance every Wednesday night for the past several months.

More later


Thursday, January 16, 2014

WHERE: A Dance House

Imagine speed-dating.  Now replace the 90 second conversation at a table for two with a 90 second folk dance routine in a crowded ballroom.  That is just what I did for an hour and a half one Wednesday night in some dive of a place just outside of Budapest.

My host parents were going to a “dance house” to meet up with some high school friends of theirs and they invited me along.  Before going, I was familiar with the concept of a “dance house.”  Usually a live folk band plays music and friends sit at tables in conversation while partners occasionally join in the ancient, yet well known, dances from Transylvania.  So when my host parents invited me to go, I said, “Yeah sure, why not!”  I anticipated watching more than participating, and was along for the ride.

My initial nerves for the night were soothed, or rather shocked by a sip of pálinka- the famous Hungarian beverage that is often made in the back yards of Hungarian homes.  It’s the moonshine of Magyarország, and always offered as a sign of hospitality at social and family gatherings.  János Lacki defines it as a, “chemical cocktail” yet I find the pear or plum flavor combined with good people and laughter somewhat digestible.  Either way we arrived late, per usual, accepted the welcome drink and hurried into the ball room.

I walked through the door and observed a large circle of people practicing a rhythm the couple in the center was displaying.  There must have been 60 people gathered ranging from 20 to 60 years of age.  The room was stuffy and the sounds of heels tapping on the scuffed wooden floor filled the air, along with an aroma of perspiration.  I had no partner upon walking in, but precisely seven seconds later a man nearing 50 swooped in and sent me spinning. 

The combination seemed familiar and was similar to something I had learned in the previous months.  Yet still, I was stumbling and muttering, “I’m sorry” and “I don’t know this” in my broken Hungarian.  Immediately upon learning I was not a native speaker the man began instructing me in German.  As soon as I caught my breath to mention that I speak English, a bell rang. The men stayed standing in place and the women moved one space to the right, it was on to the next one.

The next one must have barely been 30, his English was quite good, a common characteristic of Hungarians his age and his dancing moves were just as skilled.  He quickly went over the basic step of this particular dance and I had just enough time to become comfortable with it when the bell rang.  On to the next one.

The next one was twice as wide but the same height as me, or perhaps a bit shorter as I noticed the hairs poking out of his mostly bald head.  His chubby fingers spun me with great confidence and he never spoke a word, until the bell rang and he offered a word of thanks.

The next one was tall and lanky and my Hungarian skills were better than his dancing skills.  Through bumping and stepping on my feet, as well as the feet of the couple beside us, we somehow managed to establish some sort of rhythm.  And I was a bit relieved to hear the bell a few seconds later.

For the next hour the bell continued to ring every two minutes or so, with brief tutorials  from the couple in the middle on moves and steps to add.  And with every ring of the bell I continued moving to the right, on to the next one.  I was laughing constantly and learning to trust myself and the ability of the stranger right across from me.

Two years ago when I was in Europe studying abroad, I felt a bit like I was speed-dating the countries.  Every other weekend my friends and I would pick somewhere new to travel, and the next weekend it was on to the next one.  I got brief glimpses of each country's culture, personality, language, and food.  And occasionally I really clicked with one, but I never got to stay long enough to really know it.

It takes time to develop a rhythm and relationship with a person or with a place.  I'm happy to be past the small talk with Hungary.  I know now where the locals eat, where they like to vacation, and why they speak of "Greater Hungary" as if the current borders are not correct.  I've experienced a Hungarian prom, celebrated Christmas in a Hungarian home, and I eat paprika like it's my job.  I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to dance with this country and it's people for an entire year, and look forward to the new steps and routines that are sure to come.

Monday, January 6, 2014

WHAT: There grammar

Usually I'm a stickler for the correct use of your/you’re, there/their/they’re, two/too/to and the countless other grammatical mistakes that uneducated…and educated people make.  I used to see these mistakes on social media, e-mails, and assignments and absolutely cringe.  I was privileged to have an education first of all, and on top of that to have teachers that stressed the importance of communicating effectively and correctly.  They told me that if I make one grammatical mistake on my cover letter, I should consider my application at a significant disadvantage.  Because, the truth is people judge grammatical mistakes to some degree.  I myself have been guilty of looking negatively at these mistakes and the people who make them. 

But after living in Hungary for four months and using a language I knew nothing about four months ago, I have a new appreciation for grammar mistakes and just mistakes in general.  You see, in the Hungarian education system English teachers stress grammar like no other.  To teachers, it is more important to hear a student speak one sentence correctly than to hear mistakes in several sentences that fully express an idea.

Because of this, people are terrified to speak English.  I have found this in adults and children alike.  Whenever conversations begin people automatically say, “I can’t speak English, please correct me”.  When in fact, I’ve found that most times these people know English extremely well.  They comprehend almost everything and formulate sentences to respond, yet they get stuck behind which tense and conjugation to use.  People talk about past-perfect and past-participle and the accusative case and hell I don’t even know what half those things mean.  Sometimes I have to say, “Just talk!”

And when they do start talking, I hear ideas, opinions, sincere concerns, and words of thanks.  Through the Hungarian accent and occasional mistakes, I understand them.  I understand what they are conveying and always try to listen three times as much as I speak.  The mistakes still come and go, but they enjoy expressing themselves instead of hiding behind their thoughts.

Constantly I’m reminded of my summers at camp, and this particular topic reminds me of the act and language of prayer.  Sometimes my campers would get intimidated about praying.  They were intimidated in trying to sound as eloquent as pastors and other leaders.  They were intimidated in knowing what to say, or not knowing how to say what they wanted to.  The great thing about prayer is that there are no grammatical rules, tenses, formulas, or vocab words.  And one of the things I loved about being a counselor was watching my campers gain confidence in praying, whether it was for an entire group or for their personal silent thoughts.  Words for prayer come freely, and sometimes not so freely, but whatever the case my suggestion is still the same, “Just Pray!”  God understands and hears our thoughts and words no matter how they are communicated. 

So to all foreign language learnersJust talk!  Make mistakes and don’t be afraid of them!  In trying new sentence structures or words, using hand gestures, and laughing when you have no clue what’s going on...progress is made.  And to all people looking to connect or communicate with God for any reason—Just pray!  Be confident in knowing that you are understood and listened to carefully.  Don’t ask me how to translate His response though…that’s a different story.

More later,


This post is dedicated to my first Hungarian teacher and friend-Teri.
Pictured in the middle surrounded by the YAGM Hungary volunteers.
Thank you for teaching us so much, and giving us enough knowledge
to make mistakes in this crazy native language of yours!