As I was born and raised in a town of 130,000 in West Hungary, much smaller and different than Budapest, moving to the capital city came along with a similar culture shock that others have described.
Enormous spaces and distances, plenty of people, unusual pace and many interesting, amazing things. I have met striking situations on the streets, which were quite hard to understand. Why are there so many old ladies sitting on the streets, even in the night and selling flowers? Why can I see so many people in the underpasses, who try to convince me each time I walk by that I need this lace tablecloth, that pack of razors or that old, ugly painting? And why are there so many homeless and begging people, and what is more disturbing, why are some of them so aggressive, following me and cursing me, when I pass by them?
I couldn’t make up my mind about these situations, whether I should give them money or not. Of course, I want to help them. What if they need my change to have just the right amount for bread? Or only my Forints are missing to buy some medicine, that’s essential? And anyway, why wouldn’t I help them, if they ask for and I can afford?
But then come the negative thoughts: w-wha-what’s that bottle in his hand? I won’t finance his alcoholism! He is following me and yelling at me. I didn’t do anything wrong, I’m just in a hurry… Why don’t they try to break out? There are so many foundations, they’ll help. And anyway, I’m not a free bank, I can decide not to give.
Slowly, my constant attitude became the second one. No, sorry. Sorry, not now.
In the summer, I was sitting at Deák squre waiting for my friend, and a man with a “homeless” magazine approached me. Wagging. No, thanks. Hello, I know it, no thanks, really.
He was wearing an eye patch made of band aids, not really visible, under his sunglasses. He didn’t really stop speaking, so I offered him a deal: I would listen to him and buy a magazine, if he tells me what happened to his eye. He began the story immediately: he was working in the garden – yes, he does things like working, told me with a wink – when his eye got inflamed. He is not a homeless anymore, he lives in a rent with his wife and three children, but their situation isn’t really stable, they can become homeless again in no time. His eldest daughter is going to start school this September, so his biggest dream is to buy a toy (a car and a doll, to be precise) for his smaller kids. See that guy over there in a blue jacket? My deal partner got him some work, so he’s neither a homeless. Here’s my magazine. He buys them for 30 Fts each from a foundation and if he gets anything else, he can keep it. Remember, who doesn’t give you a magazine, is an impostor. He already sold 4000 copies! Would you believed that? I believed. I didn’t want to give money, I just paid attention. It’s worth it.
Pethő Dóra Etelka