Why Is Budapest For Most People Just a Stopover?

Budapest Castle, Hungary

In one of the first posts I talked about the reasons why many people like Budapest and what actually makes this city so great. In this post, I’m not going to deny all that, but you know (or maybe don’t), a city seen through the eyes of a tourist is hardly ever the same as through the eyes of a resident, and only a few days long visit very often gives a different impression. As a tourist, you usually care about sights and places to see, you check popular places and best rated restaurants on the internet, you more or less walk the same tourist route and last but not least you are so busy taking photos and trying to see as much as possible that you don’t really get the chance to get to know what the real life in the city is like. As you stay and live there longer, with time you start discovering places located outside the center, meeting local people and getting to know the city deeper, and you find out and realize the things that you, as a short-term tourist, wouldn’t.

Even though Budapest has definitely much to offer, there are certainly things that will annoy you and make your life harder. If you don’t want to have your impression ruined, I understand 🙂 Then you skip this post. If you want to know about the bad sides of the city, though, continue reading. Sooner or later you’ll agree with me 😀

Unhealthy cuisine accompanied by a reprehensible food quality

Yes, the title speaks for itself. Even though most of Hungarians like their food and typical Hungarian dishes (I guess most nationalities like their national dishes), and are even proud of their cuisine, when you hear what all “typical Hungarian” you have to try out, be careful and think twice 😛 I don’t know how much you know about Hungary and how much you’ve heard about Hungarian cuisine, but I’m going to give you a good insight so you can make your own opinion.  

I’m pretty sure each country has their own, specific cuisine including typical dishes, (eating) habits and combinations of food. And quality, of course, but that’s what’s usually forgotten about. I was never that type of a traveler who needs to try out and taste all the typical local dishes, but for sure, anytime I visit a foreign country I try to degust some local specialities if I find them worth a try and worth the prize. Nevertheless, just after a few weeks living in Hungary I’ve just had enough of “tasting”. 

If you asked me what the typical Czech dishes are, I couldn’t actually think of much “typically Czech“, I could surely find something commonly served and eaten, though. I would definitely say a Czech meal always contains lots of meat and fried stuff, besides that also pastries or potatoes. One thing that is purely Czech and very popular as well is Knedlíky (in German Knödels), which are sort of dumplings made of buns. And, well….beer (called liquid bread) indeed 🙂 Among other common inn meals, let me name guláš, svíčková, zelňačka (cabbage soup) and other kinds of soups, and also fried cheese. I think the selection in my country is pretty broad, though. But let’s get back to Hungary.

I think you get a certain picture of what the food and eating habits in Hungary are like as soon as you arrive at the train station. Immediately after you get off the train (or bus, or taxi), you will be welcomed by the unmistakable Budapest stink of a pizza, gyros, or gyros pizza favor (let’s not talk about other typical Budapest odors now) and soon after leaving the station, you will be offered a wide selection of a couple…well, of a couple of tens of  Turkish, Chinese or simply Hungarian fast foods. Plus, all the other worldwide shitty fast food chains, indeed. Unfortunately, these kinds of places are among Hungarians the most popular nowadays. By the way, many people really enjoy eating slice of pizza or a burger for breakfast because it’s just so easy to grab one on the way to work when running for a metro, you know. 

All such super fast food places (in Czech we call them “hungry windows“) are extremely popular here, but there are surely classic restaurants, too. Let’s have a closer look at a common restaurant menu. I don’t really want to deal with drinks as they are pretty much the same anywhere in Europe (or even the world), but there is one important thing to mention. Beer. And not just because I need to prove I’m Czech 🙂 Hungarians do like to dink beers and they also have their own brands. Every Hungarian will admit, though, that Hungarian beers are crap. No offense. Yeah, they have great wines, but the beers are simply not drinkable and in the Czech Republic wouldn’t even be used to clean a toilet 😛

But coming back to food, what’s a typical Hungarian dish besides the fast food delicacies, then? Well, generally said, anything fried and oily, usually involving lots of meat. I mean, lots of meat. Pörkölt (Goulash) – a beef/pork stew as a main dish, or most often in a form of a soup – gulyásléves, lecsó – sort of a vegetable stew, rántott sajt (fried cheese), csirkepaprikás (Chicken Paprikash), or actually whatever chicken stuff, can be found in most places. And then the cold, fruit soups and túros dishes (anything made with curd cheese) are Hungarian specialities. Cold fruit soups are actually quite a good refreshment in summer, but I don’t consider them soups. And they usually serve plenty of other kinds of soups as well. 

Hungarian gulyas

I personally find the Hungarian cuisine super unhealthy and sometimes disgusting, but as they say: “One man´s meat is another man´s poison”. What’s actually pretty bad, however, is the quality of food as such. And that’s a big issue here in Hungary, although not many people see it this way. People don’t care about what they eat, every third person is overweight, everybody is sick all the time. At whichever company I worked, there was always hardly anyone sick, but the locals a few times a year. Plus me being sick a few times from the food. The problem is that even if you get tired of eating out the shitty food, it’s not so easy to cook even at home because at the shops there is nothing of good quality to choose from. Most products are not eatable (sometimes not even edible), of very poor quality, full of various chemicals, colorings and additives and not even cheap.

In my last months in Budapest I stopped eating meat and almost became a vegetarian because I could simply no longer take it. Chicken meat is pumped up with hormones and antibiotics and therefore tastes like rubber. Plus, it was also difficult not to think about what had happened to the animal before.

Basically all the products that you find in the supermarkets are shitty, honestly, it’s quite difficult to find a better product. I strongly recommend you to shop at farmers’ markets or shops, butchers, and if you still need to buy something from a supermarket, go to Lidl and definitely avoid CBA and Tesco. Most of their products have nothing in common with food.

Comparing my country, I also find the selection of meals quite small, so coming back every single day to the same canteen to choose my lunch from a “wide selection” of fried stuff, such as cheese, mushrooms or livers, or changing a dry slice of gummy chicken for another dry slice of chicken in another place, just made me really tired. Seriously, if you eat out at a restaurant every day, you get sick of it. You get an “anything-that-can-be-fried twice a week, three times a week (the same week) you get a dry slice of chicken, and on the weekend, since you are lazy to cook, you go get a kebab. They have also quite a few kinds of soups, but they just all taste the same. If you boil a broccoli in water, blend it, and add a sour cream, pepper and paprika, it’s called a broccoli soup. If  you blend a cauliflower, it’s a cauliflower soup. If you do the same with the both at once, you are gonna have a vegetable soup. You know, basically all food here is about their favorite paprika and pepper. 

The second thing about the Hungarian cuisine is the very weird combinations of this small variety of meals. I mean, each country has some cuisine and certain habits so maybe it’s just me, but tell me guys…..you have a fried chicken schnitzel on your plate served with white rice, no sauce (because unlike the Czech Republic, they don’t use sauces). How the hell can you swallow it?? 😀 It’s impossible without water. And the same applies to friend fish, vegetables or cheese (which actually goes with a tatar sauce). Everything is just super dry here.

But at the very end, here is an icing on the cake. It’s the worst mixture I could possible imagine. Catfish goulash (stew) with mushrooms, bacon, paprika of course, and here it comes…pasta and curd cheese! The “best” culinary experience ever!

And if you still don’t get enough and want to move your “diet” to a higher level, go for Lángos or Kürtőskalács! Ok, fine, from time to time it’s good to get one 😉

Hungarian langos

Deceivingly cheap country

Hungary, as a country of the former Soviet bloc, is generally considered an Eastern European country (I know, we don’t like to hear that either), and therefore sort of expected to be cheap. Comparing to countries of Western Europe, the average wage is very low, so yes, the price level is apparently also much lower, otherwise nobody could live there. From foreigners visiting, or even living in Budapest, you can hear quite often that the city is a cool place to live because everything is cheap. Well, it’s a cool place, I agree with that. In a way, I also agree that it’s a good place to live. But let me explain why I don’t think Hungary is so cheap, although it seems so at first sight.

If you come from a Western country and want to rent or buy a flat, you might certainly be shocked how cheap it is for you and how much you can afford here. I guess that people from countries like Switzerland or Norway just need a few months salary to buy a flat (without mortgage). Or two flats 😀 If you come to Budapest with a Czech salary, you won’t buy a flat that easily, but you can still afford to rent a standard place just for yourself. (2014).

If you come from a Western country and eat out, you can choose a better, above average restaurant, yet in the end you’ll pay so little that you’ll leave the place regretting that you didn’t ask for a double portion. If you go out to paint the town red, in most bars you will probably be able to pay a couple of drinks for your friends as well, and it won’t even burden your budget. If you come from the Czech Republic and eat out, it’ll be more or less the same price for you (it will actually be slightly cheaper if you are used to the Prague prices). However, when you go out, you will swear around how expensive beer you had in Budapest 🙂

As well as most of European people who have never visited Hungary and didn’t really make much effort to find out more about it, Czechs would consider Hungary rather a cheaper country. Frankly speaking, we also think – Hungary, it’s an Eastern country, those countries are cheaper. Well, now I know it’s not necessarily true.

I prepared a table comparing prices of a few typical items of a common person’s consumer basket, and things that can be very well compared, respectively. Surely there’re many things which cost more or less the same in both countries, so I just tried to pick up rather a couple of those with an obvious difference. The comparison is approximate, but gives a basic picture. Since converting between three different currencies may make the comparison very inaccurate, let me leave it in local Forints so everyone can get the approximate value in their currency by own conversion.

*You can usually even get it cheaper if you buy it online in advance

If a common Czech visits a Western country, he or she will come back with the wallet plundered, because everything will be expensive for them. Literally everything. Well, perhaps except for clothes of the known international brands, which are the same everywhere. There are certain things that aren’t that much more expensive, but especially restaurants, transportation or any individual services will be 2-3 times as much. In the most expensive countries like Switzerland, Norway or Denmark…don’t even ask. Some things may be up to five times more expensive.

In Europe, there are a few, very few, countries that are still pretty affordable (the Balkans) for the Czechs, but I can’t say that it generally applies to Hungary as well. The table shows why the life in the Czech Republic, in spite of the fact that Czechs always complain about everything, including prices, is still better.

To sum it up, if you create a market basket with items that everybody buys and uses in a daily life, such as food, clothes, hygienic and cleaning stuff, transportation etc., I don’t really think the Hungarian one will be cheaper than the Czech one. Some things are slightly cheaper, some things more expensive, both baskets would probably be very similar, let’s say. But probably the most startling thing is that even Dutch people will tell you that there are many products in the supermarkets which are more expensive than in the Netherlands (but at the same time like three times worse quality). Prices of meals in restaurants are also very similar to the Czech ones, eating out at restaurants costs still a bit less than in Prague, however. Except for beer, surprisingly 😀 What’s much cheaper in Budapest and probably in the entire Hungary is the real estate (it was back in 2013-2014, but since then the prices have gone rapidly up). While in Budapest you can quite easily find a one room apartment not too far from the center for 300-330€ (around 100.000 HUF) including costs, in Prague it’s basically impossible to find one for this price even in the very suburban. The usual market price for a one room flat not too far from the center in Prague is very often around 420-450€ (approx. 150.000 HUF). The prices of the real estate in Prague are actually very expensive and make the city expensive to live in, especially if you live on your own. On the other hand, for example, the public transport in my country is super cheap, thus Hungary can’t compete in that. Anyway, I don’t think at all that the public transportation in Hungary is cheap. For the quality you get and the money you earn here it is actually quite expensive. Talking about quality of the Hungarian trains, I have a funny story to share here.

And then, there are also all these “not so visible“, irregular expenses which you don’t have everyday, but looking at them from a longer-term perspective, they accumulate and can significantly reflect in your yearly, or even monthly budget as well. It’s the things like back accounts and the related fees and charges, it’s all the administration fees for getting a passport, ID card or whatever card; confirmation or a piece of paper, entertainment, such as aquaparks, swimming pool, baths, museums etc., or petrol for your car. While in the Czech Republic we have many banks that can offer all the basic services (at many low cost banks also other additional services) free of charge so it’s easy to keep your bank account and card(s) without any financial burden, in Hungary you are charged literally for everything. And then all the stuff (even slightly) related to tourism. These things are definitely not cheaper here.

Sure, if you are used to a higher level, Hungary is cheap for you. But let me remind you again to consider the common Hungarian salary. With an income of like 600€ a month and such prices you don’t really have much left to enjoy your life, not to mention make some savings. And now I’m not even talking about the quality you get, which is, especially in case of food or public transportation, absolutely incomparable. Not even with the Czech Republic.

Hungarians love (meaningless) bureaucracy and administration

I used to complain about administrative burdens and endless processes you have to undergo to sort things out in my country. I always thought there was too much administrative stuff in the Czech Republic. Well, I no longer think so…

Admittedly, there has been a great progress and the whole system in the Czech Republic has gotten much better in last years. Many administrative processes have been simplified and accelerated. Nowadays, you are enabled to resolve many things online, thus, you no longer have to test your nerves waiting in a long line and dealing with sour faces sitting behind the desk. Yes, there are still sometimes annoying things, but in general it’s not that bad. Plus, not only there is less bureaucracy now, but thanks to lower costs everything is also cheaper.

Secondly, after almost 3 years in Hungary (but also one year in Belgium), as to administration, the Czech Republic now feels to me like a paradise. You wouldn’t believe what a hell it always is to go through all the steps you need to take, how many papers you need to fill in and how much time of your valuable life it will take to obtain a card, which you, how you find out later, will never use. And it applies in Hungary to completely everything.

Whilst in the Czech Republic we use a chip card as a public transport pass, or can send an SMS to buy a ticket, when I came to Budapest (2013), except for metro stations, I couldn’t even get a normal ticket (now there are already machines at most of the stops/stations in the city). Whilst in my country we can buy a train ticket online on the Internet, when I was for the first time buying a train ticket at the train station in Budapest, I couln’t believe that they didn’t print it out, but the woman had to fill in a piece of paper by hand. Indeed, instead of 3-5 minutes, which you normally need to get a ticket, it took like 25 minutes till she wrote everything down. It’s pretty usual that you wait 60-90 minutes at the station. It no longer surprises me….

But the real fun starts once you decide to become a local. When you decide to officially live in Hungary for a longer period, you will experience the real kingdom of bureaucracy. Hungarians like to play cards, so make sure you have a wallet big enough. What am I talking about? Once you start working, you have to pay taxes, health and social insurance. Once you pay taxes, you become a payer, which means you need to register at the authority (in theory the company should do it for you) and since you are registered, of course, you get an amazing card. Getting a health insurance card with your number is, I guess, pretty normal everywhere. But in Hungary it’s a bit special because you get a shitty plastic card, which is valid only in Hungary (in my country we automatically get an EU insurance card, which can be used for (certain) treatments anywhere in EU), so if you want to get the EU card, too, you need to apply for it. When you start working (in fact already before), you will also be asked to provide your criminal background record. In my country, pretty easy task – you basically go to any post office, pay around 2,20 € and that’s it. Well, in Hungary you have to come to one special, dedicated place, which is indeed open only in the mornings, pay 15 € and that’s it !

As soon as you find a place where you are going to stay, you should get your rental contract, based on which you apply for so called “address card”, which is also very very…..very useless, of course. Plus, if you are planning to stay in Hungary for more than 3 months, by the EU law you are obliged to register at the immigration office. You will need to make an appointment months in advance, fill in 10 papers with no explanation whatsoever and eventually you will come to the office and they send you back to the post to pay the fee (not that it would be written on the Internet so everybody could prepare and do it in advance).

Do I really have to do all that? Well, I’m telling you what you are expected to do, what you are obligated to do, what you should do. I’m not your mum, I’m not God and I’m not responsible for your life 🙂 I myself didn’t go there nor did I apply for the address card. Why? I have an easy answer. It’s bullshit. I’ve been asked a few times for the card, but I always said I didn’t have it and it always worked out somehow. As a common mortal you don’t need it for your happy life….In CZ we have a health insurance card and an ID card. That’s all you need to have to live here. No other meaningless cards or papers.

Well, to sum it up: be prepared. This is a very annoying thing here and can be a real pain in the ass sometimes. To me, the large number of administrative obstacles and expenses is one of the main reasons I couldn’t live here.

People living in a slow motion

I’m a very straightforward person. I realize that time is the most valuable thing you have in your life (after the health). You know, if you lose money, it’s sad but you can always get it somewhere else. You find another job, work overtime, start a new business, win a lottery, anything. If you break up with your partner after years of a great relationship, your heart hurts, but it heals with time and sooner or later you meet someone else. But you can never gain back the time that already passed. That’s why I don’t like wasting my valuable time, especially if it’s about things that don’t matter, things that don’t bring you anything. I just like to get things done without beating about the bush.

Also, I’m very inpatient and really hate waiting. I prefer to run for a bus to wait at the stop just for a few minutes. Anyway, I’m telling you about this to state that from this point of view, Hungary is just not a place for me and I struggle with certain things here. Because Hungarians are simply the opposite! They apparently have a different perception of time, they apparently „love“ to wait and always take their time for everything. They live in a slow motion when it comes to acting. And it applies to everything. Literally everything. Whether it’s people at banks, offices, shops or work, whether we’re talking about public transport, any kinds of processes or just generally about life. Anywhere you go, anyplace you come, people will be taking their time to do whatever they’re supposed to do, but you’ll be going crazy as it’s going 3 times slowlier that you’d possibly imagine. But don’t get it wrong, the Hungarian style of getting things done isn’t the “mañana” known from the Spanish and Italians, and I would say also the Belgians, becuase each and every Hungarian will tell you I don’t have time, I’m too busy. Yeah, you try to stay in touch with your Hungarian friends, hang out with them, but you find out that it’s not easy since nobody has time!

I noticed that being in rush, stress and busy is, as a matter of effect, a part of the Hungarian mentality. Though “being busy” and stressed out with the lack of actual life is a general characteristics of the 21st century, most of Hungarians don’t have an objective reason to be busy. They just think they are as they’re sort of affected by “mass hysteria“. I spotted that they “don’t have time” not because they have their lives busier than whoever else’s, but because they fail in organizing and prioritizing things, which often results in unreliability and the feeling of not having enough time. Sorry guys, but this is so true 😛 In two of my Budapest jobs, most of my colleagues were Hungarians and I noticed that the work I was normally able to do in a few minutes (or other foreign people), they were able to deal with for hours. I don’t know why, I never understood how they could make their work more complicated…

Let me give you a last example that speaks for itself. There is a direct train between Budapest (there was, then it was canceled, and now it operates again) and Ostrava in the Czech Republic – the city I come from. The whole journey takes 5h 35min, but here is the funny thing. The distance (by train) between Ostrava and Budapest is 480km, out of which around 200km is on the Czech territory and the remaining part, which is a bit less than 300km in Slovakia and Hungary, respectively. And the thing is that the first 200km it goes 1h 50min, whereas the other part it goes twice as long (3h 45min) and once you cross the border with Hungary, the trains rapidly slows down even more and it takes 80 mintues to make the remaining 80km. Incredible 80 min for 80km! As soon as you enter Hungary, your life won’t slow down, but all the other things will! 😀

Hungary – a superpower of chaos, missing logic and common sense

In a way, this article is pretty much related to the previous two. As a matter of effect, all the three articles are related to each other. In other words, not only the administrative processes are unnecessarily lengthy, slow and very often don’t make much sense, but generally the people live like in a slow motion, don’t use own common sense, everything takes ages and the overall life in Hungary feels very chaotic to me. And many things in Hungary simple don’t have any logic.

I have a few schoolbook examples, you may agree with me after you check them 🙂

Random prices of the trains

I’ve used a train in Hungary many times. Seriously, many times. Both the local ones as well as the international ones. But even after two years of living in Budapest, I don’t understand the way they determine the price of them. I mean, normally you would expect prices to different based on the train speed, class, and perhaps time you book the ticket prior to departure. But I have no freakin’ idea what they are based on here.

Sometimes you go on a one day trip, but the way there costs you less than the way back. You ask the cashier why you’re supposed to pay for the same train more than in morning and their answer is because this one is a “fast train“. Yeah, but why does this “fast” train goes 5 minutes longer, then??? Or they say, because it’s a “better train”. And this always makes me laugh. I just say no, it’s because you have a roller coaster ride (and in summer even a sauna) included. So for 300 HUF more you sit on half-destroyed seats, jumping up and down as the train passes rail joints. Seriously, slow train, which is very often faster and even better, stop train, fast train, InterCity train. Logic….here we go…

A train to Miskolc

In the summer, on one of my first days in Budapest, I decided to go on a one-day trip and see also a bit of something else than just Budapest. I hadn’t lived here for so long yet, so I was still not familiar with certain things, let’s say. Well, definitely I wasn’t familiar with the Hungarian trains and the coherent prices. I just decided to take a train to Miskolc and make a short hike in the surroundings. I didn’t think about tickets, I thought I’d just buy one at the station and that’s it. And so I did, but when the cashier told me the price I was shocked and almost changed my mind. I didn’t believe how expensive it was. For a return ticket, I paid over 8.000 HUF (approx 26 EUR)! 13 EUR for 180 km (2 hours) by train, that’s really a lot for Hungary. For this price, you can go a double distance in my country. For the price of a return ticket to Miskolc, you can even fly from Budapest to Kiev, London or the Netherlands. .

But here is a “funny” thing that is connected with the missing logic topic. I bought a pretty expensive ticket to Miskolc and it actually wasn’t even worth the price. But later I found out that if you buy a return ticket to Košice, which is located in Slovakia like 100 km farther (1,5 h later), it costs you 20 €. So in this case, 360 km by train cost you approx 26 €, whereas for 20 € you actually make 560 km. Unbelievable! Yeah, it’s good to know that for certain international trains they have special tariffs, whereas the price may be sometimes so much lower that even if you don’t go all the way to the destination they have the special price for, it may be very convenient to buy the ticket anyway and just get off whenever you want. These special tariffs are usually applied to the popular, touristic destinations like Prague, Zagreb, Belgrade, Cluj and other places where you can get by train from Budapest. It’s because the railways of the countries have some special agreements between each other, whereas for other (local) destinations the tariffs don’t apply. So before you go somewhere, check what ticket is more convenient for you. I’m almost sure it’ll always be more convenient when you travel a longer distance. As you can see, the difference is sometimes significant.

Moreover, there is actually another thing good to know when traveling by train. I’m gonna repeat myself, but don’t ask me why, I noticed that if you buy a return ticket, it’s very often cheaper (or the same price) than a one way ticket. Very often then, there is no point in buying a one way ticket, even if you don’t plan to come back. I mean, I know they have like crazy 70% or so discounts on return tickets, but seriously it did happen to me that I traveled the same way twice and for some reason for the return ticket I paid even less the just for a one-way one. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you now what’s the exact difference or give you an example as I don’t keep any of such tickets anymore, but I got surprised a few times before I got used to it. My advice is again the same, just ask by yourself at the cash desk before you buy it.

A train to Ostrava

And third and finally, trains and random rates. But this time, although I still don’t get it, it didn’t surprise me anymore. Let me share one more story with you. 

I come from Ostrava, the very east of the Czech Republic. There used to be a direct train connection between Budapest and Ostrava (train to Warsaw), which I would use every time I went to visit my parents. As well as in the previous cases, they had special tariffs set for this route, but only for the EC trains and only limited number of  tickets, so when I bought a ticket in advance enough, I was usually quite lucky to get to Ostrava for a reasonable price. There was a catch, though. If the tickets with a special price went sold out, it could, on the contrary, get quite expensive.

But it all became tricky for me when they canceled these direct trains, because since then, every time I traveled to Ostrava, I would have to change once in the Czech Republic. But the fact that I suddenly had to change for another train wasn’t the biggest problem, the biggest problem was that since there was no longer a direct EC train, there were no special tariffs, either, and the ticket was now calculated based on the kilometers. Yeah, and 21.500 HUF (approx. 69 €) wasn’t a price I was willing to pay every month.

Now a few funny things again. First of all, 69 € for 480 km in Hungary is damn too much, imagine that a RETURN ticket with the special tariff for the former direct train was exactly a half, that is 10.500 HUF (34 €). And WTF number 2, a one-way ticket to Ostrava suddenly cost 21.500 HUF, whereas the same return ticket cost 24.500 HUF (approx. 79 €) so there was no point in buying a one way ticket since the return ticket was only some 10 € (10%) more expensive. Ridiculous. Similarly, a one way ticket bought in advance online in the Czech Republic would be around 6.000-9.000 HUF, depending on the pieces left (unfortunately it’s possible to buy it online only for CZE-HU direction, not the other way around, which was my case). I already talked about the (il)logic of the Hungarian price policy, didn’t I? 😀

The cheapest way to get to Ostrava?
The cheapest way to get to Ostrava?

Naturally, I never wanted to pay this much so I tried finding a (cheaper) way around and started a discussion with the cashier. That was a lot of fun as well. I thought, alright, I will just buy some ticket to get to the Czech Republic and the rest I will cover by tickets bought online in CZE for like a half, sometimes one third of the Hungarian sophisticated price. So I asked about the price to Břeclav, which is the first stop in CZE, the city in which I was supposed to change, and since at the same time Břeclav was also a stop of the EC train, I expected them to have a special price, too. Believe it or not, probably because this wasn’t a “touristy” destination, there was no reason to deal with that and there was no special price whatsoever. The price then was 12.800 HUF (41.2 €) one way, 15.300 HUF (49.4 €) if a return ticket (again this crazy discount). But there was no point either way or another as it wasn’t any more convenient. 

And then I figured out, they have a special price for tickets to Brno for sure, so even If I don’t go all the way and get off the train 1 hour earlier (50 km earlier) in Břeclav, it’ll still be much cheaper to buy this “tourist” return ticket to Brno. And so it was. Guess what? A one-way ticket to Brno, which is like 50 km farther after Břeclav, – 8.990 HUF (29 €), a return ticket – 12.090 HUF (39 €). 

Together with the return ticket Břeclav-Ostrava bought in CZE it eventually cost me around 16.600 HUF (53 €). I learned from the previous experience from Miskolc and after 20 minutes of speculations saved 25 €. These random prices in Hungary don’t make any sense, I said. The cashier smiled and nodding her head she answered: “I know, they don’t”.

Working in SSCs sucks

In the post “Some Recommendations For People Considering Moving To BudapestI mentioned the major reason for the pretty big flow of incomming foreigners. And I also talked about IBM and my experience from one of the many international companies which have in Budapest their so called Shared Service Centers.

There is no doubt that Budapest is a cool city and many people fall in love with it, but why are there so many foreigners living in and moving to Budapest even though many of them have never visited Budapest before? The answer is pretty simple, it’s the job market. The Budapest labor market offers a wide range of job positions that require another foreign language knowledge. Simply said, if you speak a foreign language (meaning other than Hungarian), you’ll easily find a job. I think that this applies basically to any language, however, especially then if you speak Dutch, French, Italian, perhaps Spanish or a Nordic language, not only you will certainly get a job, but you can even negotiate your salary as there is always a lack of people with such skills but many companies in need of them. Even if you can’t offer any of this language knowledge, there are also plenty of other jobs as well as space for negotiation. I didn’t even have a big problem with the Czech language, there are always openings for Slovak, Polish, Arabic, German, Russian and indeed English speakers.

Now, how come there are so many job offers in Hungary, in a country of the former Eastern bloc with a quite low average salary level and why would you actually want to work there? Well, the answer is again simple. It’s money. Surprisingly. From the employers’ point of view, the low salary level, in other words cheap workforce, accompanied by a huge Hungarian goverment support, attracts big companies to Hungary to build their (Shared Serviced) centers here. Shared service centers are nothing else but subsidiaries built for reasons of cost-efficiency and centralization (these are the official reasons) in “cheaper countries”. In Budapest around 80 of SSCs can be found. And means really a lot of positions.

And the money plays an essential role on the employees’ side as well. It won’t be convincing if you want to become rich and plan to buy villas on Carrebean islands, but with an above average salary, which is what most of this companies pay, it’s enough to afford own appartment, travel and have a pretty good life.

Getting to the point, there are many companies looking for foreign language speakers so it isn’t so difficult to find a job. These companies pay quite well and very often you can negotiate your salary. Since most of these SSCs employ lots of foreigners, you work in an international environment, use English a lot and it actually makes working there more interesting. It’s also great experience in case it’s your first real job and you want have a nice reference in your CV. And it’s definitely good if you don’t care about it much, want to earn good money and enjoy Budapest and Hungary.

But if you expect something more from your life (like me), sooner or later you’ll just get to the point when you start thinking like….damn, is this what I’m gonna do for next 40 years??? You just get tired. You get tired of doing work that very often doesn’t make any sense and doesn’t create any added value. You get tired of following the ridiculous company’s business guidelines and rules, constant listening to commands coming from people you’ve never met or seen and working with many other people who have given up on their lives or are about to burnout. You get tired of being a robot. Because that’s the painful truth, in fact, for the company you’re nothing more than just a number….

So you quit your job at one company and try your luck at another one in order to do something more meaningful and educative but you usually end up doing the same routine stuff over and over again, just for another company. I’ve tried out four different positions and two companies and it was basically always just jumping out of the frying pan into the fire (although the last job I had was a bit better than in IBM). I didn’t really find the space for personal development and learning something new, but the contrary, after 2.5 years spent in corporations I felt burned out. I thank the universe for that, because I realized early enough that this wasn’t the road I wanted to go down. So pretty much like most of my international friends and other foreigners, I got tired of jumping and quit the corporation world for good…

The dirtiest city I’ve ever been to

Well, this is one of the (few) things you usually notice quite quickly and you don’t need to know the city so well. You may not realize it when walking through the streets of Budapest, taking pictures of the sights, but once you look around, you see that Budapest is….a big mess. Budapest is very often compared with Prague, people find it in many ways similar. And to some extent, I agree with that. But only from the “tourist” point of view, let’s say. The standard of living in Prague is still higher and also sort of different. I never really considered Prague, or the Czech Republic, the cleanest country but after living in Budapest it feels like a real paradise to me. People don’t take a shit and pee right on the streets at least (we are civilized enough to do it behind bushes 😀 ).

I’ve also heard some people saying, come on, Amsterdam is much worse. Well, it’s not. Amsterdam is full of weird people doing weird things, it’s not really clean, true, but other than that, as well as the whole Netherlands, it’s a civilized city and everything looks new and maintained. I’ve visited 19 European countries by now,

If you live here for a while, you get used to the specific Budapest smell. Actually, while living here, you might not realize that, but once you leave the city for a few days and then come back, you’ll smell you’re back in Budapest 😛 Even if you had your eyes closed and for some reason didn’t know you arrived in Budapest.

There is one obivous and perhaps one less obvious reason for that. In my previous article “Number of homeless people” I talked a bit about the homeless situation in Budapest. I don’t think I have to explain that the more people living on the streets, the bigger mess on the streets you have to deal with. These people don’t care about trash bins and keeping the places around them clean. And they don’t care about toilets, either…..

To a certain extent, this is understandable. If a bottle of wine were the biggest happiness in my life, I wouldn’t care either. But the thing is that the city isn’t dirty only because of the homeless. I’ve got a feeling that certain things we’re just naturally not used to do, Hungarians consider natural to do. Dropping trash and empty bottles and leaving a mess everywhere, as well as making a public toilet out of every corner, or just a wall or even a drain in the middle of the road is just the way they do it here. No matter that you then have to walk through all that, and jump over urine stains which change into a “beautiful smell“, especially in hot summer months.

 

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