When Hungary was still under Soviet rule, my friend Bethany and I paid a visit to her family members as part of a backpacking trip in Europe.
We had very little information about the country and virtually no one spoke English (and our Hungarian vocabulary was limited to the word “good” —jó, pronounced “yo”, which we mistakenly thought meant “yes”. ).
Bethany’s distant aunts and uncles and cousins mostly lived in a Budapest suburb, and they duly showed us the sights of that most impressive and grand city. Saint Stephen’s Basilica and many historic plazas and works of architecture. At one point an uncle took us to a wonderful lookout with a sweeping view of the Danube River, the lights of the bridges and upon its shore twinkling as the sun started to set, and told us a long and emotional tale, introducing us to the river as if it were a long-lost lover. Of course we had no inkling of the meaning of anything he said, but his speech brought tears to our eyes.
We visited other relatives who lived deep in the countryside, where you took a magazine on your visit to the outhouse, and not to keep up with the latest trends. A massive sow shared space with the outhouse. This was the largest pig I have ever seen (still) and I think now how unfair it was that she was in such close proximity to a human waste dump. She would hardly get the best impression of her captors, and no doubt had little respect for them, even when they emptied the slop can for her dining pleasure.
These rural family members were round— very fat in that jolly way that some people have. This was because their diet revolved about potatoes, white bread, and lard. Dinner might be mashed potatoes, fresh-baked bread with lard to spread upon it, cabbage, and a small piece of mutton.
They had a movie night in this country village, and Bethany and I attended the outdoor showing of a movie, perhaps a romantic comedy, not in English, as we sat in folding chairs under the stars. After the film the younger people of the village crowded around us as we walked back to the farm. They were excited and enthusiastic, and so were we, and I don’t know why. By this time, however, being clueless was my constant state, and it was rather relaxing.
Back at our base in Budapest, a young, rather dour “cousin”, Anna, offered to take us to a kind of club one night. Armed military personnel continuously stopped all of us on the street and in the club itself and asked for ID. Anna was extremely nervous when this happened. Anyway, it turned out Anna was a bit of a slut, since all the guys knew her and she was thrilled that the excuse of taking Bethany and I out for a little excursion gave her an opportunity to flirt and make out and make plans for future rendezvous. We thought Anna was pretty wonderful.
One night towards the end of our visit, we watched the news on television with Bethany’s “uncle” and one of the lead stories was coverage of a military parade in Moscow. Thousands of soldiers, hundreds of tanks, and a bold display of bombs and possibly nuclear weapons paraded before the crowds lining the streets. Bethany’s uncle pointed to the weapons on the screen, and said to us, complete with hand gestures: “USA… boom!”
USA… boom! This was the one bit of comprehensible conversation we had with anyone in Hungary. Of course times have changed. We now have wise and prudent governance in both America and Russia.*
*As of April 3, 2017, no we don’t.