Budapest: A Primer

Recently on YouTube, I watched an old clip of the hit TV show Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? during which the host asked a perky American blonde the following question: “Budapest is the capital of what European country?” After much hemming and hawing, the woman finally gave her answer: “France.” E-gads! 

photo by Lennart Guillet

After my eyebrows finally came down, I thought…I better make sure no one reading my new blog is expecting posts about the Eiffel Tower or Paris Fashion Week. And so, I offer a brief primer on Magyarland.

Budapest is the capital of Hungary. With about 1.8 million inhabitants, it is the largest city on the famed Danube, which is only blue if you wear heavily-tinted sunglasses. Hungary is in Central Europe. If you say Hungary is in Eastern Europe, a Hungarian will correct you. Landlocked, Hungary is surrounded by seven countries: Austria, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovakia, and… (I had to look this one up) Slovenia. The Hungarian flag is red on top, white in the middle, and green on the bottom. Just like a watermelon.

Hungarians (no relation to Huns) refer to themselves as Magyar. They speak Hungarian, also called Magyar. A heck of a hard one to master, Hungarian is an agglutinative language. That means Hungarians string lots of prefixes and suffixes together to make stretch limousine-like words that don’t fit on Scrabble boards.

Hungary is part of the European Union, but does not yet use the Euro. They use forint here, which expatriates like myself commonly refer to as Monopoly money. Currently, 1000 forint is roughly about $4.50. It is way more fun to say, “I’m carrying a thousand” than to say, “I’ve got $4.50.”


37 thoughts on “Budapest: A Primer

  1. I loved learning all these interesting facts. Thank you! So, where exactly in Budapest, is the Eiffel Tower? (just kidding!)

  2. Informative info Phil!!!,,,, But where is the mention of you (or I, for that matter) rummaging through the side streets, checking out and hoarding the ‘don’t-want-anymore’ piles of ‘garage sale-esque’ treasures? Is that coming in the Primer Part 2? Looking forward to doing that again one day. Ah the memories!

  3. Good-looking blog, Phil. Hope you have been able to connect with some of the expats in town re: assistance, events, gatherings, sports or just drinks in a local pub. Anything I can do to make the transition easier, let me know – I’ve been here since 1999 and taught English as a Foreign Language for 6-7 years. Six books published so far about travels and Budapest life. BTW – the TV show I saw with the incredibly obtuse blonde was one in which she pondered the question asked, then, with furrowed brow, answered, “I thought Europe was a country.” Made me ashamed to be an American. Anyway, hope to meet you sometime – stop by The Club on a Friday afternoon, 5:30 – 8 PM, for one of the best expat gatherings in town. We meet in the rear rooms of Champs Sport Pub, Dohany u. 20, about 100 m up from the synagogue. Good luck and welcome to the best place to live in Europe.
    Gary Lukatch

  4. “Stretch-limousine words that don’t fit on a scrabble board” – still enjoying that description. Look forward to the next primer Phil!

  5. Phil,
    We (Americans) certainly need to improve our geography skills. I learned alot about Hungary in your blog. I will follow it.

  6. Thank you for, “Just like a watermelon.” I’ve seen the flag a million times but still get the order confused! Another wonderfully written piece!

  7. Your blog remind me about the question: “Is Denmark the capital of Copenhagen?” I think you know better.
    Well done, the photos is a special gift.

  8. Budapest is so often confused with Bucharest which is the capital of Romania. But with France, that is funny and really, she didn’t hear about Paris being the capital of France? Wow! LOL.

  9. You can credit (or blame) Anne Lynch, founder of the Atlanta Hungarian Meetup group, for bringing my attention to your blog; she herself had been an American teaching in Hungary some years ago. First, let me frown (in good humor) at Adriana for ruining my would-have-been joke that, after much study, the woman in the video in question now believed that Budapest was the capital of Romania.

    By the way, that woman’s interlocutor was Jeff Foxworthy, a Hapeville-raised son of metro Atlanta. I admire his restraint for not asking the woman if she was the cousin of a certain Miss South Carolina, who gave Americans a geography lesson they will not soon forget. All the same, European history is sufficiently arcane that a lawyer for Mr. Foxworthy’s contestant might make at least a couple of points, trying to mitigate the enormity of the ridicule she earned with her answer…

    …Two summers ago, I outlined English-language resources for studying the very complicated history of the Hungarian Kingdom in three postings starting at

    Ron F.

  10. Well no wonder that she gave this answer. Many.. well okay, SOME Americans think that Europe is similar to US in that it has 1 language and states (this became worse since the EU). So they think we all speak French as a mother tongue and the capital is either France, or Paris. You can hear the woman actually say “I thought Europe is a country.”

  11. Being Hungarian, it is always a great experience- and fun, of course- to read your blog. It is like a mirror to me, and I find it very interesting. And it is also good to see, that you love Hungary…

  12. I love your blog, I would correct one thing though: Hungarians do relate themselves to the Huns, all the other information is correct :)

    • That is what I wanted to mention too (beside the `water melon`). It goes like this: Once upon a time there was a king having two sons. They were called: Hunor and Magor. Hunor became the founding father of Huns and Magor was that of Magyars (Hungrians)…This metaphor or what of water melon for Hungarian flag is very good! I like it!

  13. Dear Phil, if you allow me…your blogs are great, so much fun and educative, but I have to come to your rescue in order to see and know things as they really are. Unfortunately our recent history was written many many times by others, but not by us Hungarians-Magyars. If you start searching deep enough in our reach history, for example almost the thousand year old Kepes Kronika you’ll find an interesting statement, that Attila the Hun is the grandson of Nimrod (back in time). Nimrod had two sons Hunor and Magyar. So which arm are we talking about, when both belongs to the same body. The Huns, Avars and the Magyars their group name as Szkita, are the same origin, coming back to the mother land after each other. Manny thanks and keep going, we all love you and what you are doing!

  14. We do believe that we are related to the Huns! like Attila the Hun, the name Attila is very common – as you know – in Hungary and many-many other deals with the Hun theory…:-) I love that even wikipedia has a nice sarcastic sentence about it when it comes to the Huns so, yes we are Huns no doubt on that :-)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>