Mociexpat shares some lovely aspects of her hosting city, Budapest.
I have been living in Budapest for four years now. I have very much loved it since day one. It is a beautiful city with a gorgeous view from both sides of the Danube. It is easy to get around. We have never owned a car but my husband and I enjoy using the public transport system (probably because in Panama – where we were living before – and in Peru – where I am from – distances are so much greater and public transport does not work properly – or or is practically non-existent).
Besides all the positive things about living in Budapest, one of the things that surprised me the most since the beginning – probably because I am big dog lover myself – was that there are dogs everywhere! And not just any dogs but well-behaved dogs that go around without a leash, without barking or harming anybody, and whose owners are responsible and always clean up after them. You see them everywhere, especially at certain times of the day when it almost feels like there are “dog playdates” in the parks. It still surprises me (in a positive way of course) how dogs are allowed in many restaurants and how they are served water even before their owners are given the menus.
We do not have a dog but I know people who do, and their experiences are quite interesting. For instance, someone once told me about the time that she and her husband went into a restaurant with their dog and a couple of friends who had a beautiful baby girl. They were received by a friendly waiter who immediately said “Oh my goodness, she is so cute!” Nothing weird, surprising or awkward about that….until she noticed he was referring to the dog and not to the baby!
I have also heard stories of people saying how much easier it was for them to make friends after getting a dog. Neighbors who had never talked to them in the past were suddenly sociable; owners of nearby restaurants would offer water or food to their dog whenever they passed close by; they even gave their dog “goodbye presents” when they left the city. No wonder Budapest is (or at least was until some years ago) the European city with the most dogs per capita.
Besides their dog-friendliness, Hungarians are also child friendly – and this I do know firsthand. I did not have children when we arrived. Still, I had always heard people commenting on how nice people are to children. Now that I am a mom myself, I have to agree with them. I do have to say that sometimes people can be overly friendly (and give unsolicited advice…that I cannot even understand most of the time) but you can tell they are well- intentioned.
Strangers always smile or talk to my 18-month-old daughter, they wave back at her whenever she calls “Bye!” (and she calls in English and not in Spanish or Italian like one would expect her to) and they share their own kids´ snacks with her (she is little scrounger) when she stands “next in line” whenever she sees any other kid getting food. All parents here let other children play with their kids´ toys when we are in the park. The sandpit is always full of toys whose owner just leaves them there until it’s time to go home, and everybody can use all of them. The only unwritten rule is that you don’t break them or take them away. It’s the same with trottinettes or doll strollers. Anyone can play with them as long as they give them back before leaving (or when the rightful owner leaves the park). It is as if there is a silent pact where everybody takes care of everybody´s children and their toys.
Once, when walking home from a friend´s house, a homeless man stopped me to fix my daughter’s blanket that was not straight and was falling from one side of the stroller. No, he didn´t just stop to tell me about the blanket or to point it out to me and make me notice it was not properly in place, he stopped me to fix it himself. He straightened it, put it under her legs, and then moved to one side with a big smile to let me continue my way. I don´t know how is it in your home countries but this is not an everyday thing for me!
Another day, when I was buying a cake in one of the many pastry shops in Budapest, Giulia, who at the time was barely eating solids, got an ice cream cone (just the cone) as a present from the shop owner. It was a much unexpected and sweet gesture from the man who looked genuinely happy when he saw her big toothless smile.
In addition to peoples friendliness towards children, Budapest has plenty of activities for little ones, either organized by local organizations (like the MUPA-Palace of Arts) or by moms (both local and expat). I don´t know if this is something I notice because I am a stay-at-home mom now, always looking for things to do, or if there are these kind of activities everywhere. In any case, I find these activities and baby/toddler/mom groups great and a useful source of knowledge, support and, why not, friendships, all of them essential when you are an expat trying to find your way in a new place!
So now you know, if you want to make friends easily in Budapest, get a dog or have a baby (or take your nieces and/or nephews to the park or to kids´ playgroups)! And if you want more information in any of the things I have mentioned, please do not hesitate to contact me.