Living Life Like a Local in Hungary

Living life like a local means having your favorite pizza shop or sandwich shop or place to get good Asian food; it’s knowing where you can find a clean bathroom in Budapest. Living life like a local is being able to tell tourists where they can find the Metro stop to the Szechenyi Thermal Baths or how to find a great wine shop.

KEFO is the college where Diane Dobry taught. Kecskeméti Főiskola.

KEFO is the college where Diane Dobry taught in Kecskeméti Főiskola © Diane Dobry

It is having a favorite hair stylist who knows exactly how you like your hair cut, even though she speaks no English and your Hungarian language skills are sketchy. As a local, you find out that massages can be very affordable, and often, tips are refused. Most of all, living like a local is having friends you can call, meet for dinner, stay with, or who you can count on to help you find a good doctor when you need one.

One of my greatest joys is knowing that I know my way around Budapest with the same familiarity that I walk around New York City, where I worked for almost two decades and lived for a number of years. Of course it was not that way in the beginning—in late December 2003 when I went for New Year’s Eve and a stay with a friend from New York who had returned to his home north of Budapest. He invited me to meet his family in Mohács, a town close to Croatia famous for its February festival Busójárás that celebrates the coming of the end of winter. I returned the following summer to conduct a six-week doctoral field study of his family’s television viewing preferences and it was then, when left on my own while my friend went to work, that, with laminated street map in hand, I rode the trains and Metro, explored Budapest, attempted my meager language skills, learned about their Hungarian “kitchen” (cuisine), their customs, and the differences between their world and the one I had grown up in. As I fell into a routine of walking to the Danube daily, watching new homes being built, finding out where the fagyi (ice cream) shops and bakeries were, how to get a bus to the city, and became familiar with the musical tone that signaled the train was about to arrive, that I began to feel so at home that I found returning every year after that was like a homecoming.

Fragola ice cream is in Budapest.  It has really interesting flavors, including some made with sweet wine called Aszu.
Fragola Ice Cream © Diane Dobry|
Fragola ice cream is in Budapest. It has really interesting flavors,
including some made with sweet wine called Aszu. 

Eventually, when the 2008-2009 economy forced me to be on unemployment searching for work, my Hungarian friends opened doors for me to teach there as a native speaker of English. This time I would not be staying in a friend’s home, where there was a safety net of a family that could drive me places or take care of me when things were confusing. I would have my own brand-new apartment—a refurbished building in an abandoned Soviet military base, a cell phone, a pass for public transportation, and live more than an hour south of Budapest in a city where I knew no one. Until I did. My new boss invited me to her daughter’s wedding, took me to the St. Stephen’s Day fireworks in the city center, and set me up to be as independent as possible.

When I broke my arm after being there only a week, she sat with me in the hospital and took me to doctors’ appointments. My other colleagues, virtual strangers at the time, were also warm and friendly, visiting me and driving me to shops, or bringing me gifts of chocolate or Advil, though we had only just met.

Saloon was Diane's favorite pizza shop.
Saloon Pizza © Diane Dobry|
Saloon was Diane's favorite pizza shop.

Their world became mine because of their kindnesses. My physical therapist recommended what became my favorite pizza place—with pies that were topped with garlic, sour cream and hot sauce. A weekend trip to the mall led me to the talented young hair stylist who gave me a stylish European look. A co-worker whose side gig was massage, gave hour-long massages for $20 every week and would not accept a tip, even with an extra half hour added for work on a painful neck or shoulder. Friends introduced me to new friends. By tutoring English I found even more. They made me feel comfortable enough to find my way. Since then I’ve returned for their weddings, babysat their children, sat for their dogs, and hosted them in the US. As soon as the world heals, I can’t wait to return—to my second home, my other family.


Diane Dobry, Freelance writer

Dr Diane Dobry avatarDr. Diane Dobry has been writing profusely since childhood as a diarist, a newsletter editor, blogger, essayist, doctoral student and presenter, among other things. She is focusing, these days, on covering both domestic and European travel, food culture and wines. Having explored the Hungarian wine industry as an importer for three years, she is knowledgeable about their wine regions and varietals and the history of Hungary as a wine-producing country. Dr. Dobry and a Hungarian colleague team-taught an online international course about marketing and importing wines from Hungary, and she subsequently led an agricultural/viticultural tour to Hungary.

Her transition from education administrator to the faculty side of higher education led to Dobry teaching writing, public relations and marketing at the college level full time. She also taught English language and conversation as well as American Studies in Hungary for a year.

Recently, she served as a stringer for The Citrus County Chronicle in Florida, profiling volunteers, veterans, and agricultural business men and woman and writing about local travel. As a result, she was invited to serve as the primary writer on the Chamber of Commerce Directory of Businesses in the county.

Her social media, Getting Hungary, on Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram, focuses on the culture, food, drink, traditions, and travel opportunities in Hungary, in and outside of Budapest. Her Tumblr blog Diane’s Discoveries covers her domestic travel, now mainly focusing on her explorations of Central Florida, train travel, and towns along the east coast. Find more of her work at Getting Hungary and Getting Hungary on Tumbler.

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