az igazi magyarország

yesterday afternoon found me en route to the mechanic’s, due to a broken bicycle pedal. map in hand, with advice from my ever-helpful colleague imre, i headed out of town on the bike, pedal dangling and flapping against the pavement, in search of szép mihaly (beautiful mike) and his garage. i passed the bus station and entered strip mall land (yes, hungary has strip malls too, thanks to globalization) complete with shell station. this is all good, the perfect place to find a big shiny ‘mike’s autobody and repair shop’. following imre’s excellent directions, i turned and turned again, and put the strip behind me.

suddenly i found myself on residential streets. this can’t be right. quick check with the map, and i’m ok- perhaps the strip continues around the next corner. nope. after the next turn i’m still in suburbia, but now the road is gradually becoming more and more dirt and less and less pavement. there are vineyards. i’m about to check the map again, when i see a sign that was perhaps painted before the russians arrived, reading ‘beautiful mike’s garage’. ok, i’ve found it.

i follow a couple of signs around to a gate, where i push the buzzer, which looks suspiciously like it belongs to someone’s house. through the grape vines in front (everyone in hungary makes their own wine), i see someone shuffling towards me. it is not beautiful mike. it is a middle-aged woman with a wary look. ‘what do you want?’ ‘i’m looking for beautiful mike. my pedal’s broken and my friend told me he could fix it.’ (i am a long way from home.) ‘we’re closed.’ ‘that’s too bad. are you sure you couldn’t do anything to help me out?’ pitiful look and kick to the dangly pedal, which swings with appropriate emotion. ‘let me see. wait here.’

i stand on the sidewalk in front of the still-locked gate, dogs barking at me all along the street, feeling quite conspicuous in my ‘professional’ teacher clothes. the woman comes back. ‘he’s coming, just wait here.’ and she disappears again and i wait some more. there’s some more shuffling and then another woman, much older, complete with brightly colored smock and headscarf and clogs and deep wrinkles in her even warier face. ‘what do you want?’ and we try the whole conversation again and another kick to pedal, with the same result. waiting. at this point i’m thinking about the slight smirk on imre’s face when he told me about this place. hmm…

now, here’s another shuffle, and… it’s beautiful mike himself, bless him, looking exactly like i’d expected him to- like a mechanic. both women followed curiously, the key was slowly turned in the gate, and mike popped the old pedals off and the new ones on within five minutes, without leaving the sidewalk. cost me 50 cents.

this, according to my hungarian flatmate, is how things work in hungary. what did i expect? i suppose i could’ve gone to the shell station, like i would’ve at home, and missed all this. but instead i got a deal, i got to see something no tourist will ever see, and i got a story.

p.s. a note to those who live abroad: learn the language.

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~ by aliciawolcott on November 17, 2006.

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