A Brazilian in Bp

Paulo Rebêlo
The Budapest Sun – 31/08/06 – [link original]

WHEN I first decided to move to Budapest, I made up my mind that I wouldn’t try to discover anything about life in Hungary and wouldn’t use the Internet to make friendly contacts before arriving.

The impression the average Latin America citizen has of Hungary is limited to its famous city Budapest where people breathe history, culture and beauty – and that was enough for me. By chance, someone also told me how most Hungarians seem to like the Brazilian culture.

It has been only a week since my arrival and it was rather easy to figure out that, differently from most western European countries, Hungary has many more similarities with Brazil than the average Hungarian would think. However, the first resemblance as a first-time visitor wasn’t exactly a cultural one. It truly freaks me out how the Tourism Office of Budapest puts emphasis on how foreigners should protect themselves against pickpockets and burglars on the streets, including at public transportation spots.

Although the orange-colored informative called Well-informed in Budapest states that the Hungarian capital does not belong in the same bad category of many other European cities, in terms of public safety, at each topic it seems to repeat over and over how cautious you should be.

After reading it a couple of times, I went looking for bigger tourist-oriented informatives and noticed that same emphasis that, usually, the western and Latin American tourist doesn’t expect to find when visiting one of Europe’s most famous cities.

The first thought that came to mind was, “Wow, am I in Rio de Janeiro?” After all, it is no news that, despite all of its natural beauty, Brazil is one of the most dangerous countries for the average tourist who doesn’t keep an eye on his wallet and pockets.

For anyone who comes from abroad, it’s nonsense how a city that breathes culture, history and beauty must keep warning visitors about issues that, perhaps, could be simply solved. One could say that Budapest’s officials are just being honest when stating things like, “some precautions are warranted if you’re traveling on a crowded vehicle, as these are often frequented by pickpockets […] have your bags and purses zipped all the time […] we suggest you have only a small amount (of money) on you, only as much as you deem necessary to be able to spend the day comfortably.”

Yes, indeed, it is quite honest. But one could also ask how on earth a visitor would know how much he deems necessary to spend a day in Budapest, especially when the Hungarian forint is so undervalued when compared to the Euro.

Also, if there are so many pickpockets at train stations (which seem to be always crowded in the summer after all), how safe would you feel to stop and ask someone for directions, as I have so many times in the last few days? After reading this stuff, and always being in a crowded trains or buses, those words keep bumping in my head and when I look up to see who has just stumbled on me (one more time), I can’t help thinking: was he trying to get my wallet? But people are always stumbling into one another on trains! Does that make them all potential pickpockets? I guess not.

I still have no familiarity with Budapest at all, am still getting lost on the streets and stations and one thing that keeps buzzing in my head is a suggestion from the very few Hungarians I’ve met so far: whatever you do, don’t get a taxi by yourself, especially at the airport, because you will probably be overcharged when they notice you have no idea where you are.

Well, I am a Brazilian and, as I said before, Budapest is already feeling like home. And I’m just loving that. So far.