Hungarians couldn’t care less if you witness their relationship with their body. Coming from Finland – a country where (unless alcohol is involved) you often can’t tell who belongs together other than by the glare of the woman if you happen to talk to her partner – the contrast couldn’t be stronger. Here, the evidence is pretty clear and – literally – in your face. Couples have no qualms about PDAs, especially when a third person steps closer (random stranger, mutual acquaintance, doesn’t really matter). The human body was created to be with another human body. Hungarians model this attitude every day, not just on the streets but also in various establishments.
It’s an open secret that if you want cheap thrills, Budapest is the place to be. Especially for the guys. Budapest knows this, and – in the spirit of true Hungarian hospitality – will go out of its way to accommodate you. Walk down Váci u. and you’re guaranteed to run into at least one guy with a sandwich board advertising for a variety of strip clubs – all within a few feet – shouting the names of various parts of the female anatomy into the crowd, and not just in one language.
They know what sells here. They know what attracted a certain demographic to this part of the world, and they’re not shy about making this public. Despite a hermetic mentality, Western goods still sell better than anything local. A Hungarian drugstore chain, Azur, either went bankrupt or was sold out (haven’t completed the research on that yet, nor have I started it to be honest). For a country that prides itself on “ours” there sure are a lot of foreign brands here. In fact, nearly all grocery chains are German, and the drugstores most certainly are.
Back when I first lived here, and already before, I was safe in the knowledge that in terms of medical services and beauty products Hungary was leading the world market. Of course these are all private, the ones I’m talking about. I’m not too keen on putting this theory to the test, but the doctors I did encounter here were more likely to go down a natural route than prescribe pills as in other places. I’m not saying this is perfect, and we all know the system here has its faults (many faults to be precise), but when it works, it works. Personally, I’d rather be referred to a physiotherapist than be pumped full of pills, but your mileage may vary. The thousands of health tourists coming here would agree as well. Hungary knows this and caters to it.
But it has not yet learned its lesson. Hungarian health services, providing you go private, are excellent (and the reason I’m stressing that is because my old dentist here managed to save a tooth my dentist in Finland insisted had to be extracted), but like with non-Hungarian food, it works best when they stick to their own (remember, this is the country that puts ketchup on pizza, or in a pasta bake. And while I picked up the ketchup-on-pizza habit here, I’d never do it on authentic Italian pizza).
Rushing to meet some friends today, I spied this little gem pictured above. Which perfectly exemplifies the Hungarian way. Wanting to be like its hipper, cooler neighbors, yet not quite getting the message. Everyone knows the devil’s number, or at least the widely accepted version of it. The pitch is obvious, this is naughty. Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink. Not to mention the colors. The neighborhood very respectable, very downtown. The ploy is blatantly obvious. A closer look reveals something slightly more subdued, less danger than advice, an ancient Far Eastern practice.
But the inversion of the triple number for “life” – with corresponding color scheme – is still more enticing than a plain old sign telling you that here’s where you can recharge your batteries, albeit for a high(ish) price and a little while.