The Story of Mary in Two Parts
Okay, Mary is not her real name and since we are in Hungary, her chances of a lawsuit are slim to none, but I am trying to be a nice guy and not embarrass anyone, even if she was a pain in the a**.
I have tried to make this a creative story, a mystery story, or a children’s story with a moral, but it just will not come to fruition. Here is the long and short of it, but knowing me it will be the long of it.
Mary was a stranger to us. She was the friend of a friend of ours who is on this list, but shall remain nameless. This mutual friend had shared my travel writings along our trip with Mary and she became fascinated. She was at an age when she was ready to retire from education; she has six different credentials some including Special Ed, Administration, and Counseling. Mary thought it would be interesting to spend a year living here in Budapest and started to e-mail me about the possibilities. With this touch of interest and my enthusiasm for living here, I was more than happy to supply her with details of our daily living, web sites to investigate, and other avenues to explore for more information. Some of the web sites were for The Budapest Sun: an English newspaper and the Ex-Pat Relocation Center that assists with Work Permits and Residency Permits. She was good about following up with all of them and sent comments that assured me of her having investigated each lead provided.
All was going well with our exchange and I had offered Mary a place to stay for one to two weeks while she orients and settles once she arrived. Shortly into our, what turned into months of communication, she sent me a note that she had found someone else who lived in Budapest and was communicating with him also. She gave me the site of the bulletin board to see their exchange. When I went to read these, she had posted that “friends of mine have offered to allow me to stay as long with them as I wanted, until I find a place of my own.” I immediately, wrote her and reiterated that I had indeed said one to two weeks. She never responded to this correction.
The next experience that I thought was unusual was that in spite of all of my notes about our difficulty with getting Work and Residency permits and all that it entailed, she contacted the Hungarian Consulate in L.A. and decided to start the paperwork. This could never be completed properly since she did not have any of the papers she would have needed from here to complete the application, like a job offer, her letter from the employment office stating no Hungarians were qualified first, etc. When she complained that she wasted the $50.00 fee, I could not sympathize since I had warned her against it multiple times.
I have to admit that I was significant in sending her motivational sayings to move in some direction or another when she was faltering about when she would arrive. However, I explained factually, that if she arrived prior to our starting to teach, we would have more time to assist getting her oriented and out on her own. Also, we had our friends, Rochelle and Karl coming October 14th and would need the double bed that was to be hers in the meanwhile. She agreed with this logic and arranged to arrive on Friday, September 13th. This should have been an omen.
Prior to her leaving California, I had asked Mary to please bring us a jar of anything from Trader Joe’s (a specialty grocery store) that had artichokes in it. We cannot get artichokes here and miss TJ’s tremendously for many reasons. She agreed to do this after asking me twenty questions, which at first I thought was a sign of her being thorough. A few e-mails later, she mentioned that she did not want to drag a jar around with her since she was first visiting friends in New Jersey, so would get the item there. I wrote back that TJ’s is a West coast chain and if it were available in NJ, I would have bought it myself on our last trip there. She agreed to get something for us. Though emotion can be misconstrued easily in e-mails, there seemed to be resistance there.
When we were in the States, I sent Mary a flyer with the information on the airport shuttle that would take her directly to our door. I included 200 HUF for a tip for the driver since I guessed she would not have changed money at the airport. She had e-mailed that if she did not get it, she was sure that the driver would be thrilled to get a U.S. dollar. This really upset me since we had written about Hungarian pride, I had sent her sites about the Hungarians and their nationalism, and then to have the ethnocentric thinking that the Almighty U.S. dollar was so ingratiating that all would love to have one, really set me off. Aside for the above, exchanging one dollar for HUF would not be possible and therefore a waste for both giver and recipient. I then realized I had my hands full with cultural training and perhaps I had bit off more than I was willing to chew, but the forces were in motion.
Mary was a self admitted clothes and shoe collector and had a difficult time paring down her wardrobe to two suitcases. Our mutual friend was thrilled since she inherited Mary’s left behinds. Again, I sent her a multitude of suggestions of what she would need for starting out her in the months ahead, what she would need to buy and the expense of the clothes, though the quality was poor.
The day of arrival came and I greeted her at the downstairs door. On her bedroom door in the apartment, I had a sign welcoming her to Budapest and stating this would be her room. This sign was significant, so remember it existed. Ron had bought a lovely flower for her room and we bought a very nice woven basket for her to keep her toiletries in. We do not have shelves in the bathroom for our things and keep our own in baskets. In the basket were guides and brochures to the city, copies of the Budapest Sun, and other little things. We also bought a plastic container for other things that she may not have. I also bought a little notebook and named it “Mary’s Survival Guide to Budapest”. In it I had labels with what trams were closest to the apartment and how to come back from that stop. I did the same for the subway and various other things that were close to the apartment. It included our address, our home number as well as our mobile phone numbers. It was sufficient for her to explore on her own without fears of getting lost and not finding her way back. She was duly impressed and grateful.
She decided to stay up, though she had traveled all night and had had a full day in NYC with her friend prior to leaving the States. We took her to a vegetarian restaurant for dinner and she was amazed that we could have a dinner for $2.25 each. We did a brief walk around and then came home to go to bed.
The next morning, Mary was as comfortable sitting around in her bathrobe as we were which added a tone of familiarity for all of us. If I am not going out, I have a tendency to work in my bathrobe for an extended period of time so as not to interrupt my momentum. At breakfast the first morning, Mary announces that she only drinks decaf coffee, which we never have in the house and we only have one coffee pot. Then she continues to say that she is prone to panic attacks and hates to read books, though not in the same sentence. Having someone in the house who hates to read books was enough to put me into a panic attack. How could anyone with any type of degree in education hate to read, yet one with six different credentials? I audibly ‘yelped’ at that comment, though being the licensed therapist, the panic attacks just rolled off my back.
The idea for Saturday was to help her get a monthly transportation pass and orient her to the neighborhood. These are the grocery stores and this is how you shop in them, this is the bank with the ATM machine, this is the Red line Metro, this is the tram, and so on. However, after a couple of hours, she was exhausted and we had to return home with most of it incomplete. This was understandable considering jet lag. Sunday turned out to be much of the same, with her needing to rest more than she needed to be oriented. Monday turned into a clone of the weekend days.
The other thing was that Mary was hungry every few hours. It was not like she was snacking, but EATING. Both of us eat a lot less here than we used to in CA, but Mary was putting away more than both of us combined. When we would normally have enough leftovers for another full meal for both of us, after her arrival, there was nothing left over at all. At first, we thought it may be a stress reaction, but it continued for the time she was here. She is a big woman, towering around 5’11”, though not fat.
By Tuesday of that week we both started teaching school and thought she would wander the neighborhood on her own and explore. It did not happen. She clung to us like feather on a goose. This was surprising since she had been to Europe for lengthy periods on her own and was used to traveling independently.
By the end of the first week, the lack of having a moment’s privacy was starting to wear on both of our nerves and Ron and I started to get snappy with each other. I soon realized that Mary was not one to clean up after herself in the kitchen and Ron started following her example. This put me into ballistic mode. There is nothing that makes me crazier than an mess in the kitchen. I really had to put my foot down with this and Mary called me compulsive. Regardless, I was not cleaning up after three people. I also had to keep putting all of her things that she left hanging around on her bed, hoping she would get the idea that I do not like clutter or a mess hanging around. It took her awhile.
Every time we went out, she calculated how much we spent. Her wallet was safely tucked into her shoulder bag. It did not see the light of day except for when she bought her transportation pass. The first week, we bought all of the groceries and she never offered to chip in at all. Since she was a stranger and eating enough to keep an army alive, it was getting expensive. When we went shopping, she wanted to join us and added things to the basket that she recognized. It would seem that she would have offered to pay for those items, but she did not. We had mentioned in conversation that we will not get our salary from the universities until we have our final Visas and that may take months. This did not seem to sink in.
During week two, when she followed us to the grocery store, she finally paid for a day’s groceries. We have to shop daily since our refrigerator is small and the freezer is almost non-existent. Groceries for a day runs around $5.00 to 7.00 depending on other staples needed. During her time with us, she footed the bill for groceries five times. She paid for dinner out twice, but we took her to our favorite cheap restaurants since that is where we normally eat anyway. Once she complained that dinner for the three of us was about $14.00 and she thought that was too expensive. She is the one that ordered the extra side dishes though.
All during this time, Mary was talking about meeting her cousin in Germany and another friend in Turkey. She stated that since she was planning to travel in the near future (eons away for us), there was no sense in getting her own apartment right away. Whoa!!! What does this mean? Let’s reconnoiter here. You are not going to Germany until the end of October and Turkey possibly after that and you think you will have a room available and waiting for you all of this time? Then and only then you will start looking for an apartment? This is when I started having panic attacks. There was no questioning as to whether or not this plan was acceptable to us or not, it was assumed that it would be. I gently, yes, I had control and gently reminded her that we had company coming in October, therefore if she were to stay she was being moved to the single bed. That was fine with her. THEN she started talking about her daughter coming to visit her and staying with her in her room, HERE! This almost sent me to the doctor to be medicated. Of course, Ron never shared any of his feelings openly and continued to be the host with the most, so she felt assured that she was welcomed to make our home her own. The final straw was when we came home one day and found her original “Welcome” sign that I had on the door, flipped over and she had written “Advanced to Roomate”. Yes, I know roommate has two m’s, but I am relating this as it was written. Ah, pardon me, but roommates SHARE expenses equally.
By this point, Ron and I were having to go out for coffee just to have fifteen minutes alone together. When we were home, she was with us every minute unless we sequestered ourselves in the bedroom, but we felt rude doing that. She spend every minute I was not here on the computer and much of the time when I was here and would allow her on. I found out later that she was printing crossword puzzles from the Sacramento Bee and other sources. At one point, I found our business stationery in the printer and she was printing on the back of it. When I told her about it, she blamed it on Ron and denied doing it. Ron certainly knows the expense of it and does not use it for general reasons. I also told her that printer cartridges were $16.00 a piece for black ink and that the crosswords were using a lot of ink. Though she said she would replace a cartridge and stop printing them out, neither happened.
Finally, I shoved her out the door and forced her to get out of the apartment on her own. She attended a meeting of the International Women’s Association and started to meet some other women. Our friend Shuli, who is looking for another apartment, took Mary with her one day when she was with the realtor. Mary’s comments were about the expense, but not about the possibility of moving out. Shuli called me later to say that Mary bought cigarettes and then forgot them on the counter where she bought them. The clerk came running after her to give them to her. Also, she forgot her bag at the coffee house and they had to go back for it.
The home phone is billed by the minute and it is expensive. Everyone uses a mobile phone since they are much cheaper to use and no on gives out their home phone number if they can help it. This knowledge did not keep her from using the phone to make her calls to her newfound friends or any other person she could think of calling. Our friend Attila brought her to get a mobile phone, which is a necessity here, after much prompting from me. She did not know if she wanted the expense of a mobile phone. Since she is not a resident and does not have a business, she could not get a subscription service anyway. She could buy a phone for $40.00 and then buy cards with pre-paid minutes on them. This was a cheaper option and would save us money on our phone bill.
Mary made good use of her phone. One day she called me to say she was in the subway and did not know whether to take the train on the left or right side of the platform. I reminded her that the stops were listed in big letters on the wall and she just needed to look at the arrows pointing to our stop. She claims to like maps and be good at reading them, but she was continually disoriented or confused as to where she was. I contributed it to culture shock at first.
Ron and I bought subscription seats to the English language theater. Tickets for the season were $36.00 each for six plays and one bonus play. At the end of September, it was Mary’s birthday. We bought her a ticket for the play that we were scheduled for the night of her birthday. She invited a newfound friend, a young woman from my writers group to come along. After the play, we stayed at the theater and had dinner at the restaurant there. Since it was Mary’s birthday, we treated for dinner. With Kristen there, we naturally treated her also. Mary announced that she wanted to take the three of us for dinner as her birthday present to us. Ron had found a review of a restaurant that he had wanted to try, so we all agreed on Sunday for brunch.
That Sunday, Ron and Mary went to the cathedral for mass and the music. I met them at the restaurant later as did Kristen. Each entree on the menu was in the range of $2.50 to $3.50, but Mary kept commenting about how expensive everything was priced. I was ready to offer to pay for ourselves just to shut her up. It was really getting irritating that she complained about expenses so much when she was not doling out her share, but could go on and on about her potential trips to Germany and Turkey.
As October 1st approached, we decided that if she was to be a roommate (with two m’s), then she would be presented with her share of the bills. Ron figured out all of our expenses of rent, utilities, cable, Internet, and house phone and divided it by 3. He gave it to her and said this is what sharing the costs would be. It came to $180.00 a month. He then said that we would collect all grocery receipts and split the cost three ways at the end of each week. Since this was like feeding a growing teen boy, she was getting the lion’s share of that deal. Although she agreed that this was reasonable and even offered to increase the amount by a few bucks, the next day she found a realtor and was apartment hunting. Praise all higher powers regardless of their names.
Prior to leaving home, Mary had taken interior design classes at the community college. Thinking there was light at the end of the tunnel with her apartment hunting; she analyzed the furnishings of each apartment and nixed it. My mantra was, “You are only planning on a year here, why do you care?” Well she could not possibly live anywhere that did not have design potential after staying in our apartment. The light at the end of the tunnel was getting dimmer and dimmer by the day.
We were to leave on October 4th for Veszprém, in another part of Hungary. We were both presenting at an IATEFL conference (International Association for Teachers of English as a Foreign Language). Days before, Mary announced she found an apartment and would be signing the lease the day we were leaving town. The choir of angels singing the Alleluia chorus was audible to all and not just in my head. There still was no sight of any money to assist in feeding her, the phone bill, the ink cartridge, etc., but there was an end in sight. Funny, but her apartment costs around $450.00 a month, but that did not seem to be an issue. She planned on staying in our apartment until Monday and then moving to her own when we returned. To be continued…