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From the USA to Budapest: Travels With Myself

25 March, 2019 09:18  Erin Erin

Travels With Myself  Gary Budapest“Call me Ishmael.”

I always wanted to say that. OK, my name is Gary Lukatch. During my first life of 56 years in the USA, I lived in eight states, from Wisconsin to California, from Georgia to Nevada. So when people ask me where I’m from, I don’t know what to tell them; I suppose I’m really from anywhere and everywhere.

Anyway, I lived the life people of my generation were taught we were supposed to live: university, white-collar job, marriage, children, nice house, two-car garage, chicken in every pot, etc, etc, etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseum. And it was a good life overall. Like Jimmy Buffet says, “Some of it’s magic and some of it’s tragic, but I had a good life all the way.” But too often it seemed there was something missing. I found out what was missing was Budapest, Hungary, where I’ve lived since 1999.

1.    Why did you move abroad?  
As an avid reader all my life, I always wanted to visit the places in the world that I read about.  I wanted to ride a camel up to the pyramids, watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, see the Taj Mahal at sunrise. The itch was always there.

Plus, I watched my country during the 1990s gather speed toward becoming a place where I didn’t want to live any longer. The writing on the wall seemed obvious to me (and BOY, have those prophecies come true!).

Anyway, if you want to find out how I finally made my decision to move abroad, check out my book on, “To Ur with Love.” It will tell you all you need to know about my life-changing experience(s), plus I hope it’s also a humorous look at The Middle-Aged American Expat in Hungary. My nearly 20 years in Budapest, Hungary, has been an amazing experience and I wouldn’t change it for anything.  

And by the way, what I mentioned earlier in this comment about the pyramids, guards and Taj Mahal? I did them all!

2.    How do you make a living (working? Tell us about your experience)?
When I first arrived I taught English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). I specialized in Business English, as I was in the financial industry in my first life. Teaching English to Hungarian businesspeople was more lucrative than teaching English to just anyone, and I got paid more for settling into my niche.

I taught full-time (see below) for about seven years, then semi-retired until my pensions kicked in. Again, if you want to know about teaching English in a foreign country, see my book on, as noted in No. 1 above.

3.    How often do you communicate with home and how?
Thank goodness for the high-tech world of Facebook, email and Skype, which really hit its stride just as I moved overseas.  Budapest is my home now, but I still stay in touch with my family and friends in the states and throughout the world on an ongoing basis through internet media. There’s no set time to email or call, just whenever we have news or the spirit moves us to get in touch.

Also, of course, there have been visits – both ways! – which we all need every few years, just to get a real hug from people we care about. My blog also lets everyone know where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to in my travels.

4.    What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Hungary?
It’s a close race, but I’d guess my Number One favorite thing about being here is the less-expensive, but more-enjoyable, lifestyle. Since most everything (for me, anyway) is so much cheaper than in the states, I can enjoy a much better and more affordable lifestyle on a much smaller income.

A close second would be the people, locals and expats, who have welcomed me to Budapest and who have remained friends these many years. The food is amazing in Budapest (we now have four Michelin-star restaurants!) and the ease (and subsequent lower cost flights) with which I can travel to foreign countries from Central Europe are also major factors in my staying here. World-class dentistry. One of the most beautiful – and safest! - cities in Europe. Incredible ambiance – difficult to beat sitting on the banks of the Danube on a sunny day, sipping an Aperol Spritz and watching the world go by.

5.    What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Hungary?
I pondered an answer to this question for 10 minutes, skipped over it to the next questions, came back and thought some more and you know what? I can’t really think of a single major negative I’ve encountered through my expat years in Budapest. There will always be minor glitches, but overall, nope, no worst thing.

6.    What do you miss most?
Other than physically visiting with my daughter and her husband and watching the grandkids grow up, the only things I really, truly, honestly, desperately miss are: cold water drinking fountains, Krispy Kreme donuts and corned beef hash. Plus, I can’t get washcloths in Budapest!

7.    What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
Teaching for several language schools introduced me to the British teachers and staff and to the Hungarians associated with the schools. I was immediately welcomed into the local expat society, along with the Hungarians who speak English, and invited to sports events, dinners, dances, concerts, pubs, house parties, etc. I really could not believe how quickly and easily I slipped into the local culture. Everyone I met was so outgoing and friendly and it seemed they were eager to welcome a new arrival into their community. At least, that’s the way it was for me!

8.    What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
Since the Hungarian language is backwards from English, it appears the Hungarians also look at the world and life from a significantly different viewpoint than westerners. For example, Hungarians are never wrong! Ever! If a waiter brings you something you didn’t order, it’s your fault, not his.

Hungarians are very focused on where they are going and if you happen to be in their way they’ll brush you aside as if you didn’t exist. They’re not being intentionally rude, it’s just that they really don’t see you there. Older Hungarians refuse to clink their beer glasses when drinking with a friend due to something that happened in 1848.

9.    What is a myth about your adopted country?
I’d always heard that Hungarians are very grumpy, dour people, never smiling, always negative. Nothing could be further from the truth – with qualifications. The short version is, Hungarians are not comfortable with strangers – and for good reasons, based on their history. They learned not to be trusting and welcoming to people they don’t know, and even after almost 30 years of freedom from Soviet rule, some of the old ways still persist.

BUT – once you get to know the Hungarians, once they know you will be staying, living here, be a member of the neighborhood and local community, you won’t find nicer, sweeter, happier, more welcoming people anywhere.

10.    Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
SO much lower in Hungary than in the US! I now receive two pensions: US social security and a small pension from my last place of employment. I could not live on the combined income from these two pensions in the USA, literally COULD NOT live on them.

In Budapest I live quite well; I am able to go out for dinner and partying several nights a week, travel extensively and pretty much do what I want when I want. Don’t need the major expense of a car, public transportation in Budapest is amazing. My only set expenses here are rent, utilities and food. I rent a small apartment in the center of the city for around $320 per month; utilities vary between summer and winter, but usually average out around $60 US per month. Food is also very inexpensive in the farmers’ markets, so my set monthly outlay averages about $500 US per month, which is less than 25& of my fixed pension income. And the rest is gravy!

NB: Even when I was teaching English as a foreign language “full-time” – which, for me, was 13 classes per week at 90 minutes per class, or around 20 clock hours a week – a half-time job, which is one reason I came to Budapest – I was making about $1,500 US a month; not enough to pay the rent in most large US cities, but plenty to allow me to live a very good lifestyle here in Budapest.

11.    What advice would you give other expats?
Expat life is not for everyone. In fact, most Americans I know could not conceive of leaving the US and living abroad. But for the adventurous-minded, citizen-of-the-world type of person, I would say…..DO IT! Get out there and make your plans and gather up your boring, musty old life and move somewhere fun and exciting and with reasonable expenses that lets you live the life you want.

When I chucked it all in the states and moved to Budapest, I took an initial 80% income cut – but was 1,000% happier. My past 20 years in Budapest have whizzed by with a speed I wouldn’t have imagined previously. And now, looking back over the rim of my 75th birthday, I can honestly say that everything – and I do mean everything – I have ever wanted to do or see in my life I have done and seen. Everything! And it was almost all due to my living the expat life.

Check out my blog and my books on My life as an expat has been the best move I ever made. It has been everything I ever imagined and more. Do it. Take the plunge. If the gods smile on you, you won’t regret it – ever!

Travels With Myself  Gary Budapest12.    When and why did you start your blog?
I used to send out semi-annual Newsletters to friends and family, but when the Internet started gaining popularity and I discovered blogs, I decided anyone who wanted to know what I was up to could just access my periodic postings and find out.

So I replaced my Newsletters with my Blog in 2006 and have been happily blogging away ever since. A few people have somehow found my blog and have written to tell me they enjoyed my travels and we have become, at the very least, correspondents. I’ve even met a few of them when they visited Budapest. A nice extra from my blog.

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