Today is : Monday,25th May 2020

Playing dumb

On what to understand when Hungarians seem not to understand...

Written by Scott Savoie


A favorite sport in Hungary is pretending not to understand. This was an art that was undoubtedly perfected under the Russians, hence the reason that so few of normally polyglot Magyars refused to learn much of the Russian language.

Budapest taxi drivers in particular love to play dumb. It is very profitable and undoubtedly amusing for them. „Ohhhh, you meant Ferihegy Airpoirt? I was wondering why you wanted to go to Óbuda (or Dunakészi)...”

You have to be fairly specific with Hungarian taxi drivers or you could wind up taking a very scenic route.

Hungarian shopkeepers often kind of pretend not to see you waiting if they’re in the middle of doing something important (like inventory). I always try to pick up a few of whatever they are counting just to mess up the count. Then, I put the items back.

Another way that Hungarian shopkeepers might play buta is to pretend that they don’t understand what you want. You’ll ask for something, then they will point to the item next to it. Then you ask them to move their index finger to the right at which time they move two items to the right. You ask him to move left, then he moves back two items.

It’s like an Abbott and Costello routine, and I’ve seen it played out too many times for it to be a coincidence.

Sometimes humor just does not translate.

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