I’ve been in Budapest for two days now and I fancy a sausage. As luck would have it, I’m standing outside a shop on Szent Istvan Kerut that looks suspiciously as though it may contain sausages. I wander inside and intrepidly make my way through the shop. Aisles of tinned food, bottles of potent spirits, fresh tomatoes, peppers and cheeses try to put me off the meaty scent, but they are doomed to failure. Nothing can stand between this man and his sausage.
I reach the back of the shop and I am delighted. For in front of my sparkling eyes lies some kind of sausage Babylon. Rows and rows of delicious, processed, animal meat hang, delectable, delightful and practically screaming out to be devoured. “Come eat us!” they plead. “You are our destiny!” they somewhat creepily chant. But the path to my sausage destiny is not as simple as you may be currently imagining. Oh no! For I must first get past the sausage guardian who stands before me, behind a meat counter, guarding her meaty treasures. I am not fooled by her appearance. She may resemble a sweet, if slightly hairy, little Hungarian lady, but I know she is carved from granite with an unbreakable, iron will to protect these sausages from the unworthy. She has sworn an oath to these slender tubes of meat, and around here that means something.
Cautiously I take my position in a three person queue. Another elderly Hungarian lady comes and stands to my right and this throws me. Who is this brazen harlot, this free spirit, this renegade who doesn’t abide by the law of the queue. Stand behind, not to the side! With my British upbringing, naturally, I am falling apart inside. While this battle is enraging, the leader of the sausage queue claims her meat and moves aside and the queue moves forward. Surely this challenger to my rightful throne will now hold back a step so that order can be assumed? But no! What is this treachery!? She moves forward with me, in unison! We are side, by side! My mind is racing. Beads of sweat are forcing their way through the pores in my forehead. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, that the next three minutes were some of the most stressful of my lifetime as this mental and physical battle took place. But, with a series of throat clearings, a subtle use of elbows and an ability to spread myself to three times my usual width, I eventually thwarted the challenger, despite her aggressive use of walking stick.
And now I’m at the counter, just me and the sausage guardian, face to face. But, then it hits me. I haven’t chosen my sausage poison! I had been so engrossed in fighting off my queue challenger that I hadn’t prepared myself mentally for my next challenge!
“Szia”, bellows the guardian menacingly.
“Uh, szia”, I skilfully retort.
“Kekndflsecnejnflzefmwmdzzwsnz?” apparently asks the guardian.
And in the heat of battle I panic. All of those Hungarian classes that I have been taking to prepare me for this epic moment are wasted. I can barely remember English. My queue challenger shuffles behind me, with menace. In that moment all I can do is grunt and point at one particular sausage adorning the wall. The sausage guardian looks at me and seems confused.
“Horz!”, she says.
I have no idea what that means. I mentally travel back to my Hungarian class in London, racking my brain. No, ‘horz’ is a new word for me. I nod defiantly.
“Horz?” she says again, although this time adding a question mark.
The sausage guardian is apparently perplexed by my choice of sausage. Is this a trick? I need to be assertive and demonstrate that I am worthy of this treasure. I need to display my balls of steel (not literally). I compose myself.
“Igen, köszönöm szepen”, I reply, suddenly delighted with my use of the native tongue.
The guardian, clearly impressed by my linguistical magnificence, but trying to play it cool, shrugs, grabs the sausage from it’s hook, wraps it in paper and hands it to me. I return the kind gesture by crossing the guardians palm with forint, turn and triumphantly leave. I have won. I am the penitent man! I have passed the test. I have seen off my challenger. I will now return home to my basecamp, present my heavily pregnant wife with the fruits of my victory and we will enjoy sausage!
Thirty minutes later.
“Honey. Why have you bought a horse sausage?”
We order a pizza.