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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How Many Forints Is That?

Some years back, I had the opportunity to go on a trip to Europe with my sister Liz and my friends Marie and Julie, who is Marie's sister-in-law. The primary purpose of this trip was to go to a little village in Hungary and find my family, which we did. This story, however, is about some other things that happened before then.

I guess I am a strange sort of traveler. Many years ago, before I went on my first trip to New York City, I went to a bookstore and purchased a couple of books that had all sorts of information about things to see and places to go in The Big Apple. I am not the sort of traveler who has an itinerary for each day, "Monday we will go to Macy's, Tuesday we will go to Tiffany." I really don't like the feeling of being forced to do something on a specific day. What if I wake up on Tuesday and feel like going to Central Park instead? But I do like to know something about where I am going so that I can enjoy myself to the fullest. It is because of this that I found my way to The Hard Rock Cafe in NYC, and my friend and I absolutely loved it. But I digress.

Before I left for Europe, I did a lot of reading about Hungary, especially Budapest, because we were going to be spending several days there. (I also read a lot about Paris, the other main destination of our trip.) Something that is amazing about this trip is that it was the first time I had ever been outside the continental U.S. No, I had never even visited our neighbor to the north, Canada, or our neighbor to the south, Mexico. I was excited and nervous but I wanted to make sure I understood the important things. To me, one of those was how much the money was worth in comparison to American dollars. (Also, the first phrase I made sure to learn in both Hungarian and French was asking where the bathroom was!) 

So I kept my eye on the exchange rate for Hungarian forints and told my traveling companions this important fact: at the time we were traveling there, one thousand Hungarian forints were equal to about six U.S. dollars. Simple, right? Julie and I took to it like ducks to water, and had no trouble mentally converting forints to dollars. It was the accountant, Marie, and the banker, Liz, who struggled. We'd be in a quaint little shop looking at beautiful Hungarian embroidery. Liz might look at the price sticker, let's say 2500 forints, and say, "2500 dollars!" Marie would look at the same price sticker and say something like, "Okay, this is 2500 forints and 1000 forints is six dollars, so," at which point Julie or I would impatiently say, "It's fifteen dollars!" It ended up being one of the big jokes of the trip, with Liz often exclaiming something like, "Are you kidding me? One hundred dollars for a loaf of bread!?"

These moments are among the treasures we gained on our trip. Memories are precious, and also can be great fun. I have had many hilarious times telling Marie's family that the one who is supposed to be good with numbers was thoroughly flummoxed by the mighty forint. And when either Liz or Marie seems to be falling into a pit of confusion while trying to figure something out, this natural-born smart-aleck will jump in and say, "How many forints is that?"

p.s. I will, of course, write more stories for you about other things from our travels. In the words of Hannibal Lecter, "All good things to those who wait."