Picture this: It’s a rainy day in Budapest, Hungary. It is starting to get dark outside, and most people are already back in their homes after a long days’ work. Not everyone though, as you notice a 6’4″ hooded figure walking rather quickly inside a store. As she steps through the doorway, she takes off her hood. Her dark hair makes her look even more intimidating as she gathers what she needs and heads to the cashier. The cashier is probably a normal-sized human being but she looks dwarf-sized next to this giant. To top it all off, the poor lady starts pleasantly greeting her using the Hungarian language but the giant looks down at her with a blank and tired stare. She responds and almost cuts off the cashier’s words abruptly with one word: “English.” The cashier then hesitantly tries to speak English all the while her neck is craned upward at an uncomfortable angle. It turns out she isn’t great at speaking English (I mean, do you blame her? No one speaks this as their primary language in Hungary). They continue this rather sad encounter with the giant visibly getting frustrated as she motions with her arms and hands like a game of charades while trying to ask where the bananas are. After unsuccessfully getting the cashier to understand her — and quite frankly ends up making the cashier downright fearful with her long limbs waving frantically about — the giant gives up, pays for the rest, and leaves the store while putting her dark hood back up.
This is based off of a very true story, a story that has been told several times throughout my time here in Budapest. Yes, you guessed it — I am the giant. Being an American in a foreign country is different and sometimes hard to begin with, but throw in my height and just overall giant basketball presence into the mix and you got yourselves a sight not many have seen before.
You know in America how most people at least try and hide their surprise at seeing something out of the norm? Well here they don’t even bother. Usually in the states I don’t notice when people are looking at me (at least for the most part… there are always some that don’t think I can hear or see anything they do…). But over here? I see the many wide-eyed stares, the dramatic head turns as I walk by, the occasional jaw drop, and of course the “let’s-talk-super-loud-in-our-language-about-how-tall-she-is-cause-this-giant-American-freak-definitely-speaks-English” conversations that occur a mere two feet away. At least this is what I am assuming because I don’t know hardly any Hungarian and probably never will. Oops. Here’s the thing though: I understand that most people actually have good intentions, but honestly it is just pretty darn entertaining to experience all the reactions. And besides, I like to make light of most situations that I am put into. Anyway, I have started to get used to it. This is just the beginning of what I have experienced during my first year playing basketball overseas.
Uber. Uber Eats. Peanut butter. Ranch dressing. Walmart/grocery shopping in general. Reading or understanding anything important. Iced Coffee. These are a few of my favorite things and/or necessities that unfortunately do not exist like they do in America (as far as I know) here in Hungary. I know, I know, sad content shouldn’t be allowed on my blog — but it is time to face the music and come to accept this… however, do not fear everyone I have some good news! Thankfully I have been here long enough now that I found some substitutes and similar options in order to make do without my loves.
Below is a survival kit for anyone who is also obsessed with these particular things and more if you are about to live overseas for a long period of time:
Step 1: Solving the Uber Everything Problem
Normally the very first thing you would do after getting off that cramped 10 hour flight is to open up your Uber app and catch a ride to wherever you need to go. Well, I’m afraid that Uber is not a thing here. I’m not sure about other countries, but here in Budapest we use a taxi service called “Bolt”. It is a green app in which operates just like Uber, only all cars that pick you up have a distinct yellow color — which by the way, I find to be even better than Uber in the states. Maybe it’s time they take a page out of Bolt’s book… (this is where I would @ out Uber on Twitter, just saying). Do this and you are pretty much set to travel anywhere you need to go!
But what about Uber Eats, you ask? Thankfully, there is a similar app (thanks to my Hungarian teammates) that is called NetPincér. This is a red app in the app store, and also operates just like Uber Eats… there are thousands of restaurants to choose from (even more so than Uber Eats honestly), and all get delivered right to your door! This was honestly a life-saver for me, especially for when I didn’t want to go to a place that didn’t speak my language and reading menus was difficult. There is an option on this app to have English (something I didn’t figure out right away…) as the set language so I would suggest also downloading this along with Bolt while you are waiting in the baggage claim area. And the best part? THEY DELIVER STARBUCKS. You’re welcome.
Step 2: Solving the Language Barrier… Well, Sort of.
Speaking of language, I am about to introduce you to your new best friend: Google Translate. Let me say it again: GOOGLE TRANSLATE. Quick, download this app while you’re still in the airport! This will make your life overseas a MUCH easier transition. Obviously this is used for translating between different languages, but my absolute favorite part of Google Translate is its newest feature: the camera. No, I am not a fairy godmother, but all your grocery shopping in a foreign country dreams are about to come true. All you have to do is press the camera button in Google Translate, make sure the local language is set correctly to translate to English on the top of your phone screen, and aim the camera at whatever you need to read. That’s it! There is no need to take any pictures, as it works just like a scan. You will see the translation literally right on the item after a short pause. Now, before you get too excited, let me stop you right there. It isn’t perfect (only God is!). Sometimes it cannot translate properly if the writing is too small or the font is too hard to read. But for the most part it gets the job done. I spent my first couple of weeks here in Hungary without using Google Translate in grocery stores, and trust me, it was like I was living in a nightmare. I couldn’t read anything, I was in stores for about 45 minutes longer than what was necessary, and most of my time was spent playing a guessing game as to what I was about to buy. This was no more evident than the day I accidentally bought two pints of sour cream thinking it was yogurt. Yikes. Lesson learned.
As far as stores and grocery shopping go, there are no Walmarts. In fact, most grocery stores are smaller in size here unless you find a bigger one that is located in a mall. Most of my groceries are not done in big hauls like how I did it in the states, but rather several small trips throughout the week. Conveniently, Budapest is a city of almost 2 million people, and so I never have the problem of finding stores — I swear there is a cute little store on every corner! I also discovered the names of some reliable grocery stores that somewhat resemble Walmarts: Tesco (bigger store)/Tesco Express (smaller convenience store), Spar (this is the smaller version)/Interspar (you guessed it, definitely bigger), and Príma. Also, if you are really missing America, let me quickly introduce you to your other best friend: The British Store. These hidden gems are tucked away throughout different nooks and crannies here in Budapest. They have a ton of American foods and brands, like Quaker Oats (shout-out to Cedar Rapids, Iowa!), Doritos, Reeses, and more. Check out these places when you need to stock up the fridge in your new home for the first time overseas!
Step 3: Adjusting
I’m going to be completely honest here. This is not America. Gone are the golden grocery isles of ranch dressing or Jif peanut butter. Gone are the days of plate-sized good ol’ fashioned American pancakes. And gone are the heavenly iced coffee drinks you cherish on a daily basis. Unless you are given some great advice. Thankfully I have solved most of these problems, but I didn’t do this alone. Thanks to either myself discovering ways on how not to live life here or advice given to me from my WNBA and new overseas teammates that I am now about to pass onto you, I am at your disposal!
Ranch Dressing: Pack some in your checked bag. I’m not kidding, this doesn’t exist here in any shape or form. You won’t regret it.
Jif or other American-Branded Peanut Butter: Best option? Pack this too. Next best option? Go to the stores I suggested and you MIGHT find some substitutes, such as Pamita, Island Sun, or Mother Africa. To be honest Nutella seems to be everywhere. Watch out. Worst option? Ordering two jars of Jif peanut butter for 25 Euros on Amazon only to NOT get them for a whole month, even after having a Hungarian teammate track the package and call the delivery service, who then eventually calls back the said Hungarian teammate, who then has the delivery service FINALLY complete their quest. Was this discovered by experience, you ask? …Maybe…
Pancakes: Pack a box of your favorite mix. Normal American pancakes also do not exist. I make my own here, and if you are on a recent health kick like myself, try making pancake batter with oatmeal (shout-out again to Quaker Oats and Cedar Rapids) and bananas. Next best option? Starbucks sells tiny American pancakes. Worst option? Well, you can’t really go wrong here. Most breakfast places actually do sell pancakes here, it’s just a little different. They are smaller in size, with different flavors, fillings, toppings, and sauces that are not usually maple syrup. But, if you are a pancake connoisseur just as I am you may actually start to enjoy trying different pancakes from around the world!
Driving: To be honest, I have not conquered this yet since I am still without a car (it is coming soon though woohooo!). However, I am suggesting now that you try and learn how to drive a stick shift (or as they call it, a manual) ASAP. Most cars in Europe are not automatic, and if you want to buy a car overseas, keep that in mind. Thankfully before I got here I got a little practice driving one, and I am eager to start trying this for real once mine comes. Speaking of cars, traffic here in Budapest is quite the nightmare. Rush hour is terrible, or should I say rush hours. From about 4pm-7pm the streets are jam-packed with cars, and I have also noticed a lot more accidents here compared to the United States. There are also above-ground free trams (that are actually very convenient), buses that are attached to a wire system above (it’s really weird), and stop lights that go from red to yellow and then to green. This is probably the strangest part. My advice for getting around? Stick either Bolt, tram, or subway system. Walking is also pretty easy around here. If you need to drive to places across the city or further, then a car is just fine (it’s really not that much different than the states). I have also been told that the train system in Europe is great, so I’ll let you know how that goes once I try it out!
P.S. NEWS FLASH! Cars in Hungary drive on the same side as the United States. If you are going to live in a different country, I would suggest doing some research on which side of the road they drive on.
Iced Coffee: You’re probably wondering why I saved this one for last. Well, best for last as they say. I LOVE iced coffee. Just about everyday in the states I would order my usual iced vanilla coffee with cream from Starbucks. Life was pretty good. Thankfully there are Starbucks here (I think this is the case with most bigger cities overseas), and don’t worry, you can order iced coffee. However, if you want to try other cute local coffee shops out you need to be VERY specific. So specific, in fact, that you need to say “make it with ice cubes” otherwise you may end up with actual ice cream in your coffee. Yes, this happened to me (and let’s be honest I wasn’t too upset… I mean who doesn’t love ice cream?!). My other overseas iced coffee experiences have included “no sorry, only hot”, or “no ice”, and “I can make it with cold milk”. So, your best option? Go to Starbucks and order normally as you would in the states, except you have to also be specific on which drink you want (e.g. latte, americano, espresso). From my experience you can’t just say iced coffee; they will just ask you which coffee you want. Trust me, I’ve tried. Iced americano is basically normal coffee, so maybe just ask for that. To wrap this up, most people (scratch that, virtually everyone) overseas drinks their coffee hot. I once went to Starbucks with my team here, and I was the only one who ordered iced — it is definitely not the norm here.
P.S. My Starbucks Rewards app isn’t accepted here… if someone knows of a Hungarian program PLEASE let me know ASAP. Thanks.
Survival Guide Conclusion:
I hope this survival guide will help anyone who needs it — best of luck, and when in doubt? Use Google Translate and go to The British Store.
P.S. As you have noticed, most of my guide is centered around food. Food is life. Ball is Life. That’s all you need to know.
By now if you made it this far (congratulations, you are almost to the end!) you are probably wondering why on earth I haven’t mentioned anything basketball-related. I mean Megan for crying out loud you are overseas for the sole purpose of playing basketball. If you are thinking this, don’t worry I’m not offended. In fact, I’ve been wondering that myself. For this post I didn’t plan out anything in advance — I have just let my fingers do the typing and see where it leads me. Well, here we are, and I have finally discovered why I haven’t talked about overseas basketball until now: because basketball here is without a doubt the easiest transition for me. Basketball is universal, and so to be honest not much is that different. The game has always been like home to me, and that hasn’t changed even halfway across the world. I continue to try and work hard, get better, and have fun along the way! I practice everyday (although I have two practices a day instead of just one, so I guess that is different than the states), I do strength and conditioning workouts, I shoot on my own, and I play in games. The language barrier is not much of a problem, because my coaches and teammates all speak English (some better than others). Usually the coaches will speak in Hungarian first, and then either translate to English themselves or I’ll have a teammate relay the information to me. There are times when the coaches exclusively speak in Hungarian when they are correcting one of my Hungarian teammates, and usually if it doesn’t apply to me or my fellow American teammate then translation doesn’t happen. Now sometimes things get lost in translation and I get confused on a drill, but everyone here is pretty understanding and helpful! Resources here are also different as you can imagine – locker rooms are tiny, recovery is mostly just stretching (a far cry from ice baths or Normatechs) and practice gear is not given or laundered everyday (let’s be honest, I was so incredibly blessed to have all the services and resources that I got as a college athlete!). But you know what? I am keeping my body as healthy as I can under the circumstances, and I am just as happy with an orange ball and a hoop in a gym overseas as I would be in a sell-out arena under the big lights.
At the end of the day, it is the game of basketball I fell in love with at such a young age, nothing more and nothing less. And although I love and miss all my family, friends, loved ones, and those of you in Hawkeye Nation (and of course Wings fans too), do not worry! Your girl is doing just fine. Even though you cannot be with me now, God is always with me. I’d say I’m in pretty good hands, wouldn’t you agree?
Thanks for reading checking in with me! Until next time, Go Csata, Go Wings, Go Hawks, and Go Jesus!