Aaaah, Budapest! Sorry, but before we go any further, you just have to push play below.
Hey, I mean it. Please push play. I’ll wait. Because, even though this song is tacky AF, there’s no better soundtrack to describe what Budapest means to me.
I left Brazil in 2011 at the age of 23, fresh out of college, to pursue a master’s degree in Gender Studies at the Central European University. Back then, I had never lived anywhere besides my parents’ house, where I never cooked and only paid a third of the bills. I had never had a relationship that lasted more than 6 months because all the boys seemed to be afraid to commit — listen, Marjorie, you’re a great girl, but I’m just not ready for this. Only to show up with a girlfriend a couple weeks later. Not knowing what the hell was wrong with me only made me get more needy, and consequently more repelling.
The only experience I had ever had abroad was a two-month backpacking trip in Europe almost two years prior, in which I had burned all my savings. I wasn’t able to save much after the trip because I spent most of my money on overpriced beer at São Paulo’s nightlife. Clubbing had never been my thing, but I forced myself to go out every weekend in order not to feel like I was wasting my life away. What kind of person in their early 20’s stays home on a Saturday night?
Basically, I was a hot mess.
But not on the Internet, where I had this blog in which I’d write like a hurricane. I used to defend my arguments with such certainty and passion, placing irrevocable trust in the books and blogs I had read. Readers twice my age would say how much they were learning from me.
But I was just a frightened little girl. I might have looked smart in writing, but in real life I was making the dumbest decisions. And I was thirsty for a change.
Then along came an e-mail saying I had been accepted into a master’s program in Gender Studies in Budapest and the Netherlands. There it was: my chance to shake things up. To get rid of a 9 to 5 job I didn’t like, and jump off the sinking ship journalism felt like. To escape from São Paulo’s pollution, traffic and stress. To meet foreign men who weren’t raised by Latin American macho culture, and perhaps find a more suitable partner. Budapest was my savior.
In a strange mix of narcissism and altruism, I both thought I was bound for great things and to help others — hitting European academia and standing up for women’s rights was just the first step in that narrative. Little did I realize that, before fixing society’s problems, perhaps it’d be handy to take a look at my own. As Mark Manson says (love that man to bits), narcissism and insecurity are nothing but sides of the same coin.
I remember the moment I locked the door of my mom’s house behind me, when leaving for the airport. I took a good look at the living room, while my dad honked outside. I don’t know how much of it was premonition and how much was just wishful thinking, but I knew I’d never live there again. That’s probably the only thing I was right about.
Budapest was indeed my savior — but she saved me from myself. That naive, spoiled, hot mess of a little girl was suddenly on her own, with little money, in a completely different country whose language doesn’t resemble any others.
I had no lifelong friends or family to rely on when my two Spanish roommates almost beat me up after an argument about them always bringing hammered friends over and never taking the trash out — instead, I had to pretend I was ready for a fight and put on my best “don’t mess with me” face for the subsequent days.
Or when, after rent and groceries, coins were all I had left to support myself the rest of the month (OK, I could always call my parents for help, they wouldn’t let me starve, but I’d felt humiliated if I did so — after all, moving abroad was my choice, not theirs).
Or when a Hungarian douche bag whom I fell head over heels for left me for his ex all of the sudden, even though “I love you, see you tomorrow” was the last thing he said to me the day before.
Or when that douche reappeared a few months later and I stupidly took him back… Only to be cheated on not too long afterwards.
And, obviously, on top of all that, I still had to work my ass off as a freelance journalist and get good grades in a master’s full of Michel Foucault and Judith Butler.
But, as they say, what doesn’t kill you… Besides, I was privileged as hell for having all those experiences — both the good and the bad. I was getting education! In a top notch university!
So this person you see today, who doesn’t crumble at the first rejection anymore; who loves herself and prefers being alone than in a bad relationship; who can cook a healthy meal (not amazingly, but still) and differentiate between cleaning products; who has a savings account and a healthy relationship of five years; who wants to commit to her home, work and close friends instead of dreaming of being a full time traveler just to escape; who is less harsh on herself and others; who’s understood almost all things are a matter of perspective; and who doesn’t think she’s a special snowflake in any way anymore… Well, she only exists because Budapest punched her in the face. Over and over again.
But there were also the parties and the friends, the flirting and the long conversations. The Danube, Liberty Bridge, Szimpla, Margaret Island. Budapest is that kind of friend that spills the truth when you need to hear it, but then brings you a cup of tea when it gets too tough.
Now here I am, back in there, four years later. And how does that bitch receive me? By teaching me another lesson. I went there expecting to do a number of things for my video. Before even landing, I knew exactly how I wanted my vlog to turn out. A total control freak.
And, well, right on the first day, each one of those plans started to fall apart: shops and bars that no longer exist or don’t look the same; construction works obstructing the view; a huge event blocking the river banks; and places insanely packed with tourists to the point of it being impossible to shoot there. Apparently, Budapest has gotten a lot more popular in recent years.
Just as I was I getting annoyed, Hugo asked me: “are you doing this trip for yourself or for others?” — and then I realized I’d be defeating the whole purpose of traveling if I didn’t have fun. Who cares if my video wasn’t perfect? My first videos will never be able to compete with people who have been vlogging for years anyway.
After that, I went like “fuck it” and stopped caring when things didn’t go as planned. Then I got back home and started editing, and the video turned out to be one of my favorites.
No, it’s not perfect. No, it doesn’t look professional. There are shaky takes and weird color schemes because I did something wrong with the camera. But I enjoyed myself — and that’s what matters. I really have to work on my annoying perfectionism.
So here’s to old friends, those who give us the tough love we need. Not only am I happy not to be that girl anymore, I’m also thankful that Budapest continues to show me where I can still evolve.
Who knows? Maybe I’ll go back there in four years and be ashamed of who I am now.