We moved to the big city, and everything is … small.
Before we moved to Budapest, we weren’t exactly city people. Sure, we felt at home in Seattle and Vancouver when we’d trek there periodically for day trips. But we’d never experienced what it was like to actually live, car-free, in a brick-and-plaster jungle.
By our suburban American standards, things in Budapest are tiny (the city itself notwithstanding, of course).
But it turns out, it makes great sense this way.
Here’s a by-no-means-exhaustive list of the things in Budapest that are smaller than we’re used to:
Sidewalks: Most of the sidewalks are narrow to begin with. But then when you add that drivers who park halfway on top of the sidewalk are actually doing it right, you’re left with barely enough room for two columns of people to walk single file. This is a problem for us, because we move like a crash of rhinos headed your way. We’ve trained our boys to hold our hands, and walking through a park we might be five abreast. But when we hit the sidewalk, we become this organic blob that’s constantly splitting to avoid other people, dodging cars on the sidewalk and then reforming whenever possible so we can cross the streets together.
Why it makes sense this way: Unlike the cities we’re used to, modern Budapest wasn’t designed around vehicles. Roads are narrow and sidewalks are even narrower because all of those pesky buildings are in the way. But they’ve been there since before cars were invented, so what’re you gonna do?
Vehicles: You just don’t see SUVs in Budapest. I honestly can’t even remember seeing one. I’m sure there have been some, but they don’t stand out like they do in the States. There are buses, sure, and lots of them. But no big personal vehicles in Budapest. I’m guessing that this is largely a cost thing, as salaries here tend to be pretty low. But it also must be a convenience thing. I mean, who wants to drive a behemoth Chevy Suburban on city streets? Or worse, park it?
Why it makes sense this way: If the streets and sidewalks are narrow, it makes sense that the cars would be, too.
Washing machines: Though our home in the states was on the smaller end (about 1,100 square feet, roughly the same size as our Budapest flat), it nonetheless had an entire room dedicated solely to laundry. We were used to running capacity loads in our full-sized washer and dryer, and doing so only a few times a week. In our Budapest apartment, though, the diminutive washing machine is wedged under the kitchen counter, not quite an afterthought but also obviously not a pre-planned kitchen appliance.
Why it makes sense this way: There’s no dedicated room for a drying rack, and there’s only so much that’ll fit on it at once anyway. So given that there’s no dryer, it’s probably better to have a small washing machine.
Bedspreads: Probably not coincidentally, bedding here is also small. Brittany and I might share a queen-sized bed, but we don’t share a queen-sized blanket. It’s common here to have two twin blankets on a bed. Surprisingly, Brittany, who heretofore has shivered through many a long night, has never been warmer. And while we’re on the subject: Bed pillows, too, are much smaller.
Why it makes sense this way: When you consider that your head and your body are only so big, what good would all that extra material do you?
Food containers: There are no Costcos here, and thus there are no two-gallon family packs of milk. But it’s not just that. There aren’t even single gallons of milk (or their metric equivalent). I haven’t searched the city exhaustively, but the biggest milk container I’ve seen so far is one liter. When we buy milk at the nearby store (or have it delivered), we end up with about four one-liter cartons of milk. And it’s not just milk that’s small. Juice, water, yogurt, crackers … Simply put, the largest size you can buy of any pre-packaged food item in Hungary is what passes for medium, or even small, in the United States.
Why it makes sense this way: Refrigerators are smaller than we’re used to, for one thing. And it’s not like we can just drive to Safeway and load up the trunk with whatever we need. Nobody is buying anything at the grocery store that they can’t walk home with or take with them on public transportation. So buying a four-liter jug of milk like we’d do in the states would essentially mean we could buy little else. Especially since we’re always toting three kids around, too.
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