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As I wove through the crowd at the Hungarian Festival for Independence Day in Budapest, I actually felt like the only tourist around for the first time all summer. There were no more English translations on the food signs, and no other audible English from anyone. It really was the first time this summer I felt like I was legitimately experiencing another culture, not just a touristy outer-shell representation of another place. Being able to witness a cultural celebration such as this was an unexpectedly immersive event and also an unexpectedly awesome free thing to do in Budapest!
A Hungarian Festival for Independence Next to the Danube
The music blasting through the speakers wasn’t the drab English pop like that am used to, it was different types of music all in Hungarian. The street performers today didn’t have English signs asking for donations, they all joked and spoke with the crowds in their own language as the old and young alike in the crowds sung along to all the songs. I would really recommend adding a cultural experience to your Budapest itinerary to get the full experience!
Old men and women showed up the the main square in the evening in suits, ties, and dresses to commemorate the founding of their country. Small children danced on the shoulders of their fathers to traditional Hungarian folk music on the river bank. Couples and families alike lined the river to get good spots for the fireworks, locals queued up in long lines for celebratory wine and spirits out of street tents, and old women sold beer and wine for a small price right out of their front doors.
GOING TO BUDAPEST? CHECK OUT SZIGET FESTIVAL! (I wrote a very comprehensive guide to this festival on an island in the middle of the Danube!)
I might be starting to sound repetitive, but I found that you don’t realize how much is ‘English-ised’ in these big touristy cities, and how much literally everything is made understandable for tourists all the time, until all the English help is gone.
That morning, I had gone to get breakfast at the “California Coffee Company” in the main square of Budapest. I thought about the fact that all the brochures and signs in my hostel were in English, and signs basically everywhere for that matter. I remembered that I found myself singing along to a Stevie Wonder song playing in the grocery store while shopping earlier. None of these experiences made me think twice at the time about how widespread English culture is all around the world, until I went out to explore this Hungarian festival for independence day.
This day was 100% for the locals and nothing was changed, and it was strangely refreshing to have pretty much entirely no idea what was going on.
Although hungry, I felt strange trying to get food from any of the millions of street vendors. I couldn’t read what any of the food signs were, and wasn’t sure if the people even spoke English! None of the police officers I had talked to when asking for directions did, and the amount of non-English speaking people I had met here in Budapest was higher than many other place I had been.
- Read More: Guide to Buda Castle in Budapest
So, I decided to be a silent observer watching and taking in this whole Hungarian festival & cultural experience. I stood and listened to an entire speech given in Hungarian outside the main church, and wondered what it was that they were saying as I heard the crowd react in different ways. I watched people laughing and drinking wine and Hungary’s national spirit, Palinka, while waiting for the nighttime fireworks. This all made me think of how crazily similar it was to 4th of July celebrations in the US, but halfway across the world in a different country, culture, and language.
Human nature is so similar in many respects across cultures, and something I love about traveling is being able to see how similar people from different places can really be. I watched happy people at all the booths serving food or telling passers by about their trade or what they were selling, and appreciated how comparable it could be to markets elsewhere in the world where people would be doing the same thing.
I think it’s really important to have immersive cultural experiences like this Hungarian festival at least sometimes while traveling. Too many people travel as if they are at Disneyland, just looking at things from the outside as they go by. When you actually involve yourself in other cultures, you really get the whole fulfilling experience of being in a different place.