As the weather turns sunny and warm, we lunch outside. Last week there was a group of us, mostly Hungarians, a handful of Romanians, a French guy, and one other American, gathered around the picnic table. Everyone was relaxed, the mood fostered by the light heartedness of those first warm days of spring. A lunch like this is a petri dish for blog ideas. People drop their guards and begin to tell stories – unencumbered by our language differences. Traditions, particularly those most foreign, are my favorite topics to explore. I mentioned a blog I had written about a zabijacka, the Slovak pig killing tradition. Everyone jumped in with their own pig killing memories. Traditions here tend to span borders, especially those borders more recently and arbitrarily drawn.
Our work group is young – they like team events. A few weeks ago we scurried around the small town of Vac, Hungary in a scavenger hunt. We located various landmarks from a page of pictures. Then we ate langos at a corner stand after which the langos vendor divulged a cell phone number which we called to secure the next clue. At the end, we gathered in the square and translated a poem by Sandor Petofi from Hungarian to English (something about a hen and her chicks whose every need will be provided by the state). We then morphed the poem into our unique work lexicon. As we sat around the picnic table, we also brainstormed ideas for the next event.
Unexpectedly, these two seemingly unrelated conversations collided. One of our managers said, “For our next team event, we could kill a pig.” I chuckled – hedging my bets against this obvious joke. As I glanced around the table, most everyone smiled and shook their head in agreement (save the French guy who looked a bit puzzled and the other American who assumed this was a joke). Even the women appeared happily on board. My friend turned to me, “Julie, don’t worry. It’s OK. No one here will think this is weird.” I love a people unapologetic of their country traditions. Even when they realize those traditions may make them appear a bit – what’s the word? – Heinous?
And so the planning began. My friend summarized the event succinctly. “We hire a company to drop off and kill a pig. And we all go home with salami!” As an after thought he added, “Oh and we will drink a lot.” At this point, the other American piped up, “I’m in!” And of course, so was I, even if I spend the day blue gilled in the corner.
After lunch, my friend stopped by my desk, “Julie, please, don’t tell any of the US guys what we are going to do for the team event. They might think it’s strange.” I smiled non-committally. After all, I knew I would tell everyone what we planned for our team event. Someplace there’s a line in the sand, an idea I can’t abide, a tradition better left unexplored. I’ll know it if I ever see it. But this isn’t it. Besides, I have eaten salami.
When our team event concludes, everyone will take home some salami. I’d love to be a fly on the wall as their families scrunch around the table of their small apartments. I picture laughter and stories. More likely than not, these stories will involve a pig killing – traditions passed down through generations.
I’ll give my salami to the homeless family outside our building. Something tells me I won’t be able to eat it. I will imagine them sleeping with a full stomach after sharing memories of their own. I will hope it was one of their better days. And I will convince myself the pig did not die in vain.
Categories: Insiders Budapest