Becoming lost is stressful enough, but becoming lost in a country where you cannot understand a single word and no one seems to speak your native tongue brings “stress” to a whole new level.
About a month ago I took a weekend trip to Budapest, Hungary with a group of eight girls. We took an OBB train, Austria’s train system, to and from Budapest.
The train to Budapest was problem-free.The return train home is where everything went wrong. For every other trip we have taken, we never reserved seats for the train. We were always able to board the train in coach and sit wherever there were seats available. This was not the case for our return.
We boarded the train and found a group of four seats, which worked out perfectly, as we were a group of four by this time. Unfortunately, a few stops later a couple boarded and informed us that we were sitting in their assigned seats. Confused and beyond stressed, we got up and wandered up and down the aisles attempting to find new seats. It did not take us long to realize that by this time nearly every seat was taken, only adding more strained emotions to the table.
Mary Rose, who of the group is the most fluent in German, went to talk to a ticket guard on the train in hopes of sorting everything out, thinking that because we were heading to Austria, the ticket guard would speak German. To our misfortune, she only spoke Hungarian. Our frustration growing, we looked around desperately towards the other passengers hoping someone would notice our distress. Thankfully, with the help of some kind passengers who realized our confusion, we learned that we should just find a seat until the next station so that we could get off the train and reserve a seat for the next one.
Katie, during the seat search, ended up sitting next to an older, stout Hungarian woman who did not speak a word of English. She sat forward, turned towards Katie and offered a generous smile. Regardless of the language barrier, the woman attempted to help Katie understand the type of ticket we had and what we needed to do to get home. Thankfully, there were a few English speakers sitting in the seats surrounding Katie who were able to translate for the woman. In addition to her helpful tips, she told Katie the reason that she wanted to help was because she would want someone to do the same for her granddaughter who is currently studying in Vienna.
The Hungarian woman’s help did not stop on the train. She insisted that she deboard the train with us to help us around the station and get us on our way home. She gave us a welcoming wave indicating that she wanted us to follow her to the ticket office where she conversed with the women working the booth. The woman was able to help us get seat reservations for the next train to Graz, which wasn’t for another 4 hours.
We then had to make our way to the international office to change a few more details regarding our train booking, all of which was handled graciously by the older woman from the train. After everything was sorted out, she took the four of us over to the giant board with the listings of platforms, trains, and departure and arrival times, pointing to each part and saying the Hungarian word for it, making gestures towards her watch to indicate she was talking about the time, idő, and our tickets to indicate the train platform, emelvény. We played this guessing game for a few minutes as she went to each one of us to explain the board, nodding and smiling with approval when we understood.
She then proceeded to reach for a paper scrap and pen in her purse and wrote down her phone number. She then held up her cell phone and pretended to talk to someone on the phone while pointing at her number and then said “OK,” implying that she wanted us to call her when we made it onto the train.
Unfortunately, the four of us didn’t have international calling available on our cell phones, but we befriended another college student on the next train who was from Hungary who let us borrow his phone to make the call. We were unable to let her know we were okay due to her phone being off, but we were so grateful for the help that she had given us.
It’s not everyday that you meet someone who is so willing to help and it’s even more unlikely when you don’t speak the same language. This woman, who had somewhere else to be and who had not obligation to help, felt so inclined to help four lost Americans, and we will be forever grateful.