Christmas Shopping in Budapest: It’s not About the Shopping

Retail

Photo by Lucigerma / Shutterstock.com

There are two ways to approach a day’s Christmas shopping in Budapest. You can plan it as if it were a military exercise, choose your targets in advance, calculate the quickest route to them and get in and out as fast as possible. Or you can treat the process as a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend a day on which you just happen to be buying gifts. I opt for the latter.

The only thing I do check in advance is the weather. On a cold, bright winter’s day, Budapest is a joy to mooch around. But not if it’s raining.

Naturally, if you’re doing your shopping in a mall such as the Westend, next to Nyugati Railway Station, or the MOM Plaza, weather conditions won’t be a concern. We tend to avoid malls at Christmas. There’s something profoundly soulless about them, and because my partner knows precisely what stores they house, there’s no element of chance.

For me, Christmas shopping is all about having no idea what you’re going to buy and stumbling across the perfect gift without necessarily knowing who it could be for. This only happens when you wander down a street you don’t know that well and discover a store you’ve never been in before.

If, once inside, you’re faced with a cornucopia of gift ideas, but you have no idea what to buy or for whom, I suggest you adopt one of two strategies that have always worked for me.

Buy something you would like. That way, when you review your haul of potential presents, if you can’t think who would most appreciate an item (a Christmas tree bauble with “F*ck you 2022” on it, for example), you’re happy to keep it.

(By the way, while I doubt you can find one in Budapest, that obsceneChristmas bauble is not a product of my imagination. I found a selection after extensive research: 30 seconds ofGoogling.)

The other strategy that never fails is to keep your receipts. This is why I’m never too concerned about what to buy for my partner. If I’ve let my imagination take flight and failed miserably, I can hand over the receipt while looking suitably hurt. She can then buy something for herself, giving her the perfect excuse to invade the January sales.

If you’re a guy who thinks this approach is unromantic, I can only assume you’re single, or you don’t know your partner that well.

Logistical Planning

Assuming Christmas shopping weather conditions are optimal, my role in the entire operation comes down to ensuring my partner and I stop for sustenance somewhere warm and cozy at least three times during the day. Speaking only for myself, I will also make sure I remember to use the restroom every time we stop.

Forgive me if I’m gender stereotyping, but most men are not that keen on shopping unless it involves mobile phones, computers, and other gadgets, or vintage vinyl. Consequently, we spend a lot of time in the run-up to Christmas standing around in overheated shops feigning interest.

Over the years, I’ve learned which Budapest stores have the best seating. The COS stores on Andrássy út and Deák Ferenc utca have sofas so comfortable you won’t want to stand upfrom them.

At the other end of the seating spectrum, Michael Kors and Guess on Andrássy have those horrible backless coffee-table height poufs that make you hunch over like Quasimodo when you sit on them. 

Staying on the comfortable seating theme, this is one of the factors that determine my choice of where to have breakfast, luncheon, pause for a pick-me-up and dine.

Rather than recommending my personal favorite establishment for those all-important sustenance breaks, please allow me to offer broad criteria.

Carb Stockpiling

For breakfast, avoid Scandinavian-style cafés, especially healthy food places. When you’ve got a long day’s schlepping ahead of you, you don’t need vegan, sugar-free, gluten-free anything. What you want are plenty of carbohydrates and a good dollop of grease to keep you warm. By the end of the day, you’ll have done well over 10,000 steps in any case.

Incidentally, according to the American Council on Science and Health, the 10,000-step target has nothing to do with science. In 1965, a Japanese company introduced a step counter named Manpo-Kei, which translates into “10,000 meters.” They marketed this with the slogan, “Let’s walk 10,000 steps a day.” The 10,000-step target caught on because the slogan was memorable, and the number was nice and round.

For lunch, follow the same principle as breakfast but try not to eat too much as you’ll find yourself wanting to lie down. After years of experience, I recommend a hearty, warming Hungarian soup in an establishment that ideally has banquettes so you can rest your back and shoulders if necessary.

My partner thinks that one of my roles in life is to carry shopping bags. So, after a morning’s shopping, I tend to resemble an overloaded packhorse trekking up a Peruvian mountain. I need all the support I can get.

If you’re like me, you’ll want to rest again as it begins to get dark and the temperature starts to drop, currently around 4 p.m. You have the option of afternoon coffee and cake, thereby boosting your energy levels, or of ducking into a bar.

Only choose the second option if you are confident your partner is on the verge of having had enough and that a large glass of rosé will tip her over the edge and put an end to your torture. Tipsiness and shopping don’t mix. Believe me.

When it’s time to dine, all bets are off. Personally, I pick somewhere Hungarian. After a long day walking around in the cold laden with bags, healthy doesn’t cut it.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of December 2, 2022.

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