Chinese Expats in Hungary: The Living Experience


Nancy Jin

As trade and investment between China and Hungary have picked up in the last two decades, Budapest has become home to an increasing number of Chinese expatriates. We asked three such people, from different backgrounds and different parts of their homeland, to describe some of the pleasant and not so pleasant experiences of living in the Hungarian capital.

Junpei Duan: Spare a Thought for the Waitress: She has Feelings Too

My fourth year of living in Budapest has crept up on me; many unforgettable things have happened in my years living away from my Beijing home.

There have been good and bad experiences, and this variety has made me grow into the person I am today. Looking back, I am very glad that three years ago, at the age of 18, I made the right decision to go abroad and come to Budapest.

For most of these three years, as a student, I have also been working part-time to earn my living expenses. You can imagine that working and studying simultaneously has been pretty tough. This included working at a Japanese restaurant as a shift manager. In one experience, I met four very young female tourists from the U.K. I didn’t think my service was very professional at the time, but they told me at the end that they were also working in hospitality, understood how hard the job was and gave me a nice tip.

This is the only time in my career that customers have understood my pain, and I am grateful to have met some who could share my feelings.

But work is not always filled with such warm moments; indeed, most experiences are still very frustrating.

The Japanese restaurant was an all-you-can-eat place, and it included a lot of expensive seafood, sashimi and other ingredients. There was actually a penalty, written on the menu, for when customers took lots of food but then wasted it. This led to some hiding the rice balls of the sushi in various ways and only eating the sashimi on top, which resulted in a fair amount of waste. So, they tried to hide it. The most impressive way for me was to hide it in an empty soup bowl with a lid on it, but some would throw it in the garbage can in the toilet, flush it down the drain, or some other method. Sometimes I couldn’t help but admire their creativity.

Junpei Duan

Zuo Feng: Quaint Trades, Difficult Landlords

I’m in banking and finance and have been living in Budapest for almost one year now. Life in the city is colorful and similar to other European cities I have lived in or visited, but, to my surprise, I’ve discovered two traditional jobs that have long disappeared in China, though they were very common for me as a child living in Shanghai.

During the pandemic lockdown, I was working from home, and more than once, I got a cold knock at my door and recognized the word mérő (meter in Hungarian) on the caller’s badge. Childhood memories flooded back, and I instinctively knew who the lady was and what she needed to do.

In a similar situation, I opened my door to see an old man with a grey beard wearing a hunting cap and apron, only this time I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. But, seeing my confusion, he promptly raised his hand and showed me a pair of scissors. Again, I was overwhelmed by a deja-vu feeling: I could almost hear the sound of the hawkers plying their trade in the streets of my neighborhood as a child. He was a knife grinder, a long-lost craft in China!

Another surprise: renting an apartment here is like an annual exam for an expat! Unlike other cities in Europe or China, landlords here like to negotiate the rent every year, invariably wanting to up the rate, which is an unmanageable risk for an employee in the banking sector.

This year, I thought to fend off the threat of an increase before the end of my rental contract: I had some complaints. Minor, perhaps, but the ventilator fan in my kitchen was too weak and the window blinds, made of metal, rattle and bang like crazy on a windy day. Then my neighbor started work on his apartment, making a racket set to last for four months. This was the last straw, and I told my landlord so. It worked! My old contract expired on March 1, but the rent will stay unchanged, at least for one more year.

Nancy Jin: Impressive Family Values, but Services Could be Better

I’m originally from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, southwest China. I studied marine chemistry for my bachelor’s degree. I had a lot of fun with my classmates in the laboratory at that time, but I later realized I was more interested in dealing with people than with ocean water and precipitates. So now I’m a key account manager in industrial real estate, responsible for Chinese and international clients.

I’ve been living and working in Budapest for six years. My Hungarian husband is the reason I came here after we met in China. For me, the most eye-opening experience has been to feel Hungarian family values. Because in many ways, they are very similar.

In the beginning, my own family was against me marrying a Hungarian man, not because he is Hungarian, but just “foreign.” My family thinks, or thought, that a happy marriage only comes if the couple are well-matched and from similar backgrounds. A “foreigner” is way too far from matched in terms of traditional Chinese family values, which focus on children being filial to their parents and parents offering selfless love to their children.

Hungarians also very much value their family relations. My husband and I visit his parents twice a month and also spend most important holidays with them. So do my other Hungarian friends. For example, Judit, my Hungarian teacher, graduated and started her career last summer. Even though she studied and now lives in Budapest, she still spends most of her free time with her family in Tiszalök, a small town 200 km away in the northeast.

Reflecting on myself, I also love my family, but I only schedule a video call with them every month. Even when I was studying or working in China, I thought more about having fun with friends or traveling around than spending more time with my family. I feel a bit ashamed now by comparison.

There are a couple of daily routines people do very differently here in Hungary from China that a new immigrant might find a bit inconvenient and unusual.

For example, getting any equipment or facility at home repaired is extremely time-consuming. The workers rarely arrive on time, meaning you need to take a day off, waiting patiently for their arrival. This would never happen in China.

When shopping for clothes, popular sizes, especially “XS” and “S,” seem to sell out very quickly, but the stores never seem to be in a hurry to restock.

In some of the service industries, like beauty salons, people don’t work after normal working hours or on weekends, which is quite rare in China, where things like that go on late into the night. However, as a result, Sundays in Hungary are generally peaceful and quiet, with most shops closed, something which could never happen in China.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of March 11, 2022.

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