Expatriates: An American in Budapest

Please meet Phil Done. After fifteen years of turning jump ropes, singing times tables, and wearing his bathrobe on Pajama Day in California public schools, he decided to follow his dream and move to Europe. With two suitcases, one guidebook, and zero knowledge of Hungarian, he moved to Budapest in 2000 where he has lived, taught, and torn open care packages from home for the last decade. An award-winning writer, he is the author of 32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny and Close Encounters of the Third-Grade Kind. To learn more about his adventures in Budapest, please visit him at www.anamericaninbudapest.com

Where are you originally from and where are you living now?

I’m originally from the California Bay Area. Currently, I teach third graders at the American International School in Budapest, Hungary, one of the leading international schools in Europe.

Are you planning to stay long or return to your own country?

I plan to stay. It’s a terrific job and a great school. I’m even considering buying a house here.

Why did you move to Budapest?

I’d always wanted to teach overseas. My grandma was German. I’d lived my whole life in California and was ready to see the world. In 2000, I went to a job fair in London, and the American School offered me a position. I had been to Budapest once before and loved it.

What do you enjoy most about Budapest?

I love just walking around the city. The architecture is amazing, and there are some stunning panoramas. When I first drove into the center of the city and saw the Danube, it took my breath away. The baths are wonderful, too. Budapest is famous for them. I love going to Szechenyi or Rudas baths. Hungarian food is delicious, but it’s definitely not light. Hungarians love their sour cream. Since I moved here, my pants are tighter.

What do you miss most about home?

Sometimes I miss the customer service back in California. It’s getting better in Hungary, but they have a ways to go. I miss the roads back home; they’re not good here. And I hate to admit it – but I do miss Target.

Is Budapest safe?

I hear that Budapest is safe for a capital of its size, but lately it seems that the robberies have increased. Just like anywhere, you have to be careful. I definitely feel very safe walking around Budapest. My women friends tell me the same.

How would you rate the public transport? Do you need to own a car?

You can definitely get around without a car. I went my first year without a one. The trams and Metro lines are very good here. In fact, Budapest had the first Metro line in continental Europe. Recently, I read that National Geographic named Budapest’s number 2 tram line along the Danube one of the best tram rides in the world.

Which are the best places to live in Budapest as an expat and why?

It depends on what you want. If you want green hills and quiet, live in Buda. If you want to be where the nightlife is, live in Pest. I live in the Buda Hills in District XII. It’s beautiful here. Most of my expat friends live in Buda because it’s closer to the American School, but I have several expat friends in Pest, too.

How do you rate the standard of housing in Budapest?

It runs the full gamut. You can find budget and very high end. You can find old and new.

What’s the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?

When I moved here in 2000, Budapest was a bargain, but those days are over. Food is actually more expensive here than in California. So are utilities. Actually, I hear that the Hungary has some of the highest utilities in the EU. Gas is extremely expensive here. I’m from the Bay Area in California where housing is outrageously expensive. So, it’s definitely less here. Rents seem reasonable in Budapest. One thing that’s less expensive in Budapest is the wine – and I’m happy about that!

Do you mix mainly with other expats or also locals?

I mix with expats and locals. The school where I work employs both. The Hungarians I work with are lovely. Hungarians have lovely manners. If they see you with your lunch tray, most will wish you a good meal. It’s charming

Was it easy meeting people and making friends?

Oh, yes.

Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?

No. The American School handled all that for me.

How does the work culture differ from home?

Well, I work at the American School, so my work culture is not that different than in the States. However, there are lots of cultural differences between Hungary and America. I write about them on my blog: www.anamericaninbudapest.com

Is there anything else you would like to share with EuroCircle readers?

If you haven’t been to Budapest, I’d highly recommend it! It’s so rich in culture and history, and there’s so much to see here. Every week I discover a new building or courtyard. Prague is overrun with tourists, but Budapest isn’t yet. I came here thinking I’d live for two or three years. I’ve been here for over ten and have no plans to leave!

Philip Done’s Website: www.anamericaninbudapest.com