Arrival of the Magyar


On Tuesday, I drove down to Chicago to pick up 7 members of Fanni’s family – arriving from Hungary and Germany for a 2-week visit. Having navigated the inevitable chaos of the airport, we got safely onto the freeway and out of town.

My car was occupied by Fanni’s mother Gabrielle (Gabi), her sister Veronica (Vercsi), and her mom’s partner Imre (Imre). Rolling with three of the less-than-English-speaking faction of the crew, I noticed a creeping self-consciousness set in upon me as I navigated the highway — and a series of halting, 7-word mini-conversations – with limited success. I tried filling the gaps with music, employing the available resources of the crappy FM radio and my mom’s CD collection. My mental chatter got restless, and I eyed Imre uncertainly.

How much Doc Watson is too much Doc Watson..? I really like Doc, but maybe it’s just too much for right now? He hasn’t said anything; I guess I’ll let it ride.

My only consolation was young Vercsi. From time to time I’d glance back at her, and she’d meet my eyes with the sweetest gaze of assurance, affection and innocence. If she could give me that look, everything was okay.

I rifled through the CDs again and came across Johnny Cash: Live at Folsom Prison. I put it in, and Imre brightened at the first note.

“Johnny Cash.”


“The Black Man.”

Hmm. I shrugged and nodded approvingly. Close enough. It was probably the most understanding we’d yet achieved.

We stopped at an Illinois Oasis Station for some refreshments, and my simmering insecurities raged once more. The Oasis is a glass, fast food heaven overlooking the interstate, encompassing McDonald’s, Subway, Korean Lunchbox, Starbucks, and all number of other throwaway shops. If ever there were a caricature of American Capitalism, this was it. Fanni’s brother, sister and nephew hopped into the McDonald’s line for some cancer-burgers, while Gasper, Imre and I went to the Starbucks station for some coffees.

Gasper ordered first. “I’ll take a large macchiato.”

The counter-guy grabbed a marker and a massive to-go cup.

“Whoa, I actually think I will have a medium.”

“Umm,” I interrupted the barista casually as he started to work, “I think he wants that traditional, so no syrups or sugar or anything, please.”


Imre was next. He stepped confidently to the counter and held up his thumb: the universal Hungarian symbol for “I’ll take one coffee.” He waited, and the barista waited.

“Umm,” I interjected uncertainly. “He wants one…” unaccustomed to the breadth of American coffee options, he just assumed he was getting what he was getting.



Out of the line now, we wrangled our motley crew and made our way back out in the cars, where I divvied out the Main Grain pastries and bread I’d brought – treats I was legitimately excited to share.

Back on the road, we hit some Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, and road construction. The trip carried on forever, but finally we arrived at our house, and the powerful gravitational force that is Ella Bartnik, whose soft, fuzzy head was primed for many, many Magyar smooches. For all of my American insecurities, this was family: the most important and beautiful force of all.

The following day, however, Elvira and Gasper (Fanni’s aunt and uncle) spoke about their disappointing hotel experience. Staying in the Cobblestone Inn and Suites, their breakfast had been served on paper plates with plastic utensils. Hailing from Germany, they found this strange and disconcerting.

“We just can’t do it- if everybody made that much waste every time, the world would just be going… how do you say it…”

“To shit?”

“To shit, yes.”

Elvira jumped in. “And there were no vegetables. It was just sweet stuff, eggs… some hamburger meat…”

They also commented on the strangeness of single-stream recycling. Having stayed with them in Germany, I know the German households separate recycling extensively, and their compost system is municipal – not run by one rogue female slinging buckets out of an F-350 XL. Given all of these factors, I was a bit embarrassed about their experience in the Home of the Brave.

Thursday night, however, they came to watch our SPUFA ultimate frisbee league game – an awesomely impressive array of community recreation. “Wow,” Gasper commented, “I’m surprised how many teams there are for Stevens Point. This is pretty cool.”

From there, they went to the Levitt Amp Music Series, where they experienced our beautiful riverside park, some quality music, and a great deal of tight-knit community – interacting with many friends and a handful of Sand-Risers. That night, I asked Fanni to serve as an interpreter while I asked her brother Tomi for his reflections.

“He really likes how the community is. Like how we don’t have to lock our door – that would never happen in Hungary. And just how everybody was hanging out on a weeknight and having a good time and socializing. He likes the beer; he likes the food, and just how small the town is.”

All things considered, my national ambivalence is outweighed by my community pride. Stevens Point is a wonderful place to raise a family, and I’m pleased to have the opportunity to share my home and community with my extended international family. We are looking forward to taking some farm, brewery and cheese-store tours, and, most importantly, hosting them at Rising Sand next week.