Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Train strike. . .again. . .kind of, maybe

In December, I wrote an email about the unique nature of Hungarian strikes (as Ani terms it). Someone asked me whatever became of all of this, and I realized that I never really finished the story. As they train union is again threatening a one day strike, it seems as an appropriate time as any to revisit the issue.

In December, it seems everyone was affected in one way or another by the inconnvience of a train strike. As none of us really have cars and most of us live not in Budapest, getting around became an adventure in itself. At the beginning of the strike, the union promised they would run the trains for December 24-26 for Christmas. They used this as a bargaining chip against the train company, threatening to take away the "Christmas trains" (as my kids called them). As Jon flew in the 23rd and we were supposed to leave for Istanbul on the 26th, these Christmas trains were of prime interest to me.

Because it looked like there was no guarantee of trains running on the 22rd, I booked a cheap hostel for us to stay so we wouldn't get trapped waiting for a train that would never come or dropped of in a random Hungarian village along the way (I've heard several instances of trains just stopping and the passengers being told that it was the end of the line, get off!). I took the bus into Budapest, turning my usual 90 minute train ride into almost a four hour bus trip with a transfer. I got to Budapest with no real problems, maybe a little more grumpy for the wear.

I collected Jon at Ferihegy and we found the hostel. Being right down the street from Jake and Ellen, we grabbed a beer and some soup before turning into for an uncomfortable night's rest. I checked the MÁV website the next morning and as a happy surprise, they had decided to for sure run the trains for Christmas. Because it would take a day to reset, they would start that day, maybe a little off schedule! Further, they would continue all the way until January 2, to get people all the way through the holidays (and get us back from Istanbul!)

Jon joked about them just deciding not to restart the strike and kind of just letting the whole thing go. I told him that he didn't know how close to the truth that probably was. In fact, it was right on. By the time we returned, there was no more talk of strike. They hadn't officially called off the strike, they just never really quit work again. The trains were running as on time as Hungarian trains run. Neither side really won or lost too much. Everything was just back. I guess they hadn't even signed a contract. Shady? A little. But I was happy to have the trains back, nonetheless.

SO. .. all was well and good until a couple of weeks ago when Ani told me the train workers were talking about striking AGAIN! This time it would be a more reasonable 12 hour, well announced deal. Unfortunately, it was scheduled for April 30. Not only is this the day of the graduation ceremony for school leavers, so many families would be in trouble, but Tara was supposed to come down to Újszász to make getting to BP easier for our trip to Croatia this weekend.

Things were looking especially grim when Margie talked to a woman at the station and was told that sure enough the trains would strike--for 18 hours, maybe more! A few hours later, Ani sent me an e-mail telling me that she had been told there would be no strike, so the families could attend the graduation ceremonies. I asked at the train station yesterday and sure enough, the strike has been cancelled. She showed me the letter they had been sent and said that it is moved a week later! Hooray! To Croatia we shall go! And not on an overnight bus!

The date of the projected strike is a little sad because Margie had invited me up to help teach some of the teachers at her school to play poker (it's all the rage with our boys, so they want to know what the big deal is). As much as I want to be there, the quickest bus route would take nearly 21 hours, including the layovers! That is nearly a week away though. . .who knows what will change before then!

I really love trying to talk to airlines on the phone.. . .

Last night, I finally took the time to finish the details for my flight home. Namely, I wanted to reserve a seat and confirm a question about baggage I had. With memories of my last ticket battle still at the forefront of my mind, I have been putting this off for some time. To my credit, I have tried to call--I just got tired of sitting on hold after an hour.
Last night, after I got home from my lessons, I decided just to go for it.

Call 1. AirFrance's "customer care" (what a misleading name). A lady named Laura answered after a good 40 minutes on hold, scolded me for having a paper ticket, and told me that it was a Delta ticket, so she could do nothing. I told her that I reserved a seat on the flight to Europe, so their had to be a way. No. This is impossible. It has been impossible for nearly 10 years. Never mind that I actually did this just 10 months before. I asked her, can you at least answer a question about baggage? Maálev opperates the BP to Paris flight, AF the Paris to O Hare. Because Málev has different overweight policies than AirFrance, I wanted to know whose fee structures I would be subject to. (AF--> up to 70 pounds for 50 USD, MAL-->10 EUR for every kilo!). It is a Delta ticket, she told me. But I won't be flying Delta. Yes, the first is through Malev or AirFrance, so you will use their fee structures. This went on and on. She kept telling me it was a Delta ticket, but an AF flight. That is about as far as we got. She did say to call international flight information or call Delta because, after all--it is a Delta ticket.

Call 2. International Flight Information. Peter picks up. Peter takes my name and flight information and puts me on hold. After 35 minutes, the call cuts off.

Call 3. Delta "Customer care." It took 20 minutes to weave through the automated voice controls. After a good 30 minutes on hold, Aaron picks up. Takes flight information. Finds flight. Asks why I want to reserve a seat in the first place. Problem: this is an international ticket. Yes. I know. Problem:Air France opperates this flight. Yes. I know. They told me to call you. Problem:This is a paper ticket. Well, we cannot do anything because it is a paper ticket. I was just told to call you. Problem:They probably thought we could help, but it is impossible. We cannot help because it is a paper ticket, they can't do anything because it is a Delta ticket. Looks like you're just out of luck. But I did this less than 10 months ago. That is impossible. I asked about the luggage. He wasn't sure. It depends where I check in. I should just bring everything to the airport and see how much my suitcase weighs and leave some behind. Good solution.

Call 4. Air France Reservations. After the mandatory eternity on hold, Klara picks up. We establish my flight information. So you want to make a seat reservation? I have a paper ticket, is this a problem? Why would it be a problem? I get a seat. I ask my baggage question. She answers it. Apparently, they have changed both flights to be AF! Which everyone who saw my flight information had a specific note about pop up on her or his screen! They knew! And didn't say a thing! And horrah for the fact that it is the more leinient fee structure because I am nearly 100% positive that those bags will be overweight. I have a seat. I have a meal. I know about my bags. She wishes me a good day and I thank her profusely.

I think it is all figured out. I just have to show up at Ferihegy at 5 in the morning on June 19 and pray I get to France on time to make the transfer (a 75 minute layover!)
Kész vagyok.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Private Lessons

I enjoy teaching private lessons because it is great to get to work with students one-on-one and with people who are really eager to learn the language, so generally, I nearly always agree to teach when the oportunity comes up. Living in a tiny little town, I don't really teach many private lessons here. Sometimes, in the weeks leading up to an exam, I will tutor someone, but no one really long term. . .which is both good and bad. I get plenty of free time to relax and enjoy the now beautiful spring weather, but on the other hand, the extra money every week is nothin to scoff at. So, I've picked up a few in Szolnok in addition to the Hungarian lessons I take every week.

My biggest is over now (the language school with the ever so lovely Júlia), which is a little sad. I really liked the students at the company, but am happy to be done with her. I've returned the books, she paid me for the rest of the lessons, so I am done done done with her. She tried to get me to teach a different class at the same company, not seeming to understand that it is physically impossible for me to be there at the times she wants due to school and a lack of a car.She also asked me to come and talk to one of the classes she teaches at the school, which overlaps with one of the lessons I teach. Grr. I told her to email me the best times for her, feeling safe in a 85% probability that that won't happen. Sigh. I really did like teaching the ladies at the company. . .living nearly 20 km away just puts a damper on my ability to get there.

My other nearly constant lesson is for a 12 year old who moved from Romania last summer. Her Hungarian barely exceeds mine, so school is, at times, a real challenge for her. Her parents want to move her to an international school in Budapest, where all of the lessons would be in English--a language she has a pretty good handle on. So, I meet her twice a week. The problem is 1) I have a lot of time off of school and like to travel (which I warned them about) and 2) her parents don't seem to know exactly what step to take next. At first I thought I was prepping her for nothing more than an entrance exam that required a low-intermediate fluency and basic math skills. Then I was sideswiped when I was asked when I thought she would be ready to take a state level exam! This was certainly not what I was preparing her for! Additionally, they weren't sure which exam, when it would be taken, or even the level! WOW! The girl is really clever and picks up on things very quickly, so teaching her isn't a problem at all. . .I just don't consider myself at all qualified to judge what level of exam a student is ready to take or which test would be best for her/him--it's a system I just stepped into barely eight months ago. Sigh. . .so I really don't know what's going on. . .I am just helping her the best I can while I wait and see what I actually need to work towards.. . .

There are a few others that come and go . . .usually just a few weeks here or there. I feel almost bad that I will more or less have to give them up completely before long because my schedule is going to be so crazy. . .it doesnt seem fair to them not to be consistant, while at the same time, I really like teaching the private lessons. . .I just will have so many end of school activities, etc. . .

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Diák Nap

Diák nap (student day) begins today. . .which means 24 hours of chaos, really. Fun, but chaos all the same.

As I walked into the school this morning, Laci, was lecturing a class he was letting out a little early "Be back by 11:45. You MUST return. If you don't return, there will be trouble. You can go to the CBA, you can go get Fornetti, but don't go into the pub. If I see you go into the pub, there will be more trouble. Don't think I will not see you. . ."

My one class was, of course, chaotic. They wouldn't quiet down for anything. They begged to play cso-cso and pouted (REALLY pouted) when I said no. I gave them a test, most of them cheated, but I wasn't motivated enough fight against the fallout of giving them all ones. I did that earlier in the semester and their grades are still recovering, so I guess it's my act of kindness for the day.

Then we had the opening. The School Leavers did their dancing routines (only the fun ones) and there were a couple of other dances. Four of the boys did break dancing. While the were clearly Hungarian village kids break dancing, it was impressive nonetheless. Windmills and hand stands and shoulder spins and a litany of other things I won't even pretend to know the technical names for.

The rest of the day includes, but is not limited to: a talent show, a police dog demonstration, a night time competition between classes (19:00-5:00!) , cso-cso, karaoke, a tea house, a mandatory, 2 K run, guest lectures, a cooking contest (which I am somehow judging. Also, it's outside, over fires. The kids were shocked that when I told them that this would probably never be allowed at home) a chess competiton, crafts, films, handball, table tens, cycling, a debate, volley ball, a salad bar, physics demonstration, student art exhibition. . .all backgrounded by a 24 hour basketball competition. Luckily, I am not one who gets to stay over night.

For the night competition, Robi interviewed teachers on a voice recorder and the kids have to guess who is speaking for one of the tasks. They thought it would be soooo hilareous to have me talk. Mercifully, instead of an all out interview, I will just be reading from a book. All the same. Bet the kids won't get that one.

As soon as the whole shebang s over tomorrow at 3, I get to hop on a train and head off for Spring Break! With nary a long weekend or even a shortened day since winter holiday, the week off will be more than welcome!