Expats choice, what Hungarian gifts to buy

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When I received one of these delicate ceramic birds as a thank-you from a mother whose boys have been coming to our LivEnglish program for the last three years, I felt so very special. Not because getting gifts makes me feel great, of course they do, but that the item received is something so pretty and unique and every time I look at my little red bird I will think of the person who gave it to me. The boys were our first homestay students in Hungary and their mother Sophie has been a huge help in getting our business off the ground. Both children are exceptional students, fit into our family easily and I am beyond grateful to have met the entire family.

Mine is the first from Sophie, the rest are following

She told me how the French community in Hungary love these little birds, and how they often give them as a goodbye gift when expat friends leave Hungary which happens more often than not in our French school. Many families come and go, some get business opportunities that keep the community moving around Europe. They have little goodbye parties and collect ‘des oiseaux’ in all sorts of different colours, textures and sizes too! The collectors end up with little bird families, reminders of all their friends around the world.

A little bit about the artist. She went to the art academy in Budapest, now the Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design [MOME], where she obtained a master’s degree. She was born in Austria shortly after WWII, and when her family returned to Hungary, she took up the arts. Her first Birdie was created in high school, but she perfected the form in 2000. You can find out more about Magma at www.magma.hu and Birdy by Karsay at www.karsay.hu Check out the video of their creation!

So when we decided to go back to our little French village of Capestang, Judit Karsay’s creations became the sought after gift to take. I asked my friend Sophie where I can buy them, and she sent me her personal information on Whatsapp and I immediately contacted her asking about her little birds. However she had broken her arm and was unable to make them for us and although she is practically our neighbour, she sent us on a wild goose chase through the city to find an art gallery with her merchandise still on hand. They are collected throughout the world, and finding them was not an easy task! But we were determined to find some of these birdies for our close circle of friends in France.

When we entered the Magna Gallery immediately I saw Judit’s birds; all sorted by color, coordinated and laid out for us to choose from. They also had a window display where three big red Birdies sat among a variety of artisan products, local and Hungarian. But not typically Hungarian like the folkis stuff you see but modern, clean lines, unique pieces that stood out. Hungarian but current and cool.

My children had the task of picking out the Birdies that would best suit each of my French friends from the dozens of little ceramic creations to choose from. For Mallory they picked the beautiful aquamarine blue with black cracks, for Marion a similar design but in a lighter baby blue color. Next Bea and Nat got hot red birds just like mine for their fiery personalities which are similar to mine, while Cecile received a solid grey/blue just like her eyes and her calm personality, and last but not least Anne got the dark blue egg with little yellow lines; it is the most unique and would suit her ultra modern home.

I gave each of them their gifts in turn and explained the story of what the birdies symbolise to me. Anyone who receives an egg from the Hamori family has a direct connection to Hungary, an open invitation to my home and a friendship for life. I wanted them to know how special our relationship is to me, how much I think of them and I wanted them to feel that they have an ongoing line to us. Just like the bird flies, although the distance is great, I will always be here for them. Time may go by, our connection remains the same. I think by their reactions, each liked their gifts. <3

A typical gift to give is Paprika; the red pepper powder good for stews and soups. It comes in different strengths, mild and hot and they now have smoked as well which is not so traditional but great on the BBQ. And who can forget the famous Palinka, the local clear moonshine with a very strong kick (up to 40%+) made out of a variety of fruit; plum, cherry, apricot, and pears! I rarely drink it, but if I do I like apricot. It burns all the way down to the very bottom of the stomach. We also have Unicum much like bitters that can help an upset stomach; made up of 40 herbs and spices from all across the world. The history of this unique dark drink goes back to over a hundred years when the Zwack family came up with the secret recipe. Then there are local embroidery, leather crafts, wooden trinkets…

I have been back and forth to France and Hungary so many times, I am certain that my Hungarian family has a stockpile of Champagne, Foie Gras, wines and herbs de Provence they will never eat and my French friends have endless Paprika as well, although they usually drink the palinka pretty quickly! Gotta love the French! Viva la France!

I also purchased 80€ in a variety of chocolates against Alfonz’s better judgement. I put them in the fridge, and packed them for the car ride on ice packs and once in Innsbruck, I placed them into the service refrigerator and collected them in the morning. Then in Geneva I put them into our apartment fridge but this time, in the morning, the house was chaotic, the kids fighting, the rain falling; and I forgot them all! All the chocolate covered cottage cheese sticks, the seasonal hazelnut creams, the Balaton caramels, the Duna rocks; lost to a host that didn’t even say thanks! I was mortified. By the time we had realized we were already in France! Alfonz remembered, and told me as we stood in line to buy our gas station lunch. I was so upset with myself I started to cry while buying my first ham and cheese baguette in France. Yes eating it was very comforting. Drowning my sorrows not in wine but eating them away in bread and deli products. Hah! I was terribly disappointed. How many hours I had to work to buy those gifts. Why did no one remember? I was kicking myself all the way to Capestang.

I didn’t know how my French friends would react to Hungarian Bubbly, being so knowledgeable about all things wine right out of the shoot. But we risked it and also bought each of our friends a bottle of Hungarian sparkling wine. Torley is the staple of all special occasions in Hungary which comes in a variety of dry-semi dry, sweet, rosé, and white.

Lastly, I gave the gals handmade egg noodles that are in the shape of shells, a little package of goulash/stew cubes and a pack of Hungarian chicken soup. Silly things really, but a little memento from our new life in Magyarorszag! When they come I will take them to the gallery to collect another Birdie and on a wine tour to let them experience the wines of Hungary for themselves. I am waiting already!

Hungary’s version of bubbly

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