One of the delights of working for this international organisation is its encouragement of multilingualism, and the way that it provides in-house language courses. So every Tuesday and Thursday evening after work I go upstairs and join a French class.
Our teacher, Stephane, is extremely good and maintains a conversation throughout our 90 minute class, apart from the bits where we need to learn a little bit of grammar. In the last class we had a test (as with all bureaucracies, we need to prove that we are doing something), but most people had missed the class so tonight he gave out the test for a second time, but said that as this was the last class of this session we could either spend the lesson completing the test or we could go to a local bar and have French conversation 'devant une biere'.
Well, of course, democracy delivered the right answer and we were soon sitting in a local bar, three Hungarians, a Canadian, a Tibetan, a Brit and a Frenchman discussing the Winter Olympics, in French of course. Surreal, c'est nous.
Now, I have read quite a few books and articles about Hungarian culture, and one of the things that they all agree on is that when you are sitting in a bar you can talk about football, the cinema or the weather in complete safety, but you should never ask anything about politics. So after a couple of beers, suddenly remembering that there will be a general election in two months, of course I asked, "Where does the extreme right party stand on the Roma people?"
Suddenly, the energy levels in the conversation shot up about 50%, and from that point on we had an extremely animated explanation about and discussion of Hungarian politics, the collapse of communism, the importance of 'self' in modern life, Monty Python, love and the futility (or otherwise) of marriage. Several hours and beers later we left.
One of the things that I really like about Hungarian people is their position balanced between northern European reserve and southern European excitability: they can seem quiet and reserved until a certain point is passed, after which anything and everything can be discussed in great openness.
Our 4.30 class had stretched until 10 o'clock, and it was time for me to climb on my bicycle and wobble home.