Gestalt psychology is concerned with how we perceive the world around us. Its principles suggest that we tend to interpret what we see around us in the light of what we are familiar with, and that anything that does not fit into that pattern sticks out. Hence we notice differences rather than similarities.
So as I walk around Budapest what I notice are the differences, and one of those differences is in the types of shops that are around. There are probably three types of shop that, to my eyes at least, seem to be much more common here than in Britain: the chemists, the hairdressers and bookshops.
Why is that? Why more chemists? Are people more interested in their health, do pharmacists have a different role to play in healthcare delivery, do people tend towards hypochondria? Why more hairdressers? Does Hungarian hair grow more quickly? I have no idea, but I feel on firmer ground about the prevalence of bookshops.
People just love books (and that's what the Rough Guide also tells me). As I reported some weeks ago I have already (inadvertently) been to a book reading, but a couple of nights ago I made a conscious decision to go to another one. This was going to be in English at a second-hand bookshop called Treehugger Dan's, a place that seems to play a significant role in English-language life in the city, being just that little bit more alternative.
Getting there was interesting in its own right. As I walked along a pedestrianised street I saw that there was a fashion show being held in a designer shop along the way. The models were walking inside the shop along a catwalk the length of the pavement window, with the invited fashionistas sitting watching them. Meanwhile, outside in the street the uninvited plebeian fashionistas sat on a street bench looking in. I grabbed a quick picture on my mobile phone to capture the magic of the moment.
So I made it to the book reading and sat down. Suddenly, somebody said, "Hello Bryan, what are you doing here?", and it turned out to be one of my colleagues. That was enough of a surprise but then she said that her husband was the author that the evening was being held around. We listened to him being interviewed and to reading some extracts from the book, and then afterwards I joined my colleague and we talked about why I had come. And, of course, I asked her husband to sign a copy of his book!
The evening that had started with me expecting to spend another interesting but solo few hours had ended up with me enjoying the company of some interesting people, one of whom I actually knew. For the first time here in Budapest I had gone out and bumped into someone I knew. It felt like a significant evening and I walked home with an extra degree of positivity.