Even black people in Compton, California would find this police interaction story a little on the tyrannical side.
The night began when I met a Mexican fellow solo traveler at Red Ruin – an awesome, anti-Communist, pro-freedom bar in a post-Communist country. He and I played foosball, went bar hopping and ended at at the single greatest bar in Budapest – the world famous Szimpla Bar. Do you want evidence of how amazing this bar is? As of this writing, they have 3,683 reviews on Google Maps with an average score of 4.6 out of 5. Ya, they’re that good!
At the end of the night, since he was off to another European city the next day, we said our goodbyes, and I started my 15 minute stroll home, walking down Rákóczi út, a major road in eastern Budapest.
It was another incredible night on my journey around the world, meeting yet another cool, random stranger. What wasn’t there to be cheerful about? Foosball, drinks, great conversation, anti-Communism, and an incredible atmosphere all night long. It all combined to make a happy Vince!
Like a tornado
Without any kind of warning whatsoever, out of nowhere, my peaceful, quiet, reflective walk home was abruptly interrupted.
Power-tripping cops quickly pulled up to the curb, parked, and sprung out, eager to start filling their empty paddy wagon. The main officer who did all of the talking kept my attention in front, but I noticed the driver went quietly behind me – no doubt he was ready to pounce if he felt it necessary.
The main officer shouted at me repeatedly in Hungarian. It took me a few seconds to gather myself and recognize what was happening to me.
“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Hungarian. Do you speak English?”
“I don’t understand. Why? What happened? What’s happening?”
It was at this point that I realized I had a decision to make. I could tell the longer I delayed in giving him what he wanted, the more likely his co-worker was to jump me from behind, throw me in their vacant paddy wagon, and haul me off to jail. I’ve had a lot of first-time experiences while traveling, but getting to know the Hungarian version of “Bubba” in prison was definitely not on my list of things to do.
As I handed him my New Hampshire driver’s license, I couldn’t help but continue asking him, “why is this happening?” He was even less interested in answering my question now that he had his pacifier – my ID.
“You’re American. Where is your passport?”
“It’s at my accommodation.”
He yelled over to the last remaining officer, clearly the supervisor, who was still in the paddy wagon, hanging out the passenger window with an uninterested look on his face. I could tell he was explaining that I was an American tourist without a passport. I looked at the supervisor, with my palms facing the sky and my arms out, this time only with my body language, I said “what is happening right now?”
The supervisor told him to set me free and he slid back into the vehicle, already mentally preparing for their next victim.
“Have a nice night,” the main officer advised me, as he handed my driver’s license back to me. Like a ninja, the officer that was behind me the whole time was already back in the driver’s seat. By the time I put my ID back in my wallet, they were gone. Just like that, it’d ended as quickly as it began.
What the hell just happened?
I’ve told this story to some friends before. They always ask the same things. Were you jaywalking? Did you litter? Or spit something on the ground, like gum? What prompted them to choose you?
The honest truth is, I have no idea why they chose me. The only thing I was guilty of was walking down the street at around 3am with my hoodie up. That’s it. I wish there was some kind of logical explanation for what happened, but I just haven’t been able to think of one.
The only conclusion I could make is that at least some Hungarian cops are, unfortunately, still stuck in the days of Communism. My heart sincerely goes out to those Hungarians who might have to deal with this sort of treatment on a much more regular basis than a tourist who’s just passing through.
As confusing and frustrating as that police interaction was, the last thing I’d want to do is to turn you away from visiting Hungary. I had a great time while I was there and I encourage others to visit this truly historic area. In fact, you should do what I didn’t do – venture out of Budapest and see more of what this beautiful country has to offer!