Dramatis persona*

helenhead Helen Chick

I've always wanted a bumper sticker that said "I'm a female, LDS/Mormon, Scout leading, geocaching, piano-playing, bicycling, mathematics educator with a PhD in maths ... and I VOTE"!

I think this makes me a minority group of cardinality 1!

* Since there's only one of me and "personae" is plural (I think), I've gone with dramatis persona.
January 2021
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Szeged Miscellany

There are a few little extra bemusements to share from my trip.

I can’t remember exactly what prompted the following tradition, but not long after I became a mathematical traveller* I started to bring back flags for the older of my younger brothers, who is now somewhat of a vexillophile, with in excess of 25 flags (I think he had a few flags before I started bringing them back). Since this tradition arose after my first overseas trip, which was to the UK and Hungary, he does not have a Hungarian flag, meaning that one of my diversions for this visit would be to track one down. The hotel receptionist was not confident about where I might find one, but gave me some useful suggestions, including a military shop not far from the conference venue. So, during a morning tea break, I hotfooted it through the streets to a pokey little place, staffed by two women with no English. With the aid of a pre-translated Hungarian sentence, and a few extra words looked up in the now somewhat dilapidated English-Hungarian dictionary that I bought 25 years ago, I successfully acquired the more “official” of the two versions of the Hungarian flag (it also comes without the coat of arms). Achievement unlocked.


In the course of tracking down a power adaptor earlier in the week, I inadvertently came across the chapel for my church, and, on checking the timing of everything (conference and church meetings) I figured I could escape the conference and at least attend the most important of the Sunday church meetings. I then realised that it would be the first Sunday of the month, which is where the members of the congregation have the chance to share their “testimonies” about their beliefs. I knew that this would not be a big congregation, and so I suspected they wouldn’t mind if an extra person joined in, and then it occurred to me that I could try to do this in Hungarian. Hungarian, though unrelated to just about every language there is, has a very predictable alphabet and pronunciation, and I had learned some of this on my previous visit (e.g., the “s” is a “sh” sound, so you should be pronouncing “Budapest” as “Budapesht”; the “sz” is our “s”, which explains the pronunciation of Szeged and Tisza) and had been practising during the week**. So, I constructed some simple sentences in English, threw them into Google translate, got Google and another translation engine to translate them back again to see if they still made sense and that nothing stupid was appearing, and then copied it out and practised saying it a few times, fully aware that, despite my claims of Hungarian’s predictable pronunciation, I was probably mangling it terribly.

So, I turned up to church (not quite in my Sunday best, but presentable), and was at least greeted by some people who could speak English. The hymns turned out to be familiar ones, as far as the music was concerned, and so I had a crash course in speed-reading the Hungarian words, and discovering that the way that everyone else seemed to be saying them bore only marginal resemblance to the pronunciations that I thought I had learned. Not surprisingly I understood only the routine of the meeting but next to nothing of what was said (does “Ámen” count?!), but I got up to share my testimony, first in English, and then, with an introductory apology and no small degree of nervousness, read out my short few sentences in Hungarian, which, to my relief, seemed to provoke some smiles of understanding and a thumbs up from one of the members as I made my way back to my seat. Another achievement unlocked.


And on my last night in Szeged, I went in search of fagylalt (by no means the first serve, given it was a very warm week), and was treated to some (possibly Spanish) buskers serenading the streets in the fading light of mid-evening.



* If someone had said to me “Become a mathsy person and see the world” I would have laughed at them when I was younger, but I have been blessed to be able to visit a large number of places around the world thanks to my engagement in maths and maths education.

** I love learning about languages. The one regret of my youth is that I gave up learning a language. I don’t regret what I did as an alternative, but I really wish I wasn’t so ignorantly monolingual.

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