It’s a freezing Friday in London, and I just had an hour-long conversation with a Hungarian immigrant on a bench in Hyde Park.

The Albert Memorial commissioned by Queen Victoria in memory of her husband, Prince Albert.

I was sitting on a bench in front of the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park and reading Churchill’s biography (yes, because I’m such a geek), when I heard the very polite and pleasantly foreign sound of “Excuse me, could I sit down?” I nodded, and as the girl was sitting down and taking a bite of her hot-dog, she mumbled “I’m very frustrated.”

“Why are you frustrated?” I asked.

“When you arrive at Royal Albert Hall [the gorgeous round building across from Albert Memorial] very early before the show, they make you go to their restaurant upstairs and have a meal. But this restaurant is so expensive, and they make you go! I make good money, I’m not poor, but I wouldn’t go to such a restaurant! All they think about here is money! This is the worst city I have ever been to because they turn everything into money-making!”

The Statue of Europe in front of Albert Memorial

The Hungarian girl whose name I never learned was beautiful in a very typical Eastern European way. She had red lipstick and white glitter on her eye-lashes.  Her dark chestnut hair was diligently combed in a half-do. Her eyes were green. She was a belly-dancer. She lived and danced in several European cities, as well as in Maryland, USA. She was the apprentice to a belly-dancing teacher here in the UK. She now lived in London with her Hungarian fiancée.

“He loves the city. He works in banking, he goes out at 8, he works a lot, he travels a lot, he comes back late, on weekends he runs in the park – London is for him. I hate it. I hate the cold, I hate the rain. I miss sun and the beach,” she said. When she finished her hot-dog, she had a cigarette: “All artists smoke,” was her remark.

She said that everything in London is about money. People come here to work for a few years, earn a little fortune, and then go back home. People in Maryland were different; they were warmer.  But then, it’s easier to get rich here than in the USA.

A plane flying over the Statue of Africa at the Albert Memorial

During the week, she rehearses, bikes, swims, and walks. On most weekends, she dances at weddings, bachelor parties, and other events. She earns well enough to pay some bills and have things of her own. She lives with her fiancée, so she doesn’t need to pay rent herself, but she cooks and cleans the house, which is her way of sharing the burden with him.

She was interested in my studies. She asked if I liked the university and Boston, and I said that I love being around so many interesting people from around the world. I suggested her to take a dancing class at one of the nearby universities: like Richmond or Imperial College; it had never occurred to her.

I shared how surprised I was to hear Bulgarian speech every single day here in London. She responded that there weren’t many Hungarians here.

The Statue of America

When she asked me about the future, I told her that I was thinking of working in Europe or the States for a few years before eventually going back to Bulgaria. “Maybe you’ll change your mind. You are very young,” was her response.

“I feel  that I still have things to do here.  I want to master my belly dancing. I need probably two more years here. Then I might go back. Yes, I might go back when I turn 35.”

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This is not the first time I meet Eastern Europeans immigrants far away from home. Read my post “One Way Ticket to the States” about my encounter with an Illegal immigrant from Bulgaria who works as a pizza delivery boy in Boston.