Yesterday, I returned to Budapest after the holidays to find two small pieces of official red tape across my two front doors and a nail driven through them. My best friend Google Translate let me know that I would be persecuted if I broke the tape and went inside, so I called my landlord agent, Gabor, who miraculously answered and came by quickly.
Gabor called the police but ended up having to go to the station to learn what had happened and receive authorization to enter the flat. Turns out, my flat and two others in the building had been burglarized on December 21.
Budapest is a safe city. However, I had been informed that the crime of choice is burglary. So noted.
It’s interesting to learn what does and does not matter to you when you’re outside your flat waiting to go inside.
Fortunately, I didn’t bring much with me when I moved. In fact, the international movers said it was one of the smallest lots they had ever seen. I brought mostly clothes.
As I stood outside my door, I realized that I had what mattered the most with me—and there wasn’t much (in terms of material items). Otherwise, three things slowly came to mind. First, I thought about my clothes and shoes. These weren’t of major import, but it would take time, money, and energy to get a new wardrobe, and I don’t like to shop.
Then, I remembered I had left a small box of necklaces behind. They weren’t worth much money, but have significant sentimental value.
Finally, I realized that files and documents with my personal details were in there. Identity theft could be devastating. Everything else faded away as I paced.
Gabor returned with the authorization, he found pliers to pry the nail and open the doors, and we entered. In a haze, I walked through my flat. At first glance, the kitchen, dining room, and bathroom looked almost untouched.
As I entered the living room, I paused. Undisturbed were the flat screen TV (part of the apartment and something I never use), my printer, my small CD player, and my voltage converters. They didn’t take those items?
Then I entered the bedroom.
Clearly this is where they spent the most time and effort. Dresser drawers were open and the contents were either moved or emptied onto the floor. Closet doors were open, and some contents were spewed on the ground.
On all accounts, I got lucky. My clothes and shoes were there. By some fortune, they either didn’t find or didn’t want the necklaces. And from what I could tell, they didn’t touch my files.
From what I found so far, here’s the odd assembly of what they took: some nominal leftover foreign currency from trips, my first generation iPod Nano, my clock radio, the iron (my landlord’s), my hair dryer with adapter, an old DVD player (my landlord’s), three bottles of wine from my fridge, and a bag of health/beauty/wellness supplies, like lotions, toothpaste, baby powder, hair bands, and the like. I learned about the hair dryer last night after taking a shower. Oddly, they didn’t take the curling iron that doesn’t need an adapter that was nearby. And they didn’t take the bottle of wine in the dining room rack. A perplexing list.
Everything about this experience is foreign to me—the burglary itself, the local laws, the Hungarian insurance aspects, and more. The burglary happened to me, but I seem to be almost peripheral in the process. Maybe that’s normal for burglaries, but being in a foreign country probably magnifies the effect. It’s like I’m having an out-of-body experience.
I’ve been surprisingly calm about this whole thing. I find it particularly interesting because I’m very much an independent person—sometimes fiercely so. And yet I’m dependent on others for all aspects of this process, including the most fundamental of things—communication.
I’m interested to see how I react as the days go by. Maybe my go-with-the-flow attitude came just in time. And maybe something like this is a reminder of what really matters in life.