Prize Plums

veszprem, hungary

Most days, I take for granted the fact that András is not an American citizen, and that to become one, he’s been working diligently since he came to the United States 12 years ago, earning his green card, his status as an alien resident, and hopefully, in January of next year, full citizenship. I also never imagined that on the eve of the fourth of July, the anniversary of independence of my country, I’d be on the other side working toward my citizenship in the old country.

When we married, András and I investigated the idea of my attaining dual citizenship, an idea I took to keenly, particularly when he had made the process seem quite simple. Fill out a few papers and 6 months later you’ll be a Hungarian citizen, he said. Easy enough, I’m in!

András’ and his family members have a way of making everything sound easier than it is. Perhaps its because they don’t sweat the small stuff much, or because they have the stamina to get the job done every time, no matter the task. As it turns out citizenship in Hungary, does in fact, require stamina, and patience, not to mention a working knowledge of the Hungarian language, one of the two toughest on the planet to master.

But I would not be deterred. This morning we gathered my passport, birth certificate, and marriage license and set out for the office of immigration and citizenship in Veszprem, the town of András birth. On the way in I spotted, a large, round ruby-leafed tree with low hanging branches full of rosy plums. Szilva! I stopped to take stock of my finding, but András and Apa hurried me along into the office.

Inside, I sat quietly through 30 minutes of Hungarian conversation with the immigration officer. I had never been such a good {or quiet} wife, waiting for Andras next move, smiling and nodding in an effort to conceal my total and utter lack of language skills. When the conversation ended, András whisked me away to another office, and then another, gathering every piece of the citizenship puzzle. In the next hour, we raced from the real estate office {to get proof of residency} to the photo shop {to get passport photos} to the post office {to buy stamps, the currency with which to pay for government} and back again. I kept handing over forint and for the first time in my life, obeying without explanation, knowing we had only 24 hours to reach the finish line before departing for the US. We returned to the first office to file the documents, and review our checklist of outstanding documents.

In the end, we learned, that all of these papers could help me attain the status as resident. But citizenship, like in any country, takes dedication. It requires three years of residency and marriage to a citizen, followed by an examination of Hungarian history, culture and language.

“Let me review. In the next three years, I have to learn a large number of very difficult words and get up close and personal with Atilla the Hun, Correct? “ I asked András.

“Correct.” András said.

“So I don’t get anything today?”

“No, sorry love. You’ll have to come back in a few weeks or so to pick up your residency papers, but for today you just get the satisfaction of knowing we’re on the right track.”

My heart sunk. All that work and I didn’t even get a gold star in my passport. I had hoped to be going home with the promise of EU citizenship and a simple six-month wait and instead, I had an arduous task ahead of me.

I considered the challenge. And then I considered that by comparison to what András had already been through in my country, this process was still relatively easy.

As we left the office, the plum tree caught my eye again.

“As a future Hungarian citizen, do I have the right to pick plums off of government property?”

Persze!” András and his dad said in unison. Of course.

I collected two dozen plums in my hat, my consolation prize for my patience and perseverance. On the way home, I plotted the plum upside down cake I would make with them, swatting away András hand as he dipped back into my hat eating plum after plum. But when we got home, we found Anya had beaten me to it. There waiting for us was a meggys pita {sour cherry pie}, practically a national food, and perfect sustenance for the journey ahead.

No comments:

My photo
New York City, United States
Sarah Copeland is a food and lifestyle expert, and the author of Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite, and The Newlywed Cookbook. She is the Food Director at Real Simple magazine, and has appeared in numerous national publications including Saveur, Health, Fitness, Shape, Martha Stewart Living and Food & Wine magazines. As a passionate gardener, Sarah's Edible Living philosophy aims to inspire good living through growing, cooking and enjoying delicious, irresistible whole foods. She thrives on homegrown veggies, stinky cheese and chocolate cake. Sarah lives in New York with her husband and their young daughter.