Budapest: Café Culture
In another photo post, I wrote about why Budapest is one of my favourite cities in the world. There are few cities that can match Budapest for shear beauty, culture, good food and of course, its amazing cafés. The best part, is that Budapest and Hungary in general remain very affordable. Paris is nice, but it can easily be four times the cost.
My wife and I are huge coffee people and Budapest cafés don’t disappoint. Most are still one-off, privately owned restaurants with huge amounts of character and charm. In virtually every café, you can get great food, decent wines and alcohol, all with full service. They are not the generic chain stores that have proliferated the North America.
Most cafés have are adorned with interesting art and furniture and attract a very diverse audience. Even the way that Europeans drink coffee is so different. People go to cafés to talk and socialize, not just get some work done or pick up an over-sized dose of caffeine on the way to work. I just shake my head every time I see cars lining up to buy coffee through a drive-through in North America.
Where is the Culture in North America?
This cultural difference is very difficult to explain to people who haven’t been to cities like Budapest, Prague, Montreal or Paris. Many people ask me what I think of my home city of Calgary. Geographically its very beautiful, but it doesn’t have any real culture compared to so many other cities around the world. Every festival or event seems focused on promoting corporate sponsors, most restaurants serve processed or pre-cooked food, and far too many people seem preoccupied with their giant house in the suburbs or new SUV. I just don’t fit in there.
All the big box stores and chain coffee shops are over-whelming. There is no equivalent of a European central square where old people gather to meet and young people go to be seen. It’s just a big jungle of generic buildings, over-manicured parks and consumerism.The worst part is that the large corporate stores are expanding all over the world. We are exporting the worst parts of our culture, to countries that don’t need any help in that department.
I feel more at home in places like Budapest.
Another place with a big cafe culture is Berlin.
As a student I spent a summer on a working visa in Boston, USA. After a while it occurred to me that there were practically no cafe terraces to be found in the city.
And other than McDs (which in any case is fast-in-fast-out) there was nowhere you could relax and have a drink and take your time over it. Plenty of sandwich shops and KFC type chains but that was it.
Then I realized something else. Everyone seemed to be working all the time, even doing overtime at weekends (something that’s rare in Europe). Everyone seemed to be rushing around being “busy”.
Myself included, I had two jobs. It seemed like sitting around in a cafe doing nothing was un-American, only something for lazy Europeans.
There are now these Seattle-inspired coffee shop chains everywhere, selling overpriced coffee with silly names. But I agree they don’t have the same atmosphere as European cafes.
Plus I don’t like drinking coffee from a mug. If you want to sell me coffee in a trucker stop mug, then I expect trucker stop prices!
A Seattleite here. I have to agree. The European cafe culture is unmatched anywhere in North America. I experienced it in Croatia and Bosnia in 2003. I actually had a cafe owner tell me not to come back if I wasn’t going to sit and enjoy my coffee for at least 20 minutes.
The “starbucks” culture in Seattle is all about getting exactly what you want and getting it to go. But, I think, if you go to the right part of town, to the right little non-chain coffee shop, you may just be able to find a slice of Europe in Seattle. If we’re lucky it will start to spread to our friends in Canada. One can only hope 🙂
Montreal also has a great European cafe culture, so at least one city in Canada knows how to do it right. 🙂 I agree that there are some independent stores with a good atmosphere, but in general, the culture doesn’t come close to European countries.
Thanks for the comment!
We love Berlin also! It is such a vibrant city.
I also agree that everyone seems to be working all the time. People are always checking their phones, working on laptops and rushing to do some errand. To what end? Isn’t the goal of work, to generate enough money to enjoy life? You don’t need much money to spend time with family and friends.
Good post with excellent pictures. Budapest doesn’t automatically come to mind when the topic of relaxed world travel come up. My mind is expanding and I appreciate it.
Thanks for the comment.
We absolutely love Budapest. It offers great food, music, architecture, culture, with great public transportation, all at a reasonable price. There are also great smaller cities like Eger that are very inexpensive and nice too. If you really want relaxing, there are many older, small towns, all over the country that are very, very inexpensive to live in.