- 7 Apr 2023 11:04 AM
Renato Calcagno is one of only 14 Panamanians living in Hungary. With 15 years in this place, his blog, “Un panameño en Budapest”, has established itself as one of the most detailed help sources for Spanish speakers interested in this country, especially for Latinos who find with him answers to their doubts and concerns of all types.
"I remember with satisfaction the first comment that touched me deeply from a girl. She said: “I am Chilean but my parents are Hungarian and I have fought with them all my life. Thanks to your blog I have finally understood why my family is the way it is”. I realized then that I helped this girl make peace with her family. That's when I started crying."
This is how Renato narrates one of his most memorable interactions with one of the visitors to his well- known blog, Un panameño en Budapest (A Panamanian in Budapest). A candid reply from the so-called "last corner of the world" (Chile), sought to thank him for how his observations on Hungarian culture impacted this reader's life 8,000 miles away.
After the biggest refugee crisis that Hungary has had, (The Revolution of 1956) many Hungarians went to make their lives in different Latin American countries. A context from which decades later, one of those heiresses of the lineage, contacted the protagonist of this story in the mere spirit of gratitude. Her vision of her family, communication issues, family practices... Finally, everything made sense for this girl in relation to her ancestry, after the realization of being reflected in a text by this Panamanian living in Budapest.
"Having completed 10 years here in 2016, I had already finished university online (Leadership and management BA) and soon found that I had nothing else to write. I missed writing essays and reports, so I started the blog. I had managed to speak Hungarian already so I started writing in my spare time about what interested me."
Any Spanish speaker with an interest in Hungary, either because they are in the country or plan to settle, knows that information in such language on the matter is not exactly abundant. This is how you get to Renato's blog.
A Panamanian who, after falling in love with a Hungarian citizen while they both worked on a cruise, finally opted to come and live in his girlfriend's country in 2006. His web blog is recurrently among the results when it comes to information searches of matters that go beyond inquiring what traditional foods are in Hungary and are closer to the spectrum of the ones with citizen utility.
Especially in a country where not everything adjusts to the mere fact of reading instructions out there (if we talk about a universal language like English). Or without going further, where the local language is not even presumable for instance for a Latino like himself. Actually, for no one.
At the time when this Panamanian started his blog, the queries about life in Hungary gained momentum, largely due to the Venezuelan migratory crisis, whose community as we know it, is still looking for a place to live in different latitudes of the world.
"People started writing to me every day about daily life issues. How the school or the preschool worked, what kind of alternatives existed according to their family reality etc. Thus, the blog became well-known in the Spanish-speaking community."
Today sometimes in the street some people recognize me because they follow me on Instagram, but it happens less if they go by my photo on the blog where I had 25 kilos more, he jokes.
Having worked in different positions within the work circuit of multinational companies, Renato decided just one year ago to start working as a tour guide. Role in which as it comes to the same field, he certainly narrows the path so that at some point he can dedicate himself solely to advising expatriates. An occupation that also gives him some more time to work on his blog.
"There are people who write to me asking, for example, how much the thermal baths cost. That is a question whose answer can be found everywhere. But there are other serious concerns, specific to life in Hungary, which is what I intend to cover."
For instance, I could be a consultant to expatriates, for which I have recently set an hourly rate, however, the public that demands these solutions is in such economic need that making this something professionally firm is not easy.
Even so, Renato always tries to give some kind of feedback to all inquiries. In one recent case, a Venezuelan family living in Chile contacted him for advice on how to integrate into Hungary (Venezuelan immigration in Chile is estimated to be three times the official number: 500.000 citizens at present). It was a 50-year-old woman whose husband was a transport application driver.
"When I identify that they do not have as much purchasing power, I simply ask them for a donation; three euros, five euros whatever. I sit down to talk to them for as long as it takes for them to understand the picture in all its dimensions. In this case, after this, having weighed their situation, they decided to stay in Chile.
In the same way, in other types of cases, for example, I had to find a school for a child with disabilities. I did a mapping of the different alternatives that were adapted to the family and the pertinent procedures and the kid fit with the place. These are aids that fill my soul because they have meaning in the life of a family."
In his blog, however, Renato focuses today on writing mostly about tourism. This is with the aim of trying to monetize the platform and live from it. He says that writing an article takes him a few hours, but writing a guide is a different thing.
For publications on how to get documents, for example, the address Card, TAJ card, etc., I have to call the offices to check that the data is correct and I have to read in Hungarian which, although I know, takes me much longer than reading in English, he adds.
With the tours, Renato manages to support his family, where he is the father of three Hungarian-Panamanian girls. On the other hand, he obtained the nationality of this country in 2019.
To accompany him on his tour in Spanish is also to get to know a bit of the life of this dynamic expatriate. Mixing the country's history with his personal experiences is part of his account on Budapest’s downtown streets.
Renato is strongly rooted to this land. A bond that began when he was learning the language under a situation that is hard not to imagine jocularly while I am interviewing him. From the beginning, his former mother-in-law spoke to him in Hungarian all the time as if he knew Hungarian.
That's how he got words stuck on him. He learned in such a way that later, when he joined a language course, he could not adjust to it. So, he self-taught himself the language for the next seven years, reaching an advanced level.
And he knows that the language issue can be a big problem depending on the situation.
"A woman wrote to me that she wanted to take her son out of school because his classmates made too much fun of him because he did not speak Hungarian. What I would most like to do is to personally go with this woman to the school and solve the problem the way I do, because I am sure I can deliver that solution.
However, being cases that would take up so much of my schedule with respect to my main job as a tour guide, without the financial willingness of the solicitant, they unfortunately, become unfeasible to assist."
For everything else, Renato offers a wide variety of articles in his blog where he interacts with the community permanently. In it, the first thing you notice is his strictly speaking. One of his articles "English language is more important in Hungary than Hungarian", (recommended) reflects this faithfully. From this, he shares his observation.
"I know very few people with intermediate English who work here for a multinational company. In them, regardless of the fact that the work is quite heavy, the immigrant considers them a good opportunity because they are aware of the reality of the salary in Hungary. In a multinational you get more than the average Hungarian, simply by knowing English or, in the case of Latinos, Spanish."
According to a survey done for his blog 3 years ago, 65% of foreigners living in Hungary work for a multinational. With 17 years living here, Renato says that this figure is totally in line with his experience in the country and adds: "In a multinational, you make more than 40% of Hungarians".
By the way, the website of this "Panamanian living in Budapest" has the option of automatic translation into English. However, the content offered is usually thought and written from the need of monolingual Latinos, who are often in need of direct feedback on such matters with people of their own language.
"The last guide I did in English for example on all types of residence permits had 400% more traffic. I could have more web traffic writing originally in English, but I give priority to Spanish to help my people, the Latinos I mean (because there are only fourteen of us Panamanians here), he laughs."
Renato hopes sooner rather than later to devote himself entirely to helping Spanish speakers in relation to life in Hungary, a country full of challenges, many of which this expatriate has so far overcome triumphantly.
Renato Calcagno “Un panameño en Budapest”
Blog “Un panameño en Budapest”
Interview by Daniel Sepúlveda O, contributing journalist for Xpatloop.com