Saturday, February 16, 2013

On Doors, Doormen, Doorwomen, Coming & Going

     You may think this a minor point, dear reader, and it is.  Nevertheless, I am rather fascinated by how important doors have become to my day-to-day teaching life in Pécs.  I think far more about doors here than I do in Oshkosh.  The reason is this: doors at the University of Pécs are almost always closed, and usually locked.  Moreover, members of the faculty usually do not have keys to these doors.  The doorwoman or doorman has the keys.  Lots of them.  Entire walls of the doorperson's office are covered with keys.  I must say I am fascinated by the offices of the doorpeople.  In Hungarian, the word for doorperson is rather elegant: it is portás (pronounced pore-tash).  There is a portás at every entrance from the outside world into the Faculty of Humanities campus.  I suppose that the portás keeps an eye on who is entering the campus, and the portás often seems to be answering questions about where something is, but his or her chief occupation seems to be handing out keys.  (At two entrances to my building, moreover, there is a coat-check room, where students and others may check coats and bags, if they so wish.  My first thought on seeing this was: what is this, the Opera?  On second thought, I find it quite civilized.  Imagine, Oshkosh friends, if students did not have to lug winter gear around Sage Hall!  Since I have never used the coat-check, though, I will comment here no further.  Rather, humor me as we return to the subject of doors and keys.)  On my way to most of my classes, I must schedule in time for a swing by the portás office, to make a request for the appropriate key.  
     The appearance of the office of the portás varies wildly, I must say.  Some sit in shacks outside of the main buildings (like the shack soon to be pictured here), some sit in worn, old offices just at the front door of a building, but the portás I most frequently request keys of sits in a beautiful, newly renovated office, mostly glass, which has a commanding view of the main entrance to the Faculty of Humanities (the main entrance which is pictured here below).  
     Not wishing to offend the portás, or invade her or his privacy, and not commanding enough Hungarian to explain why I want a photo, I have not photographed this office, so you will have to imagine with me, dear reader, an office that looks a bit like a ticket office in a train station, inhabited by one or more people, behind a very large glass window, ready to deal with the public.  In some of the lesser-used buildings, the portás-es have little enough to do that they can read the newspaper or do crosswords, but the main portás office seems very busy, a bit like the information desk in a busy train station.  It is there that I must request keys before class and then promptly return them after class.  No zooming down the halls into an open classroom as in Oshkosh.  No showing up a couple minutes late as I was once advised by a master teacher.  Here, one's professorial entrance into class requires a bit more forethought and some fumbling with keys.  Let's talk now, dear reader, about that entrance into class, fumbling with the portás's keys.
     Re-live with me, if you would, the first meeting of my lecture class at Pécs, two Thursdays ago.  I left my office early, in order to have enough time to visit the portás and request not only the appropriate keys, but also a small, weathered tin box, in which is kept a microphone that I could use for lecturing.  With this equipment in hand, I made my way to the lecture hall, and found dozens of students waiting outside the locked door.  I said hello, unlocked the door, and waited for the students to flood in after me.  None came.  I opened some windows, unlocked the little box which contains the slide projector's remote control, set up the department laptop to show some slides, opened the little tin box and waited.  Still, no one came.  What were they waiting for?  I could hear them all outside, chatting excitedly, hanging out.  I had opened the door about twenty minutes before lecture time, but it was not until a few minutes before lecture that the first students dribbled in, quickly followed by the rest.  (Eighty-three students are signed up for the lecture though I have yet to see that many at once.  More on that in a later blog.)  As they filed in, many of them greeted me with a "Good Morning" and class began.
     These are little details, I know, but they strike me as so interesting.  Can you imagine, Oshkosh friends, students refraining from entering the classroom as soon as possible?  In my experience, students in Oshkosh are quite eager to enter classrooms as early as possible at the start of class, and leave as soon as possible at the end.  I can't say that Pécs students were more reluctant to leave, but they certainly had no desire to be early.  I wonder why?  Do they cherish the socializing outside of class more?  Are they trying to give me some time alone in the classroom?  I am just wondering.  I am also struck by how polite these Pécs students are.  This is not to say that Oshkosh students are rude, mind you.  It would be hard to imagine, though, twenty or more students greeting me on the first day of lecture class, or telling me good bye as they leave.  And yet here, it seems to be de rigeur in a class of eighty-three for any student who passes near me to greet me both coming and going.  I find it quite endearing.  So endearing that I am exceedingly polite when I hand back the keys to the portás, bobbing my head and telling her or him multiple times in Hungarian that "I thank you prettily" for the keys.  (I had, after all, requested them by saying "I want, prettily, the keys to such and such room.")  I even might wish the portás "good day" on my way out of the building, but it being a different portás from the one who holds the keys I want, he doesn't know me and I'm not sure if he looks up from his crossword puzzle.  So I steal another admiring glance at his wall of keys and, ready to greet him if he looks up, off I go.


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  2. Gabe, I enjoy your writing and understand what you are going through. It is fascinating how little things affect your cross-cultural experience. You will notice things that you are subconsciously doing in the home country and never even thing about why, suddenly be done in a different way in the host (we met in NS, Andi's friend)

  3. Yes, it is very true, Lidia! It's so nice to hear from you, by the way. In some ways, it is easier to experience these differences in this official capacity as part of a Fulbright scholar exchange prgoram, because the point is that you are supposed to be experiencing something different. As an ordinary visitor or an ordinary migrant, I think it must be harder.

  4. One consequence is that the classroom spaces can only be used when scheduled and when the professor arrives with the key from the portás. Can you arrive at the classroom door having forgotten to visit the portás, and have to retrace your steps? And why "prettily"? Is that idiom that translates awkwardly to English?