Chapter 32 – Market Research - And its Strange Head of Department
Updated: Aug 23
Tales of a Teenage Spy - The Life and Times of Gábor Rimner Chapter 32 - Market Research - And its Strange Head of Department I think I'd better tell you a bit about daily life, which of course, like most people's everywhere, was largely centred on my job.
For the most part, I found the office atmosphere quite pleasant.
Perhaps surprisingly, there was a regular supply of anti-communist jokes doing the rounds, at least among younger workers. It depended on exactly who was in the room – you couldn't joke when Rózsika Kardos was in earshot, she forbade that sort of thing – but jokes, typically featuring Brezhnev (the then Soviet leader), Kádár (János Kádár, the Hungarian communist leader), five-year plans and whatever, were quickly spread by whispers from desk to desk.
In the first year, I was going from department to department every 10-12 weeks at each, to learn what they did. They gave me jobs, but of course, you can understand, a greenhorn normally gets only the most simple stuff. There was, however, one fly in the ointment: I fell out with the boss in what was grandly known as the Market Research Department. Or perhaps better, and more worryingly put, he contrived to fall out with me. At Elektroimpex in those days the market research comprised about half a dozen people who could speak foreign languages fluently. Most, if not all, had lived abroad.
Their – our - job was to scour hundreds of foreign newspapers, magazines and journals for any articles connected with electronics and household electrical appliances. We sat in two rooms leafing through newspapers until we found something of interest for our company. Whereupon we cut it out, glued it to an A4 sheet of paper, and translated it. Next, we handed the translation over to the head of the department, and he, well, ... I don't actually know what he did with it, but it was job done for us! We then usually rewarded ourselves with a coffee and chat to some of the young ladies in neighbouring departments. This was cutting-edge 'market research' at a Hungarian foreign trading company in 1973! Well, when I first went there, things were OK, except that everyone knew the department head had been in the police. This, coupled with the fact that he didn't speak a foreign language, immediately raised suspicions that he was a BM plant, installed to watch us. Still, for a while, he was fine. But one day I went out to the toilet or something, and when I returned, I noticed that my desktop calendar was missing. We all had one of these things, where we jotted down meetings, phone numbers, addresses, and so on. So I asked my colleagues: “Hey, where the hell is my calendar? “Oh, the boss took it,” someone replied.
“Uh? He took it?” “Yeah, he said to go into his room. He wants to talk to you.” Well, I can tell you, I wanted to talk to him! So I just walked in and said; “listen, I'd like my calendar back, quickly! I think that's my private property. What the hell are you doing on my desk?” This did not go down well at all. He bristled: I shouldn't speak to him in such a manner! It's not me who is the boss, but him. And before he decides what to do with my calendar, he would like to know what this here means exactly, pointing to a simple jotting, which read: “Rajk László – Vígszínház” I had completely forgotten the reason for writing this, except that Rajk László utca – today's Pannonia utca – led past Vígszínház, the Gaiety Theatre. The theatre was a location I knew, otherwise Rajk László utca might have been anywhere in Budapest, because I still didn't know the city very well. When I told him this was simply to help me find an address, he rounded on me. “How dare you write the name of a communist hero like Rajk László together with Gaiety Theatre? !! Why? Do you find this funny?” “What?” I said, my jaw dropping in astonishment. “Are you making a comedy out of a communist martyr?” (László Rajk, a one-time communist Interior Minister, had been executed after a show trial in the Stalinist era.) I could hardly believe my ears. I said, “But listen, it is there because the Gaiety Theatre is on the corner of this street. It helps me find the place.” “Yes, but why did you write it in your calendar?” I can't remember what exactly I told him. I found this all just plain nuts. I could see in his eyes such suspicion, such mistrust – I was flabbergasted. I stared back at him wondering: “What the hell has happened with this guy?” I wasn't alone. All my colleagues – who could hear the conversation across the office - were stunned. They kept asking me what was going on? Why is he checking on you? They also told me he had even gone through my drawer. I went home that night turning over events in my mind. It slowly dawned upon me that already, after just a few months in the country, somebody was watching, checking on me. And it made me start thinking about basic security measures because, up to then, you might say I had almost forgotten about my spying mission. I had so many things to deal with in everyday life, working, earning a salary, managing women, trying to stand on my own two feet and so on that Ibarely had time to think of my primary goal. Whatever, this incident somehow warned me. Hmmmm, Gábor, you are being checked out. Now why?