Why Can’t Hungarians Be Friends (Abroad)


We’re a negative people if ever there was one. It seems that on top of the usual reasons why we complain, we do it to keep evil away. I mean, what other reason could there possibly be? Surely we don’t use complaining as a preemptive strike, where the objective is to get there first just so the other person will feel sorry for you and ease up? 

We are a strange people indeed. No one really knows where we came from, we exemplify the melting pot theory (just look at our family names: Németh – German, Horváth – Croatian, Lengyel – Polish, and the list goes on, that’s not even taking into account the countless Jewish and Roma names), yet we reject anything foreign (well, my compatriots do. I just like or dislike people in general, except for the previously discussed cases). We’ve been invaded, sold down the river, then invaded again before having the whole process rinsed and repeated. Yet, we think nothing of spreading over several continents, maintaining that balance of numbers between Hungarians abroad and back home. And when we’re abroad, instead of lending a helping hand to our compatriots / fellow exiles, we put them down, malign them, (almost) literally try to drown them in the well. 

Not everyone, of course. There are those willing to lend a helping hand. My Creative Writing tutor was Hungarian, and he really is a good person. Not to mention that he pushed me by perpetuating me straight out of my comfort zone every time. My clubbing buddies in Germany were helpful and kind, even helping others in the community. I’m sure there were others, but my experience kind of stops there. 

My father’s friends were a different story. For the most part I tried to avoid them. Most of them, if not all, are dead, so in keeping with the old adage of no ill word spoken about the dearly (or less dearly) departed , let’s just say they were very Victorian in their attitudes towards women and children. My father was able to tolerate a lot, and back then my Hungarian was non-existent except for kis ravasz, which should translate as little scoundrel if I’m not mistaken. Considering all that, it’s hard to say if they were helpful towards each other or constantly knifing each other in the back. 

And yet, I fully claim this country with my heart and soul. I accept it with all its faults and weaknesses, hoping that I can be a part of the small voices who shed a positive image. It’s not at the forefront of my thoughts, but it is true that people judge you no matter what you do based on the country / ethnicity you’re from. I’m not apologizing for my roots anymore, and I won’t act according to stereotypes either. Rather, this is information to be aware of. Despite this very act betraying my Hungarian roots. 

Until I met my clubbing buddies, as I’ve mentioned before, my opinion of Hungarians was extremely low, on a par with that of my mother’s native land. Because of my clubbing buddies I found something worth exploring in this part of my cultural heritage, in the country itself as opposed to the representatives it sent abroad. And what a change it was. The people I met were good, kind, well-intentioned, helpful. Almost as though moving abroad flipped a switch in the Hungarian consciousness, making you a different person from the one you were raised to be. 

Or is it because Hungarians are deeply conscious of what others think of them? In this they are no different to Finns; the metaphorical outgoing twin to Finland’s contemplative sibling. Yet, where they differ from Finns is that while Finns tend to internalize, Hungarians verbalize. Individual opinion vs. collective shame. And collective opinion is everything to the Hungarian soul. With the close collective community removed abroad, replaced by strangers thrown together seemingly at random, could it be that the sense of shame is removed and our animal instincts come out? Or do we buy into and reflect the thoughts of our host country, how it perceives us? Because the newcomer never really gets the benefit of the doubt but must prove him (or herself) first. Nothing wrong with that, unless we completely absorb and internalize the negative opinions about us and act accordingly. 

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