3 1/2 weeks before the election Hungary is celebrating its national holiday as we speak (well, write). And in true Hungarian fashion it is one of utter defeat. Briefly put, a good 170 years ago Hungary tried to rise up against the Hapsburg Empire and was crushed mercilessly in all its endeavors. A typical Hungarian story / fate, as astute readers know. Hungary, it seems, has always been doomed to failure. But don’t tell the nationalists that. Because they will turn that little fact around and crush you mercilessly.
Clannishness is everything to the Hungarian mindset. And by clannish I mean family and fatherland. They go hand-in-hand to the Hungarian mind and will not be separated. Which always gets me, because our ancestors (supposedly) rode into the Carpathian Basin on their horses, proud as any conquering power would be, and then shed that part of their heritage like a snake will readily get rid of its skin never to reclaim it again.
Hungarians today are extremely family-oriented, to the point of leaving almost no space for friends once family ties have been set. An acquaintance once told me that a girl she knew wanted to go on “one last trip” with her best friend before getting married, because she firmly believed that once she’d made her vows she could only do such things with her husband. This, my acquaintance assured me, was more typical than atypical thought.
It is true that weekends and holidays are reserved for family, visiting either sets of grandparents or other assorted relatives. Even Christmas is family only: immediate family on Christmas Eve, closest set of grandparents on Christmas, and extended family the next. Contrast that with the UK, which has given us Boxing Day as the day on which we box up all our unwanted presents (I’m sorry, gifts) so we can return them to the stores and sample the sales. Or with Finland, which has traditionally consecrated the second day of Christmas for meeting friends down at the pub / bar / any place that isn’t home and allows you to drink. There’s a huge difference.
Which isn’t to say that Hungarians don’t travel. Or even – shock, horror – become migrants themselves. Though, of course they’ll use a whole other term, because they just went there for work. But even when settled somewhere else, Hungarians will for the most part still consider themselves Hungarians, a breed apart from (and well above) the rest. Not everyone, of course, but on average. Family is everything as is the Fatherland.
Perhaps this, too, could explain the Hungarian reluctance to experience anything new. Few Hungarians go abroad just for fun or travel for the same reason. It’s to make money, to better one’s situation, or – in the case of a vacation – to show that one can. Extremely functional.
I’m not trying to make excuses. Part of the reason I won’t ever fit in when it comes to Hungarian society is my enthusiasm for travel and to explore just for the sake of it. I’m very aware of that. My Hungarian friends are very aware of that. Some share the same lot as I, others are more grounded. But I’d be willing to bet dollars to donuts that this unwillingness to explore something new even when forced, this family-and-fatherland-before-all has everything to do with the constant xenophobia on display.
Of course, Hungary has only been free of “the yoke of constant oppression by one power or another” since 1989. In that respect it’s like the mother of a newborn jealously guarding her Precious, reluctant to let anyone hold or even play with her Most Prized Possession. Which is understandable. But for the sake (and mental health) of both newborn and mother, one has to be able to let go. Take a night off, go on a date, meet some friends. Even though separation is painful it is a necessary step for mother and child, allowing said child to grow into a reasonably functioning adult instead of a super-entitled spoiled brat always used to getting its way no matter what because Mommy was always there at the slightest whimper. Take note, Hungary. Take note.