Once in a decade I try out my Hungarian identity, which means I wrap myself in its mantle by moving there. The experiment never works, or rather it doesn’t work for long. Because Hungarian identity operates on extremes, it is literally all or nothing. Sure, there are many Hungarians who have lived abroad, and people there have a good understanding of how you can be Hungarian and yet still have the passport of another country, but it seems that in most cases you are meant to make choices, you are meant to identify as Hungarian in your heart, and if and when you do, there’s not much room for anything else. I say on average, because not everyone is like that (obviously), but enough people are to make it matter.
Which isn’t to say that my immersion into the proverbial Hungarian bosom was a fail. Far from it. I learn, I come back stronger and with a better ideas of my intentions and values. Most of which clash with what the average Hungarian’s, but that’s okay. In a way, in lots of ways, my outsider status gives me immunity. But only to myself, which is what truly matters. I learned to speak the language to the point where I not only sound like a native who’s been away for a while (or as my brother likes to point out, like a Transylvanian), but where I can also comment online and “make someone’s day” with a joke. This happened yesterday, and I couldn’t be more pleased. Humor is hard to translate and even harder to render. I used to watch my brother’s favorite comedy shows with him, and every time I got a reference I was practically clapping my hands with glee. My brother has a much better and thorough understanding of Hungarian society, because he was more exposed to it than I was. But my humor didn’t always translate that well. So to have a stranger tell me online that she’d laughed at my comment and it made her day was pretty special.
But the occasional shared joke aside – though humor is a very important factor in how one fits in – there are the everyday occurrences that serve as a constant reminder that you will never fit in as one of them. For one thing, I’m neither anti-Semitic, nor am I racist, and – aside from a very small percentage – cliched as the stament sounds, there’s a lot of truth to that. Hungarians like to have their lives just so, and that means keeping things the way that they always were. I’m also not a housewife. Seriously, my cooking skills are legendary. I burn things at least once a month. Fire alarms and I have gotten very intimately acquainted over the years. And that, too is perfectly ok. I honestly don’t know a single person who’s graduated high school in Hungary and can’t cook. It wasn’t so obvious when I was in college, but it was extremely obvious the last time I lived there, so now. I also only know only one single person who graduated college, which – even though I don’t know that many people – says a lot. Outside of Hungary my circle encompasses everything, except being a widowed spouse, and even that’s debatable as I have an acquaintance who is a widower, even if his name at present escapes me.
Which leads us to what is problematic, and the real reason why I can never stay in Hungary for long or fully embrace that society. I need to know that I can be friends with people I like regardless of whether they are female or male, regardless or their color or sexual orientation. I need to be in a society that looks beyond the outside values, that appreciates the finer things in life without considering it a waste. Work, rest and family on the weekends ( but not if you’re a woman, because someone still has to cook, iron, and clean, not to mention taking care of the family) is not everything. I like to be able to do something Hungarians consider either weird and / or frivolous, something like sitting alone in a cafe, watching something completely frivolous and pointless which will not even pretend to inspire me or nourish my brain, engage in an activity that means nothing. Because to most Hungarians, unless it serves and intellectual or material purpose, it’s not considered proper.
Without those things life is not okay. As I’ve pointed out earlier, focusing on the outside merely makes your life a four star hotel, emotionless, empty. Lacking the luxury of a five star hotel (and being perfectly aware of it), or the easy go-with-the-flow attitude of a three star establishment.