It is surprising, that so many tourists come to Hungary year after year. What is even more surprising, is that a lot of people choose Hungary as a home. This is an eyeopening interview with three foreign teachers, living and working here in Budapest; Rachel from England, Uwe from Germany and Jeff from the States. Some of them have been living here for decades and some of them would come back. Here, I look for the answer to the big question; what is it that keeps them here, away from their homeland.
How long have you lived/did you live in Hungary?
Rachel, Uwe: I’ve lived here for nearly 20 years.
Jeff: I lived in Budapest for almost two years.
Why did you choose Hungary?
Uwe: I met my wife-to-be at a Master’s course in the U.K. We were both British Council scholarship holders and decided to stay together. As my wife was not ready to move to Germany, I decided to come here.
Jeff: I originally came to perform research as a Fulbright scholar, for a writing project I was working on. I was particularly interested in the lives of Budapest civilians during the Second World War. While I was there, I met a few different people working at ELTE and learned about a job opening. So I returned to teach as a lecturer in the DEAL.(The Department of English Applied Linguistics)
Do you speak hungarian?
Rachel: Yes, reasonably, but I don’t translate. I have a good working knowledge though.
Uwe: I do now but would add that I’m still learning Hungarian and, probably, always will. I’ve become quite fluent and can read reasonably well but my grammar and writing skills are rudimentary. After such a long time, I’d have expected to be further down the road .
Jeff: No. I made an attempt to learn as much as possible and learned the basics and some grammar. I loved the sound and the written appearance of the language. If I were to return I would definitely take much more intensive coursework in the language.
Do you have any favourite hungarian word?
Rachel: “mosolyogni” (smiling). It’s yellow and very cheerful.
Uwe: Well, I’d say there are several, such as “lelki fröccs” (preaching,jobation) or “kukucskázni” (peep). And I like the structural possibilities that Hungarian grammar offers, e.g. to “kocsizni”, “macskázni” etc.
Do you like the hungarian cuisine?What is your favourite?
Rachel:I find most of it far too heavy. But, on very rare occasions I enjoy lángos, zsíros kenyer, halászlé, sztrapacska, my mother-in-law’s rétes (poppyseed or túrós)
Jeff: I do. I didn’t eat the heavier food that often, but when I did, I always loved it. I usually pretend to be a vegetarian, so anytime I had an excuse to eat meat I was pretty excited. I always enjoyed mangalica ( a certain kind of pork)
What do you like in Hungary?
Rachel: There is lots of culture – an excellent tradition in classical music, great folk music; and good arts and literature too. And the architecture in the city is amazing. I live in Buda and work mostly in Pest, and love cycling over the bridges on my way to work. The climate: there is more sun here than in the UK – and it’s warmer. The people: once you get to know them (which takes time) they are genuine and reliable. There is no superficiality. I appreciate that. It’s important to me.
Uwe: I think for such a small country it has got a very varied and attractive landscape. For example I like the softness of the northern Balaton region and the extended oak and beech forests of the Mátra Mountains. I also like the body language of Hungarians, the way they move their heads, shoulders and hands when people speak.
Jeff: I really enjoyed the people I got to know there, both colleagues and friends. I loved, loved, and loved the city, but also the puszta, and the areas around Balaton. I was always amazed at how strong a sense of their own history, arts, literature and music many Hungarians have. As a teacher, reader and writer, I love much Hungarian literature, especially Krudy and Krasznahorkai.
What don’t you like?
Rachel: The pessimism and ‘grey’ on a November or February day: everyone wears grey, looks grey, and ‘speaks grey’. It’s very depressing. There is no coast. This is a tragedy.
Uwe: I have a real problem with Hungarians talking into each other’s turn, what English people would call ‘talking past each other’. Again, it’s probably my German background that plays a part here: If somebody says something to me, I wait my turn and then respond. I don’t think you can really listen well and talk at the same time… But maybe Hungarians can?
Do you have any favourite place?
Uwe: Well, I’ve mentioned two but would perhaps add Normafa here in Budapest. It’s a wonderful place that feels like a real forest and yet so close to the city.
Jeff: Szabadság tér. I spent countless hours sitting in that park. I also loved taking walks throughout the city. Outside of Budapest I also really liked Veszprém.
Would you like to be here for a lifetime?
Rachel: I’ve been here a long time already. I own a flat here. Who knows how much longer I’ll be here. I miss the UK, – the people especially, and the culture because it feels (felt) like home and is familiar.
Jeff: Sure! If the salaries in education were a bit better especially. It was definitely difficult leaving, and I often think about returning.
What do you think why people choose Hungary, while the local people going abroad?
Rachel: There is still a sense of the exotic for foreigners about Hungary. Tourists get a very different picture of the place. It’s totally different being local and living here. If I’d grown up here I would probably want to move abroad and travel too – but I’d come back as well. Home is always home, wherever you are: the people make it that way. But when opportunities are being shut off it’s very dangerous, insular and unhealthy: that’s the feeling people here have, and increasingly a feeling they are being sucked in, trapped in the system.
Uwe: Well, Hungary is a very charming country to visit. My non-Hungarian teacher training colleagues, for example, all came here at around the same time as me. They all kind of fell in love with the place, and then … with a Hungarian woman. There was also a sense of openness and opportunity then. Everything (good) seemed possibly…But we all realized it’s a different story when you actually live here for longer. But then most of us also had family commitments and were quite aware of the English saying ‘The grass is always greener on the other side of the valley.’ As for people leaving the country, I’d say this is not a bad thing when looked at in the context of the kind of Europe that makes this sort of movement possible. And even if they feel they need to leave Hungary (for financial or political reasons), they may will be back at some point and bring in the kind of different experiences, perspectives and ideas that this country needs as much as its home-grown assets.