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The things that make an expat not miss Hungary

The things that make an expat not miss Hungary

In another article, Manci Pethes wrote about the experiences and memories that tie her to and make her miss Hungary as expat. In this companion piece on, she wrote about the reverse side of moving abroad.  As she says, “as long as borders are (still) open, everyone should decide where to live. At home or somewhere else, with compromises or without them. One thing is sure: no one is less Hungarian for being physically farther away from their home.”

Pethes starts her piece by quoting the famous line from the 1836 Szózat (Appeal or Summons), considered a “second national anthem of Hungary” besides the Himnusz:

In the great world outside of here
There is no place for you
May fortune’s hand bless or beat you
Here you must live and die! [tranls. László Kőrössy]

“The nineteenth century with its revolutionary fights have long passed”, she writes. “But we are still repeating this mantra from age 6. We hear Vörösmarty’s poem at every state and school celebration that we have to recite as obedient little lambs without really understanding its meaning.

szent margit gimnázium

Photo: Hegedűs Judit / FORTEPAN

But is this healthy? Do we need constant guilt as a nation, as an individual, as a child? How long does the effect of a historical period last? (…) Who decides what we wash our brains and souls with? These solemn, ceaselessly repeated lines pervade us, and become part of our personalities. They beget fear and inhibitions, when the aim of a nation (if such a thing exists) should rather be self-improvement, a happy and active life. I rather believe in ‘Hass, alkoss, gyarapíts’ [another famous quote by Ferenc Kölcsey, approximately ‘influence, create, contribute, and the nation will rise’], if really need poetry and mantras.”

A breath of fresh air

The reason behind my emigration was obvious: I wanted to live in a place where my energy is not wasted on dealing with other people’s mental problems. The nervousness at home, which was only to increase as the elections were getting closer, proved too be too much for me. Maybe someone stronger, more optimistic and positive can ignore the “general state of mind” of their country. I could not.

And as soon as I stepped out of the country, I felt like it was easier to breathe. Both the Czech Republic and Portugal were striking experiences. People smile, you can see a joie de vivre in the eyes of the elderly instead of hate and apathy.

Even today, I find it surprising that young people offer their seats to those in need on the tram or trolley in Brünn. Here, this is natural, and those offered a seat will smile and say thank you.

(…) In the shop, no one is cursing or mumbling to themselves angrily if the line is long, just so that others can hear their frustration. When I forgot to weigh and sticker up my fruit once, I was not attacked for it; other customers came to help me instead, reassuring me with a laugh, telling me it is all right.

Of course, Brünn is a small town compared to Budapest. And still. A visceral tranquility, the establishment of a real middle class, centuries before, simply works here. Portugal is of course different. I was amazed by the almost Buddhist calmness I experienced there. A two-hour delay does not qualify as tardiness. It is fine.

Why should we be in a hurry? Why all the stress?


In both countries, but especially in Portugal, there is a different relationship between pedestrians and drivers.  At home, everyone runs for their lives on the pedestrian crossing, and you cannot be sure if you can step on the road until the driver gestures at you. In Portugal and the Czech Republic, cars slowed down several meters before the crossing. It has happened that I was waved at with a smile, telling me not to worry, I still had time.

Past or future?

I am still not used to seeing trees blossoming at every corner, to smiling shop assistants, to helpful people in the library, the sport center, the cinema. I will be a bit sad when I am so accustomed to it that I forget to appreciate it. (…)

I promise, I would be happy to build my nation (my taxes do that, anyway), but I can only function well where I feel well.

And I don’t like emotional blackmail. So, with all due respect to Vörösmarty and Kölcsey, I would prefer to live a twentyfirst-century, Hungarian and human life. Without the suffocating aura of spirits, ghosts and the memories of long-gone battles.

Featured image:ás


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