More 100-Day Assessment: Up with People

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Pro #3: Hungarians

With few exceptions (there’s just this one bitter guy at the Posta) we have been warmly treated as we blunder through our days here. They endure our pitiful attempts at their language with grace, and exude a friendliness and joy that is very winning. There is a genuine respect for elders that is very compelling — men and women alike routinely and automatically yield their seats to older travelers, and seem to enjoy talking with them. Just yesterday I was waiting to cross a busy street when an elderly woman with a cane came up to the knot of people next to me and was offered an arm by a woman my age to help her across.

In turn, these “veterans” are very engaged in the world around them — it is not uncommon to see an older woman come up to a young mother and chat with her about the “baba” and offer some advice, which is always graciously accepted. As they pass homeless men or panhandlers, they invariably stop to chat and offer the balm of respectful conversation.

I know we’re simply not traveling in circles where there are retired folks pushed off on a golf course ice floe to be neither seen nor heard except by visiting family, but I sure hope this aspect of Hungarian society pushes back across the pond where we need it.

Con #3: History

I was looking at a map on the wall of a church building and explaining to our kids that it was showing the pre-World War II boundaries of Hungary. As I was explaining, an American acquaintance came up and remarked, “You know, it’s interesting, you see map after map of what Hungary used to look like, but if you walked into any building in London, I doubt you’d find a map of the former empire.”

He’s right. Now, to put it into perspective for my American mind, I’d have to create an alternate universe that might have the following history lesson:

  • Britain won the War of 1812 and grabbed back most of the upper Eastern seaboard.
  • Napoleon didn’t sell us the Louisiana Purchase, he dispatched a bunch of troops to occupy most of it instead.
  • Instead of a Civil War, Britain and France decided to use the remnant of the US as their battleground for North American domination; the US fought on the side of France and lost.
  • In the 20th century, the British empire sought to absorb the entire North American continent, destroying most of the US infrastructure and getting as far as the outskirts of Mexico City before being repelled; the Spanish/Mexican forces pushed the British back to the Northeast and occupied the US for 50 years.

And so forth. We’ve been asked on more than one occasion, “Why are you here?” Not in a “get lost” sort of manner, but in a skeptical, “Why on earth would you come to Hungary?” way. There’s a collective lack of self-esteem brought about by history that borders on the disturbing.

Probably the best expression of this was a tourist promotion from 2006, inviting visitors to “invade” Hungary:

In Budapest, everyone stays longer than planned: the Romans 400 years, Ottomans 150, and Soviets 45 years. You receive an extra night for free.

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