I see the shadow of the airplane moving over a suburban community. Streets are lined with trees, there are pools in the backyard and cars parked in driveways. The plane touches down on the tarmac, but we are not in America.
Budapest is a far cry from the isolated, uncivilized country many Americans imagine when they think of Hungary. The water is clean, the city is safe and the people seem to carry on their daily lives just like the people in a modern American city. But, life in Hungary is not all the same as life in America. Hungarians live without many of the things that Americans would consider “necessity”, like air conditioning and dryers, because they simply aren’t needed.
The government in Hungary has seen many changes throughout history, and the hardships of those regime changes are still fresh for many Hungarians that lived through Soviet occupation, professor Mária Sántha of Eötvös Collegium in Budapest said.
Hungarians bear this weight in a distinctly different way than Americans do the American revolution. For Hungarians, it defines their attitude toward success and their outlook on the world, Sántha said. For Americans, the American Revolution serves only as a faded history lesson, a reason to visit the grassy battlefields in Virginia and a source of mockery in the event that we meet a British brother or sister from across the pond. Not to mention that Hungarian history goes back a thousand years, where American history only does about 250.
Before Dóra Kovács, Council on International Educational Exchange program coordinator in Budapest, visited the United States, she expected Americans to be like Europeans, generally sharing the same values.
Kovács said she never thought the United States was unsafe, but events like school shootings and gun violence that she heard about on the news were shocking.
“It is vastly different here. It almost never happens here in Europe. So, that was something that always made me think that, how is this possible and why people do that, and I still do think about that to this day, because it’s still hard to understand for me,” Kovács said.
She lived in post 9/11 New York City. When she spoke to Americans about the attack, the experience appeared to weigh on them.
“I always saw their faces go really, really sad and they didn’t really want to talk about that. I think it was such a traumatic experience that what I felt was it was not too polite to even ask about that,” she said.
On the surface, Kovács could not sense how 9/11 affected New Yorkers, but said that deeper down, she felt it did deeply impact people because you cannot truly go on as before. The recent terrorist attacks in Europe have caused Kovács to stop and think about the reality of her corner of the world being unsafe.
“We kind of are aware of this, that it is possible to happen with anyone, because you hear in the news that they blow up people during a concert or while they are at a restaurant or in the subway, or anywhere and you just go about your life and you think ‘OK, well, this could happen’ but I don’t think that should freeze us,” she said.
Kovács said Americans are very generous and helpful, something she had to get used to. Truly getting to know Americans was more difficult, she said, because there is a façade of happiness and openness on the surface that is not reflective of their true self, closed off and unwilling to open up.
“I thought it was harder to get to people’s hearts,” she said.
Europeans do not display the false happiness that Americans do, but are much more open and willing to talk about their lives, Kovács said.
…you just go about your life and you think ‘OK, well, this could happen’ but I don’t think that should freeze us,”
Culture is different in Hungary than in the United States, just like culture is different in California than in Texas, but walking down the street in Budapest feels like I could be in an American city. One where more people take long drags on cigarettes while sitting in fashionable corner cafés where letters I recognize are strung together to make words I cannot pronounce or understand and where there is a strict rule against pickup trucks. History and thousands of miles separate Hungary and the United States, but, when you look carefully, you can still buy peanut butter in the grocery store and forget for a moment that you are five thousand miles from home.
Rylee Seavers |