During my six weeks in Hungary, I have met incredible people who have taught me so much about their culture. Learning about Hungarians and how they live has been fascinating. A topic that consistently comes up is the idea of a generation gap.
The phrase “generation gap” is a common one all over the world, but to the people in Hungary, it means something a little different. The generation growing up in communist Hungary grew up in a vastly different way than those before them. I have noticed a large generation gap in two different areas during my time in Hungary: language, religion and experiences.
When my family visited Budapest before the Baylor in Budapest program began, we toured the city with a trendy Hungarian woman in her mid 20s named Ana. My dad asked Ana when she learned English. She told us that most Hungarians start studying English in 4th grade. They are able to choose between a few languages, but most decide to learn English.
In high school, Hungarian students again have to learn a new language, typically choosing between Spanish, French and German. Ana informed us, however, that the need for Russian speakers is growing in Hungary. Employers are seeking Russian speakers because many Russians are migrating to Hungary. Young Hungarians wanting to study Russian have been hesitant because the experiences of the older generation.
Ana explained that during the time that her parents grew up, learning Russian was not some great opportunity to ensure job success, it was mandated. Before Hungary’s regime change in 1989, the older generation was required to speak Russian even over Hungarian at times. Many rebellious students refused to learn Russian as a way of fighting against the communist regime in Hungary. Many people in the older generation feel betrayed that their children would so willingly learn a language they fought so hard to avoid. In this way, language has added to the generation gap.
When our study abroad group was touring the House of Terrors, tour guide, Gabor, shared personal memories of the past with our group. Gabor was a young man in his mid-20s with a passion for Hungarian history. As he discussed the horrors of communism, he shared family history. In regard to religion, he said his great grandmother, a simple woman in her 90s, is strongly religious and attends church every Sunday. His grandmother, however, has no religious affiliation and never has. She is uninterested in that way of life.
Gabor explained that in the communist era, most religious organizations were eliminated. The people living in this time did not know anything about religion unless they had a strong religious foundation before the communist regime. This is why the older generation is still religious. They had strong religious convictions that were maintained during communism. The younger generation did not have any foundation of religion so it was not an important factor in their lives. It seems as if religion skipped a generation in Hungary.
The younger generations in Hungary are very westernized and trend setting. I have seen the obvious young Hungarians on the train wearing their short shorts and expensive fabrics, playing on their iPhones. But they sit next to the older women wearing long cotton dresses with conservative hairstyles, sitting contently with their own thoughts. These two types of women come from the same history but have seen vastly different things. The older generation has gained much wisdom from the time in which it grew up but has become isolated by the new world that has suddenly replaced theirs.
Many people in the older generation feel betrayed that their children would so willingly learn a language they fought so hard to avoid. In this way, language has added to the generation gap.
Not only are the older generations unable to relate to the younger generations, it is difficult for them to relate to anyone. One of the hardest things that elderly people struggle with is not being able to relate to others because many people from their generation are gone.
The only people who could understand what they went through are no longer alive.
Walking the streets of Hungary, I have realized I have not seen many elderly people. The horrors of communism took a toll on the population delete growing up during that time when the average life expectancy in Hungary was not very high. This creates a sense of loneliness contributing even more to a generation gap.
I have realized through these examples that in Hungary, a generation is not defined by the years separating people. A generation is so much more. A generation is way one group was brought up and the tendencies they have due to being raised in that way. Communism has made one generation in Hungary unable to relate to another. Here a generation gap is more than years.