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Cai Glencross '18 - Budapest, Hungary

In any foreign country, speaking to locals in their native language will instantly
win you some favor; however, this is especially true in Hungary. Vent to a Hungarian
about your difficulty learning the language, and a smirk of pride will show on their face
as they agree that theirs truly is one of the most difficult and complicated languages on
the European continent. Many will even say that the complexity of the language is the
reason that Hungary has a knack for producing great puzzle masters like Ernő Rubik
(of the Rubik’s Cube) and great mathematicians like Paul Erdős. But while this
linguistic pride illustrates a more general patriotism held by most Hungarians, not all
Hungarians exhibit their pride in the same way. Nuanced differences between the way
the older generations and younger generations interact with foreigners learning their
language I think is indicative of a larger cultural divide. Specifically, the older
generation, the one that still remembers being behind the iron curtain of eastern
European socialism, are less open to foreigners learning their language. If you try to
engage your 50 year old GRoby cashier in Hungarian conversation, she will wince at
the mispronunciations and respond in English as much as she can. This illustrates that
she is still wary of non-Hungarians influencing her culture. However the younger
generation will light up at the sign of a foreigner actually putting in the effort to learn
such a difficult language. If you ask a 20 something for directions in the street during a
night on the town, s/he will (somewhat annoyingly) correct your pronunciation and
grammar, smiling all the while. This is the same generation responsible for the rise of
giant Western style malls like the one at Nyugati Palyuadvar. Shrines to capitalism that
seem to go against all the anti-western propaganda in soviet Hungary. But this new
generation doesn’t abandon the great Hungarian patriotism in favor of becoming more
western. Their patriotism manifests itself as actively spreading Hungarian language and
culture to the rest of the world while accepting influences from them. Now if only they
could get some financial help from the rest of the European Union I’m sure the younger
generation’s endeavor will be more than successful.

Seeing these different reactions to my attempt to learn the language also
reminded me that I, as someone whose native language is English, always has the
choice to not learn the foreign language. I can, in just about every country, speak only
English and enough people will understand enough to get me by. This is a privilege
unique to English speakers, and now that I know just how hard it is to try and learn a
new language in a new place I have made it a priority to go out of my way to not
default to making other people speak English no matter how hard I have to stumble
through the other foreign language.