“But, are you really Swedish?” This is a question I must have heard at least a million times. Until recently I have always insisted that, yes I’m Swedish, hands down. Of course it is my typical Hungarian appearance, brown eyes and brown hair, that confuses people. Lately I have decided to make it easier on them and started saying that I’m a Swedish-born Hungarian.
The reason I do this isn’t only because I’m tired of arguing with people but also because lately my Hungarian roots have become increasingly important to me. This is why I have decided to live in Budapest for two months to figure out if I’m really Swedish or Hungarian or a little bit of both.
I have been here several times before but this is the first time I’m here to actually live. I’m really excited but also a bit scared. What if it isn’t everything I always dreamt that it would be?
Ever since I was a kid my parents have been telling me stories about the mother country. I know all about how it was growing up during the communist era and the struggles they faced. Dad told me about the revolution and mom told me how her grandpa lost his land.
Obviously they told us about the happy moments as well. However they always made sure that me and my sister knew how privileged we were to grow up in Sweden. We were going to have so many opportunities in life, they said. The world was at our feet – as long as we studied hard, of course.
I think in many ways they were right. But I can’t help but wonder how different my life would have been if I were born in Hungary. Maybe I would’ve been a doctor or a lawyer, unemployed, a beautician or perhaps a shop owner. Maybe it wouldn’t be different at all?
Every year our parents took me and my sister to Hungary to visit our relatives. The trip from Sweden is long but it was always worth it in the end. We both loved it here.
Every trip gave us new insights into our Hungarian heritage. We visited the countryside, went bathing in Balaton and did some sightseeing in Budapest. The contrasts were immense and kind of hard for a kid to take in properly.
Now it has been several years since I travelled with my parents. Lately I’ve been coming to Budapest with my friends and partying always seems to be on our agenda. After all, Budapest is the new Prague, or so I’ve heard anyway.
As we roam around the city it becomes more and more apparent that my language skills come to good use. I love the smile I get from the waiter when we give him the order in Hungarian. I also noticed how happy Hungarians are to hear someone speak their language – even if I, as my mother lovingly tells me, sound like a foreigner. I always excuse my pronunciation and they always insist that I speak perfectly well. What a confidence boost!
This time, however, I’m not here on vacation, I’m here to learn. I go to school to improve my Hungarian and revisit the places I went to as a kid in order to see it with new eyes. More mature eyes.
What I have seen so far has been surprising, confusing and fun. The first thing that hits me every time I come to Hungary is the TV. Or rather the dubbed Hungarian voices. Every time i see ”How I Met Your Mother” on Hungarian television it makes me chuckle. Neil Patrick Harris just isn’t Neil Patrick Harris unless he has his own real voice. Not if you ask me, anyway.
The other thing that caught my attention was the Easter celebrations. It is just a tad more serious here than it is in Sweden. I arrived three days before the celebrations began and realised that this holiday is actually a real proper holiday here. What we do in Sweden for Easter can’t even begin to compare to the celebrations I saw in Hungary. It was like a big national party.
However, I did find it hard to understand why all the shops were closed. In Sweden the shops are almost never fully closed on holidays or Sundays. Thankfully the non-stop shops tended to my basic needs.
The third thing that really tickled my fancy was how easy it is to move around. Usually when I’m here I get lazy and just take a taxi. This time I’ve opted for the more eco-friendly option and plan on using public transport. The Metro, the bus and the tram are excellent and so easy to use to move around. I figure public transport will be essential for me in order to get the most out of my stay here.
During my two months in Hungary I plan on getting to the bottom of all the “what if’s” I have always been wondering about. Maybe I’ll get a chance to see or imagine what my life would have been like if I had grown up here instead of in Sweden. I’m going to figure out why I’m so drawn to this country and the people here. What is it exactly that makes it so amazing?
(Part Two next week)