26 May 2018

Blank-faced and Depressed Hungarians

I've been to Hungary several times, in fact, I've been to Hungary too much to even remember how many times exactly I have been without looking at my flight records. Anyway, every time I go, there is something I notice which I cannot help but wonder why. This has something to do with the people's demeanor, and somehow it intensifies proportionally to how far away you are from the city centre of Budapest. People look depressed.

I have attended a work-related event in the north of Budapest lately. I could have taken a taxi to get there and back, but instead I opted for the bus. As the bus went north, driving from Keleti Palyaudvar, one can see the gradual evolution of the buildings and the people. You see a gradual depreciation of living conditions. You start noticing the political signs and graffiti. You notice that the billboards campaigning for Jobbik (a far-right party) become more and more frequent. And you see the people living there, as if the sun forgot to rise on their neck of the woods.

I know that I am stereotyping here. Heck, I have met and know several bright and cheerful Hungarians, those who shine with joie de vivre to the point that they are infectious. But for some reason, the typical Hungarian crowd looks more hopeless and depressed, and I cannot help but come up with speculative explanations why this is the case.

Perhaps the people are insular? Perhaps they don't have an outward-looking mindset? Perhaps as reflected by their average ability to speak a second language (which is low compared to the rest of Europe), they don't look outside of their borders too much? Or perhaps everyone just got themselves convinced (maybe with the help of Fidesz) that the migrants are all there to attack them, and they need to protect their fledgling Hungarian national and cultural identity?

I must admit that I cannot put my finger to it, but no matter how often I find myself visiting Hungary, it is one place where I really cannot see myself living there. Not only that, I also find myself counting the days when I would leave, whenever I visit. If not for the family I have, I probably would not be there. There's an aura that I find too dark and murky, which doesn't really beckon me.

Try riding Bus 30 all the way to the end, and observe the people inside the bus. You'll understand what I mean.


  1. I stopped in Budapest on my way to Beijing in 1999 and it was one of the strangest stopover I had. Keeping in mind I was a 16-year-old inexperienced traveler, of course... but yeah, it didn't feel like a cheery place. I'm guessing I don't understand the culture.

    1. Zhu,

      Of course no matter how many times I've been to the country I won't say I understand the culture, but nevertheless there is this bizarre dark aura or sensation that one gets whenever one arrives.