Csíkszereda Musings

My life in and around Csíkszereda, also known as Miercurea Ciuc.

Archive for the ‘hungary’ Category

I would drive 500 miles

Posted by Andy Hockley on 2 September, 2007

and I would drive 500 more…

Friends from Budapest had booked their holidays in Brela, Croatia, and suggested that we join them. Having finally obtained a reasonably sized car for such an undertaking (a Daewoo Tico really isn’t suitable for a family of four and luggage to make such a trip), we said yes, and I started looking on the excellent ViaMichelin website for the route we should take. The shortest distance involved driving to Timisoara, down to Belgrade, and then across Bosnia to the coast, but this wasn’t necessarily the quickest, which instead involved utilising those miraculous things called motorways (unavailable in Romania, Serbia, and Bosnia) to make the trip through Hungary and Croatia. Since we had also decided to bring my father-in-law, we thus chose the quicker route (especially because we would have to first call in at Marosvasarhely/Targu Mures to pick up our passenger). In the spirit of the age in which words are combined to make other more ridiculous and crap sounding words (like “infotainment” or “synergy”) here is my contribution to the new vocabulary: a narradrive. Enticing huh? Read on…

After the pick up, on the well worn route through Hungarian speaking Harghita and Mures counties, we set off towards Cluj. En route ( a road I have driven a few times) you pass the most amazing houses in Campia Turzii. I don’t have a picture to share, but here is a similar one in Huedin (which we also passed later)

(courtesy of Dumneazu’s excellent blog).

These are houses built by rich Roma, and the ones in Campia Turzii are, if anything, even more exotic and overwhelming than the one pictured above. Next time I pass them, I will definitely stop and take pictures. (Later update: Please see comments to this post for Randy’s link to a photo of the houses)

We descended into Cluj – however you approach Cluj you have to seemingly descend into this large hole that the city seems to be built in. From the south the descent is particularly dramatic, but every other way seems to involve a similarly precipitous descent (I’ve never actually flown to Cluj, but I’m making an educated guess that the same would be true in that direction too). One thing you pass as you engine-brake your way down the mountain is a huge sign by the side of the road welcoming you to the city. This welcome is conducted in many different languages – Romanian, English, German, French, Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese etc. Only one language (given Cluj’s history and ethnic mix) is conspicuous by its absence. Yes, you guessed it, Hungarian. This sign is, I strongly suspect, a cheery reminder of the Funar years when Cluj was presided over by a lunatic Romanian nationalist mayor who did everything he could to piss off Hungarians, but instead, unsurprisingly, ended up looking like a petty minded idiot.

Through a very congested and chaotic Cluj, passing straight through Romania’s most beautiful suburb, a horrible mess of a place which is, I think, called Manastur. I’ve only ever really been to central Cluj before, which is quite nice, but Manastur is about as horrible as it is possible to be. We then climbed back out of the city on the road to Oradea (and Huedin, see above). This is a road I hadn’t driven before, and it is (in places) very attractive, especially when it climbs to the top of a mountain pass just past Negreni.

Finally we made it to the border at Bors, just past Oradea, and crossed with incredible ease, our first time crossing a land border since Romania joined the EU. A brief look at our passports, and we were waved ahead. No checking of the car papers, no checking of whether or not the Romanian passport holders had 500 Euros each (as they used to have prove), no problems. Miraculous. We stopped off for a coffee, at which my father-in-law told us how the first time he’d ever crossed this border sometime back in the 60s, the first thing he and his friend had done was to drink a coffee since real coffee was at that time unavailable in Romania.

Things you notice when you leave cross from Romania to Hungary by road:

  1. The road surface becomes immeasurably better (to be fair this is partly just because the road between Oradea and Bors is a complete mess, not because all Romanian roads are still as bad as they were a few years ago)
  2. Suddenly the landscape becomes incredibly, impossibly flat. It’s like whoever drew up the Trianon treaty said, “We’ll mark this border here – you can keep this endless flat bit, and the bit with any sort of contours we’ll give to Romania”.
  3. You no longer see blokes pissing by the side of the road. You do see cars which are stopped and you can assume that somewhere there is someone watering the roadside vegetation, but it’s done much more privately than in Romania, where people just pull over, whip it out and let fly there and then, regardless of visibility or any other considerations of decorum.
  4. The overall average standard of driving goes up considerably. No longer do you get people screaming up the wrong side of the road outside of queues of traffic, no longer do you see death defying acts of bravery/stupidity on a quarter-hourly basis.
  5. There are reflective things by the side of and in the middle of the road, and reasonable lighting in towns and villages. This is probably something you would only notice crossing at night, but it is certainly very very noticeable. While driving at night in Romania is pretty hard work, since you can only see what your headlights illuminate, in Hungary it is much much better.

We thought we would drive about an hour into Hungary and then find somewhere to stay the night. This proved somewhat harder than anticipated. The towns that we came to, once we’d made the decision to stop when we could, were unremittingly lifeless and unwelcoming to visitors. We did find one pension that was open in some dusty one horse town somewhere the name of which escapes me, but, predictably, given that it was the only accommodation for hundreds of miles (possible exaggeration alert), it was full. Finally we arrived in the by now familiarly dusty and underpopulated town of Törökszentmiklós (or “Turkish Saint Nicholas” – a town specifically named so that you don’t mistake it for all the other Saint Nicholases). There we did find a person who we could ask about accommodation, and he directed us down a back street to a panzio. Which was signposted but apparently invisible, even though the sign indicated that it was 50m away down a small road. We did eventually locate it, but it was not in the direction that the sign pointed, and neither was it lit up in any way. Nonetheless, we managed to rouse the owners (it really wasn’t that late, but you know, Törökszentmiklós is one of those places that makes Csikszereda look like New York), and finally got ourselves a place to stop for the night, making our own entertainment (Paula running around energetically for about an hour, finally released from the confines of the car seat), since the town had nothing else to offer us.

Next installment: Our intrepid heroes leave the endless plain behind and head further west…Tune in whenever I get round to writing it for episode 2

Posted in hungary, romania, travel | 7 Comments »

Munkácsy in Transylvania

Posted by Andy Hockley on 19 July, 2007


Csikszereda has been playing host to a much hyped up and amazingly professional exhibition this year (it finished last weekend). This was an exhibition of the paintings of Mihaly Munkacsy in the Miko Var (the castle depicted on the front of a bottle of Ciuc beer for those able to take a look at such an artifact). The whole thing was not only professionally presented, but well organised, and, amazingly, advertised. I know that last one doesn’t sound like much of a deal, but here things rarely get publicised until they’re more or less over. The posters for the music festival in Tusnad happening this week appeared yesterday for example. But the Munkacsy exhibition was publicised widely with large banners everywhere (and not only in Csikszereda but as far away as Marosvasarhely (Targu Mures) – there has even, I’m told, been transport laid on from various corners of Transylvania for people to attend.)

So, anyway, enough about the novelty of having something well organised in the town, and onto the thing itself. Who is this Mihaly Munkacsy, you may be asking yourself. Or at least you probably will be asking yourself that question if you’re not Hungarian / linked to Hungarians in some way / an art history expert. Mihaly Munkacsy, or Munkácsy Mihály if we are to be more accurate, is Hungary’s most famous painter. I won’t bore you with his life story, since you can read it on Wikipedia.

His style isn’t really to my taste to be frank (one of my favourite paintings at the exhibition was one of him by a Rippl-Rónai József). But that’s not to say it wasn’t interesting and there were one or two pictures that really catch the eye. Some of my favourites are unavailable on the Internet (or at least I can’t find them with 5 minutes Googling, and that’s as much effort as I’m prepared to put in). His most famous paintings are referred to as the trilogy – three pictures depicting the trial/crucifixion of Christ (you can look at all three of them here). Two of them were here in their full glory while the third, “Ecce Homo”, which a young James Joyce apparently raved about when it came to Dublin, was only here in final draft form, rather than the actual painting itself. “Golgotha” was the most interesting as there was also a display of photos that he took to help him compose the picture, including one of himself crucified(yes, he strung himself up on a cross and had someone take a picture so he could use himself as a model). The best bit of it, I reckon, is these two blokes in the foreground wandering away from the scene having a chat. It’s refreshing realistic to imagine that while this moment might be the defining moment in Christianity and therefore be very important in the larger picture of Western civilization, at the time presumably it was nothing very special at all, for many more than a handful of people.

Anyway, not quite sure of the purpose of this review, except to maybe highlight the works of someone mostly unknown outside of the Hungarian speaking world.

(Oh, and while we were there, our crap mayor came in guiding a Romanian tour party around the exhibition – something which he did in Romanian. This a far cry from his behaviour at the end of last summer which I reported here. You see he can speak Romanian when it suits him.)

Posted in csikszereda, hungary | 1 Comment »

October 23rd

Posted by Andy Hockley on 25 October, 2006

Bit of a busy week, round these parts as I am in sole charge of the little ones, but we’ll see if I can get through a quick post about Monday evening before the littlest one wakes up.

So, as mentioned earlier Monday was the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian uprising in which a large number of very brave people rose up against their oppressive regime, and were eventually crushed with the assistance of the Soviet army. This obviously didn’t happen here, since we are not in Hungary, but there was a fairly large commemmoration event here. At 6.30 we went out to join the candelit march that was starting from “Freedom Square” outside our apartment. We couldn’t get a candle/torch, as they were reserved for bigwigs apparently, but undaunted we managed to get over the disappointment. The parade/march/walk/amble was conducted in almost complete silence (though I’m not sure if that was deliberate or just because people weren’t feeling very chatty), and led us up Timisoara Boulevard and then up past the theatre to the Hungarian Consulate. By the time we got there it was a fairly big gathering, of at least a couple of thousand, which for this town is a major turnout.

Speeches were spoken by various dignitaries – somebody from the Hungarian foreign ministry, the consul, some religious leader, a local politician one who has his own blog even (in Hungarian), and various others. It was getting a bit parky by this time, and Paula was getting tired so I led her home, while Erika and Bogi braved the nighttime chill of the Carpathians for a while longer, but not quite long enough to witness the unveiling of a new statue representing “The Angel of News” (I think). I saw it yesterday though, and it’s not the most attractive piece of public art I’ve ever seen, but probably I’ll get used to it.

I wanted to include some photos to give you a taste of the evening’s events, but sadly my camera chose that night to seemingly expire. I’m hoping I can resurrect it somehow.

I asked around to find out what would have been the channel for this news to reach Csikszereda back in 1956, and was given a number of possible answers (nobody I asked was actually alive, so it was a bit of guesswork) – that they heard on Romanian media (which seems like it may have happened after the fact – it’s hard to imagine that 1956 Romanian government would have been happy about spreading news of a popular uprising); that they heard on Radio Free Europe; and that people near the border could get Hungarian TV and they would obviously have heard, and it would have got passed around Transylvania, slowly spreading eastwards. That last one appeals to me (aesthetically, not because I like the idea of people being denied information) – it conjures up bards and wandering minstrels and the like.

Anyway, the events, such as they were, were quite moving and passed by without incident, which is obviously more than can be said for the similar commemorations in Budapest.

Hungarian readers may be interested to learn that the 1956 events more or less destroyed the far left in the UK (obviously no major deal compared to what upheaval it caused in Hungary). After the seond world war, the communist party was quite strong in Britain, but 1956 split it completely asunder between those who supported the uprising and those who advocated mother Russia sending the tanks in. To this day, the derogatory slang term for Stalinists in the UK (yes there are some) is “tankies”.

Posted in csikszereda, history, hungary | 5 Comments »

October 23rd

Posted by Andy Hockley on 25 October, 2006

Bit of a busy week, round these parts as I am in sole charge of the little ones, but we’ll see if I can get through a quick post about Monday evening before the littlest one wakes up.

So, as mentioned earlier Monday was the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian uprising in which a large number of very brave people rose up against their oppressive regime, and were eventually crushed with the assistance of the Soviet army. This obviously didn’t happen here, since we are not in Hungary, but there was a fairly large commemmoration event here. At 6.30 we went out to join the candelit march that was starting from “Freedom Square” outside our apartment. We couldn’t get a candle/torch, as they were reserved for bigwigs apparently, but undaunted we managed to get over the disappointment. The parade/march/walk/amble was conducted in almost complete silence (though I’m not sure if that was deliberate or just because people weren’t feeling very chatty), and led us up Timisoara Boulevard and then up past the theatre to the Hungarian Consulate. By the time we got there it was a fairly big gathering, of at least a couple of thousand, which for this town is a major turnout.

Speeches were spoken by various dignitaries – somebody from the Hungarian foreign ministry, the consul, some religious leader, a local politician one who has his own blog even (in Hungarian), and various others. It was getting a bit parky by this time, and Paula was getting tired so I led her home, while Erika and Bogi braved the nighttime chill of the Carpathians for a while longer, but not quite long enough to witness the unveiling of a new statue representing “The Angel of News” (I think). I saw it yesterday though, and it’s not the most attractive piece of public art I’ve ever seen, but probably I’ll get used to it.

I wanted to include some photos to give you a taste of the evening’s events, but sadly my camera chose that night to seemingly expire. I’m hoping I can resurrect it somehow.

I asked around to find out what would have been the channel for this news to reach Csikszereda back in 1956, and was given a number of possible answers (nobody I asked was actually alive, so it was a bit of guesswork) – that they heard on Romanian media (which seems like it may have happened after the fact – it’s hard to imagine that 1956 Romanian government would have been happy about spreading news of a popular uprising); that they heard on Radio Free Europe; and that people near the border could get Hungarian TV and they would obviously have heard, and it would have got passed around Transylvania, slowly spreading eastwards. That last one appeals to me (aesthetically, not because I like the idea of people being denied information) – it conjures up bards and wandering minstrels and the like.

Anyway, the events, such as they were, were quite moving and passed by without incident, which is obviously more than can be said for the similar commemorations in Budapest.

Hungarian readers may be interested to learn that the 1956 events more or less destroyed the far left in the UK (obviously no major deal compared to what upheaval it caused in Hungary). After the seond world war, the communist party was quite strong in Britain, but 1956 split it completely asunder between those who supported the uprising and those who advocated mother Russia sending the tanks in. To this day, the derogatory slang term for Stalinists in the UK (yes there are some) is “tankies”.

Posted in csikszereda, history, hungary | 5 Comments »

Links

Posted by Andy Hockley on 12 October, 2006

In the absence of any content from me today, I’d like to point everyone in the direction of Dumneazu’s post about the peasant market at Negreni this last weekend. Sounds fantastic. Having read it, I asked a couple of people here if they knew something about this peasant market “Oh, yes, Fekete Tó” they all said, like it was common knowledge and I should of course have known about it. I’m definitely going next year.

And for one more link of the day, the website of Hans Ven der Meer, Dutch photographer, who has managed to put together a fantastic series of pictures of football being played in various different settings. Doesn’t sound too promising, I know, especially if you’re not into football – but believe me, it’s worth a look. There are two pictures from Romania, in case you need local interest, and for Hungarian readers at the end of the strip are some fascinating shots (unfootball related) from mid-80s Budapest.

Posted in hungary, links, transylvania | 5 Comments »

Links

Posted by Andy Hockley on 12 October, 2006

In the absence of any content from me today, I’d like to point everyone in the direction of Dumneazu’s post about the peasant market at Negreni this last weekend. Sounds fantastic. Having read it, I asked a couple of people here if they knew something about this peasant market “Oh, yes, Fekete Tó” they all said, like it was common knowledge and I should of course have known about it. I’m definitely going next year.

And for one more link of the day, the website of Hans Ven der Meer, Dutch photographer, who has managed to put together a fantastic series of pictures of football being played in various different settings. Doesn’t sound too promising, I know, especially if you’re not into football – but believe me, it’s worth a look. There are two pictures from Romania, in case you need local interest, and for Hungarian readers at the end of the strip are some fascinating shots (unfootball related) from mid-80s Budapest.

Posted in hungary, links, transylvania | 5 Comments »

National Psychology

Posted by Andy Hockley on 15 July, 2006

I was wondering recently about the increasing tendency in the media and elsewhere to assign psychological motivations to an entire nation. Israel is worried about its security, the USA has been mentally scarred by the Vietnam War, Tuvalu has Attention Deficit Disorder, that kind of thing. And while it’s obviously bollocks and just lazy journalism, I wondered if there was anything one could glean from this exercise.

I also have this fairly vivid memory of being half the age I am now and talking to an old Italian bloke who put forward the theory that the US was the way it was (in foreign policy) because it had a national inferiority complex and that Germany was the way it was because it had a national superiority complex. At the time I thought this was just rubbush, but as time went on I began to understand where he was coming from (I still think it’s nonsense, but its not completely baseless nonsense).

To be honest, the thing that sparked these thoughts were some comments I read about the recent World Cup and how the great success of the tournament (off the pitch at least) was enabling Germany to at last feel proud of itself again. This ties in (somewhat) with a film that was released a couple of years ago called Das Wunder von Bern about the (West) German football team’s win in the 1954 World Cup. The basic premise behind the film (and I’m paraphrasing considerably, and there is a genuine and apparently fairly moving plot that reveals this message) is that the Germans were a proud people with a strong sense of national identity, who at the end of the war had nothing left to cling to – a destroyed country and economy, national humiliation and nothing whatsoever to be proud of for being German. Then came the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, and against the odds and in the final against the best team in the world at that time – Hungary – the West German team won, giving people a reason to be proud of their country again in a completely non-threatening way (after all it was only football). The radio commentary of the last few minutes of that game is apparently hugely famous in Germany to this day.

Well it seems that Germany in particular has been the subject of the national psychoanalysis more than most places – Hitler’s rise is often painted as a historical inevitability given the national sense of injustice resulting from the post World War I treaties that Germany was made to sign. Indeed this is largely the reason that the Marshall Plan came into effect after the second war – not wishing to make the same mistake again, the US, in what remains possibly the most enlightened foreign policy decision by any nation ever, helped to rebuild (West) Germany from the rubble up.

Anyway, enough digressions, and back to the point. When I say “back” of course I mean I’m now about to touch on the point for the first time. Going back to “the Miracle of Bern”, the untold story is of the Hungarian team. Now every football fan knows that Hungary were the best football team of the 50s (just as every football fan knows that Hungary are now utterly rubbish – I notice Ujpest lost 4-0 to a team from Liechtenstein this week. Sorry, digressing again). So how did this defeat affect the Hungarian national psyche? What, indeed, is the Hungarian national psyche? You see, when you go back and take a look at the 20th century it’s hard to find a European nation that had such a bad 20th century. Like Germany, at the end of the first world war in a treaty signed in a French chateau (Trianon this time, rather than Versailles), Hungary was sliced up and fed to its neighbours. Only Hungary lost 2/3rd of its territory and millions of its people in the deal – significantly more than Germany lost, though unlike Hungary, Germany did also have colonies in various other parts of the world which it also ceded control of. The “historical inevitability” of then ending up with an expansionist genocidal maniac in power somehow wasn’t quite as inevitable in Hungary. At the end of the second world war, Hungary ended up on the wrong side of the iron curtain, unlike most of Germany, and hence not only did not benefit from the Marshall Plan, but also had to put up with communism. When Hungarians actually started protesting about this state of affairs they promptly got invaded by the USSR (and sold out by the west) and crushed even further into the dirt. In fact it’s only since 1989 that things started to get better for Hungary. All in all it was a pretty miserable century. And they didn’t even get to win a World Cup in the midst of it all. So why are we not bombarded with analytical pieces of journalism analysing the national state of mind of Hungary and how all this misery must have traumatised the Hungarians? (To be fair, I don’t read the Hungarian press, and it may be that this subject gets debated interminably there)

I do know, for example, that Hungary has a startlingly high suicide rate. One of the highest in the world as far as I know. (Also Harghita county has the highest suicide rate in Romania, but that maybe just because it’s bloody freezing for 4 months of the year, rather than because it is full of manic depressive Hungarians). Whether there is any connection between the effect on the “national psyche” of a century of desperation and the suicide rate, is of course debatable (I’d go as far as to say that there is no connection, but that’s mostly because I don’t really believe in the concept of “national psyche”).

I suspect that the reason that there isn’t much coverage of the Hungarian psyche in the world’s media is because Hungary doesn’t matter that much. It’s only the strong nations that get anthropomorphised in this way (I’m guessing for example that the effect of Versailles on the Germans wasn’t looked into until Germany started once again to assert itself). We look at the effect of the war in Vietnam on the American psyche but not on the Vietnamese. Only this morning, for example, I read about the effects of Hizbullah’s rocket attacks on the Israeli psyche, and nothing about the effect of Israel’s bombardment of Beirut on the Lebanese psyche. (I made up the Tuvalu thing in the first paragraph, you may be surprised to learn). Is this because we don’t like to present our enemies (or the enemies of our friends) in psychological terms for fear of humanising them too much?

I’ve gone on long enough, and will stop now, without ever really having made any kind of point. You’ll have to supply your own conclusion for whatever makes any sense out of this. I do have some points to make about the relationship between Hungarians and Romanians based on all this, but I will wait till I get back from holiday to do it. I bet you can’t wait, can you?

Posted in hungary, intercultural communication | 4 Comments »

National Psychology

Posted by Andy Hockley on 15 July, 2006

I was wondering recently about the increasing tendency in the media and elsewhere to assign psychological motivations to an entire nation. Israel is worried about its security, the USA has been mentally scarred by the Vietnam War, Tuvalu has Attention Deficit Disorder, that kind of thing. And while it’s obviously bollocks and just lazy journalism, I wondered if there was anything one could glean from this exercise.

I also have this fairly vivid memory of being half the age I am now and talking to an old Italian bloke who put forward the theory that the US was the way it was (in foreign policy) because it had a national inferiority complex and that Germany was the way it was because it had a national superiority complex. At the time I thought this was just rubbush, but as time went on I began to understand where he was coming from (I still think it’s nonsense, but its not completely baseless nonsense).

To be honest, the thing that sparked these thoughts were some comments I read about the recent World Cup and how the great success of the tournament (off the pitch at least) was enabling Germany to at last feel proud of itself again. This ties in (somewhat) with a film that was released a couple of years ago called Das Wunder von Bern about the (West) German football team’s win in the 1954 World Cup. The basic premise behind the film (and I’m paraphrasing considerably, and there is a genuine and apparently fairly moving plot that reveals this message) is that the Germans were a proud people with a strong sense of national identity, who at the end of the war had nothing left to cling to – a destroyed country and economy, national humiliation and nothing whatsoever to be proud of for being German. Then came the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, and against the odds and in the final against the best team in the world at that time – Hungary – the West German team won, giving people a reason to be proud of their country again in a completely non-threatening way (after all it was only football). The radio commentary of the last few minutes of that game is apparently hugely famous in Germany to this day.

Well it seems that Germany in particular has been the subject of the national psychoanalysis more than most places – Hitler’s rise is often painted as a historical inevitability given the national sense of injustice resulting from the post World War I treaties that Germany was made to sign. Indeed this is largely the reason that the Marshall Plan came into effect after the second war – not wishing to make the same mistake again, the US, in what remains possibly the most enlightened foreign policy decision by any nation ever, helped to rebuild (West) Germany from the rubble up.

Anyway, enough digressions, and back to the point. When I say “back” of course I mean I’m now about to touch on the point for the first time. Going back to “the Miracle of Bern”, the untold story is of the Hungarian team. Now every football fan knows that Hungary were the best football team of the 50s (just as every football fan knows that Hungary are now utterly rubbish – I notice Ujpest lost 4-0 to a team from Liechtenstein this week. Sorry, digressing again). So how did this defeat affect the Hungarian national psyche? What, indeed, is the Hungarian national psyche? You see, when you go back and take a look at the 20th century it’s hard to find a European nation that had such a bad 20th century. Like Germany, at the end of the first world war in a treaty signed in a French chateau (Trianon this time, rather than Versailles), Hungary was sliced up and fed to its neighbours. Only Hungary lost 2/3rd of its territory and millions of its people in the deal – significantly more than Germany lost, though unlike Hungary, Germany did also have colonies in various other parts of the world which it also ceded control of. The “historical inevitability” of then ending up with an expansionist genocidal maniac in power somehow wasn’t quite as inevitable in Hungary. At the end of the second world war, Hungary ended up on the wrong side of the iron curtain, unlike most of Germany, and hence not only did not benefit from the Marshall Plan, but also had to put up with communism. When Hungarians actually started protesting about this state of affairs they promptly got invaded by the USSR (and sold out by the west) and crushed even further into the dirt. In fact it’s only since 1989 that things started to get better for Hungary. All in all it was a pretty miserable century. And they didn’t even get to win a World Cup in the midst of it all. So why are we not bombarded with analytical pieces of journalism analysing the national state of mind of Hungary and how all this misery must have traumatised the Hungarians? (To be fair, I don’t read the Hungarian press, and it may be that this subject gets debated interminably there)

I do know, for example, that Hungary has a startlingly high suicide rate. One of the highest in the world as far as I know. (Also Harghita county has the highest suicide rate in Romania, but that maybe just because it’s bloody freezing for 4 months of the year, rather than because it is full of manic depressive Hungarians). Whether there is any connection between the effect on the “national psyche” of a century of desperation and the suicide rate, is of course debatable (I’d go as far as to say that there is no connection, but that’s mostly because I don’t really believe in the concept of “national psyche”).

I suspect that the reason that there isn’t much coverage of the Hungarian psyche in the world’s media is because Hungary doesn’t matter that much. It’s only the strong nations that get anthropomorphised in this way (I’m guessing for example that the effect of Versailles on the Germans wasn’t looked into until Germany started once again to assert itself). We look at the effect of the war in Vietnam on the American psyche but not on the Vietnamese. Only this morning, for example, I read about the effects of Hizbullah’s rocket attacks on the Israeli psyche, and nothing about the effect of Israel’s bombardment of Beirut on the Lebanese psyche. (I made up the Tuvalu thing in the first paragraph, you may be surprised to learn). Is this because we don’t like to present our enemies (or the enemies of our friends) in psychological terms for fear of humanising them too much?

I’ve gone on long enough, and will stop now, without ever really having made any kind of point. You’ll have to supply your own conclusion for whatever makes any sense out of this. I do have some points to make about the relationship between Hungarians and Romanians based on all this, but I will wait till I get back from holiday to do it. I bet you can’t wait, can you?

Posted in hungary, intercultural communication | 4 Comments »

Who comes at Christmas?

Posted by Andy Hockley on 17 December, 2005

How is a Transylvanian Christmas? Who comes and gives out presents? What do they give? And what other features are there? These, I’m sure, are questions I’m sure you’ve all been dying to know the answers to.

Firstly, the present bearing visitor. Early last week, we were all visited by the Mikulas (Hungarian), Sfantu Nicolae (Romanian, possibly misspelled), or as English speakers will know him, St Nicholas. He comes on December 5th and leaves sweets, fruit and various goodies (finomság) in your shoes.

He is merely the first of two visitors in the month, though, as on Christmas Eve there is a second, toy dispensing visitor. This is where it gets more complicated, because the visitor varies depending on your ethnic group. For Romanians, I think, though I’m open to correction, it is Mos Craciun. This translates as something like Old Man Christmas, though that’s not a very satisfactory translation (Hungarian speakers would translate it as Karacsony Baci). I’m not quite sure how and where Mos Craciun and Sfantu Nicolae differ since in Englsh the British Father Christmas is equivalent to the American Santa Claus, and therefore these two characters are roughly the same thing. Perhaps he makes two visits with different hats.

For us, the visitor wil be the Angyal (angel). The angel shows up on Christmas Eve at a time when the children have been removed from the house (I suspect that in the late afternoon/early evening of that day you see a lot of grandparents walking their grandchildren around while the angel comes), and not only leaves presents but also put up the tree, and decorates it (I think Mos Craciun does this for Romanians too). As you can see it’s quite a demanding life being the angel. None of this popping down the chimney, dropping a bunch of presents, and then drinking a glass of whisky and eating a mince pie. (Did you know by the way that Father Christmas in the UK gets whisky, while his American counterpart gets milk? It’s prohibition gone mad). But there is a variation (we think). Erika thinks that in Hungary (and in Hungarian families in parts of Transylvania close to the Hungarian border) it’s not the angel that comes but Jesus himself (in baby form, rather than 33 year old hippy form). One wonders whether all sects of Christianity would be happy with the thought that Jesus comes to Hungary once a year and hands out toy soldiers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Barbies and so on.

After the children have come home to find that their house has been miraculously decorated in their absence, the presents are opened, and then everyone sits down to the big family dinner. I’m almost certain that stuffed cabbage is involved. It usually is. Subsequently, those who are interested in doing so go to midnight mass. On the 25th, there is no special event, but people go round and visit each other.

In our household this year, we have no idea what will happen. Unless the baby comes in the next two days, it is almost certain that Erika will be spending Christmas in the maternity ward, and it will be just me and Bogi here to celebrate the big day. I will have to hire someone to take her out for a while so the angel can come round and put up the tree (which is currently sitting on our balcony). We have some presents to open, and I’m not sure what we’ll eat, but possibly it will involve large amounts of chocolate.

Posted in hungary, romania | 1 Comment »

Who comes at Christmas?

Posted by Andy Hockley on 17 December, 2005

How is a Transylvanian Christmas? Who comes and gives out presents? What do they give? And what other features are there? These, I’m sure, are questions I’m sure you’ve all been dying to know the answers to.

Firstly, the present bearing visitor. Early last week, we were all visited by the Mikulas (Hungarian), Sfantu Nicolae (Romanian, possibly misspelled), or as English speakers will know him, St Nicholas. He comes on December 5th and leaves sweets, fruit and various goodies (finomság) in your shoes.

He is merely the first of two visitors in the month, though, as on Christmas Eve there is a second, toy dispensing visitor. This is where it gets more complicated, because the visitor varies depending on your ethnic group. For Romanians, I think, though I’m open to correction, it is Mos Craciun. This translates as something like Old Man Christmas, though that’s not a very satisfactory translation (Hungarian speakers would translate it as Karacsony Baci). I’m not quite sure how and where Mos Craciun and Sfantu Nicolae differ since in Englsh the British Father Christmas is equivalent to the American Santa Claus, and therefore these two characters are roughly the same thing. Perhaps he makes two visits with different hats.

For us, the visitor wil be the Angyal (angel). The angel shows up on Christmas Eve at a time when the children have been removed from the house (I suspect that in the late afternoon/early evening of that day you see a lot of grandparents walking their grandchildren around while the angel comes), and not only leaves presents but also put up the tree, and decorates it (I think Mos Craciun does this for Romanians too). As you can see it’s quite a demanding life being the angel. None of this popping down the chimney, dropping a bunch of presents, and then drinking a glass of whisky and eating a mince pie. (Did you know by the way that Father Christmas in the UK gets whisky, while his American counterpart gets milk? It’s prohibition gone mad). But there is a variation (we think). Erika thinks that in Hungary (and in Hungarian families in parts of Transylvania close to the Hungarian border) it’s not the angel that comes but Jesus himself (in baby form, rather than 33 year old hippy form). One wonders whether all sects of Christianity would be happy with the thought that Jesus comes to Hungary once a year and hands out toy soldiers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Barbies and so on.

After the children have come home to find that their house has been miraculously decorated in their absence, the presents are opened, and then everyone sits down to the big family dinner. I’m almost certain that stuffed cabbage is involved. It usually is. Subsequently, those who are interested in doing so go to midnight mass. On the 25th, there is no special event, but people go round and visit each other.

In our household this year, we have no idea what will happen. Unless the baby comes in the next two days, it is almost certain that Erika will be spending Christmas in the maternity ward, and it will be just me and Bogi here to celebrate the big day. I will have to hire someone to take her out for a while so the angel can come round and put up the tree (which is currently sitting on our balcony). We have some presents to open, and I’m not sure what we’ll eat, but possibly it will involve large amounts of chocolate.

Posted in hungary, romania | 1 Comment »