Life as a foreigner in Hungary
How to survive in a country where few speak the same language as you.
I consider myself a privileged person. The reasons are many, but mainly I grew up in a country where I learned the language and had access to an education that gave me the opportunity to learn enough to be able to communicate with others as well. During my adolescence I had the opportunity to travel, and every time with “my-not-so-perfect” English I always managed to make myself understood, and this convinced me that I would be able to get by more or less anywhere.
Then, almost a year ago now, I decided to start my ESC project in Hungary and many of my certainties began to waver. Eastern Europe, at least in my native country - Italy - is not a well-known destination, in my group of friends no one had ever visited it before and I didn't know what to expect. Based on my previous experiences around Europe, I was sure that not much would change, that I would find a way to make myself understood. I was not entirely wrong but things are not as simple as I imagined.
In Hungary, most people speak Hungarian, a language very different from all the other european languages as it belongs to a linguistic lineage of its own. It doesn't have much in common with English - although obviously thanks to globalization there are some common or similar words - with Latin or any other language I knew. Its grammar is completely different, it recalls Russian in some aspects of the construction of the sentence even though it does not use the Cyrillic alphabet. It is certainly difficult for a foreigner to be able to learn it from scratch, just by wandering around the city.
In my case I moved to Debrecen, the second largest city in Hungary, a university city, full of foreigners, where however the shopkeepers do not speak English or better understand it but still answer you in Hungarian. I could tell an infinite number of episodes, more or less comic, in which I tried to make myself understood in every way, even using a few words of Hungarian to explain that "nem beselek magyarul" ("I don't speak Hungarian") but I didn't get no result. The key word that has characterized most of these moments is frustration. I did not think that I would ever experience on my skin the feeling of being in a country where, if I shouted for help or sought some information or wanted to ask something, I would probably not be able to receive an answer that was understandable to me. Several times I felt unable to react in front of a person who, to my question in English, repeated an answer in Hungarian several times, louder and more slowly, as if it made a difference.
It goes without saying that the worst situation is when you are in a group of Hungarian people, who start joking and talking in their language, without you being able to grasp what they are saying. For anyone who decides to move here, even just for a few months, I can advise you to be patient and try not to feel too guilty: I understand that when you want you can find a compromise, and that in Hungary there are many groups of volunteers and foreign students where you can make beautiful friendships and share your struggles. Do not feel alone, after a first moment of disorientation I can assure you that things will get better, and if you want it there are several language courses that could help you to settle in better.
I have never felt anger, more than anything else sorry at the idea that I could have more experiences if only I had the opportunity to interact more with the people around me. If nothing else, I now feel able to understand how others feel in the same situation and have learned to force myself to speak English even when there is the slightest chance that someone does not fully understand my native language.