Hungarian immigrants in Great Britain

You may recall György Matolcsy’s infamous CNN interview in which he extolled the economic achievements of the Orbán government, which adopted his “unorthodox”  policies. Matolcsy’s English is somewhat halting and while he was madly looking for words to describe the glorious Hungarian situation, he stumbled upon the phrase “fairy tale.” Well, the description of Hungary as a country that lives in circumstances resembling a fairy tale has been a standing joke in Budapest ever since.

Earlier this year Matolcsy promised the arrival of an earthly paradise within a year, but two weeks ago the date changed dramatically. This time he promised real change by 2030. But it doesn’t matter what he promises, Hungarians don’t  believe him. And they are leaving the country in great numbers. According to government estimates, currently at least 300,000 Hungarians are working in western Europe and the United Kingdom. I heard just this morning from a member of parliament that there might be as many as 100,000 Hungarians living in Great Britain alone.

Doctors, nurses, and computer scientists find jobs easily. In fact, the shortage of health professionals in Great Britain and in western Europe prompts hospitals to recruit in Hungary. But ordinary folks also pick up and start a new life abroad. Originally they may plan to stay for only a couple of years, either to make some money or to learn the language well, but in the end they stay for good. Often they manage to make careers for themselves, often they get married to locals. These people will never return to Hungary.

Although Viktor Orbán is convinced that his government with its nationalistic fervor is defending Hungary and Hungarians from the evil attacks of the outside world, it seems that more and more people want to leave the country of fairy tales and live with Hungary’s alleged “enemies.” According to Tárki, a well-known pollster, since 2010 the number of people who are planning to emigrate or simply move abroad in search of work has grown one and a half times. More and more people want to leave the Eden that is shaping up in Hungary where the “numbers are too good”—at least according to András Giró-Szász, the government spokesman—and therefore the IMF may not even be interested in giving the country any money.

Wanderer

HVG in late July began a series of portraits of “successful” Hungarians in Great Britain. The people they interviewed live in London or in Brighton. From an interview with a former English teacher we learn that in Brighton there are so many Hungarians that she now has a job with the municipal government helping immigrant Hungarian children adjust to the English-language curriculum. She planned to go to England for a year or two to improve her English skills but instead got married to an Englishman and now has two children. She finds that her fellow countrymen know practically nothing about the country they decided to settle in. Most of them look down on the natives and think that they are smarter than the Brits. Our former English teacher finds this difficult to understand, but I’m more sympathetic to these people’s plight. This “superiority complex” is actually a defense mechanism to cope with their present subordinate positions in society.

Another young man at the very beginning toiled 90 hours a week on a farm for £120, but then he moved to London and worked in several bicycle shops where over the years he learned a lot about both the mechanical and the business sides of the trade. Today he owns a bicycle shop called Cycle Lab. He even has a few employees, but he doesn’t hire Hungarians because “the Hungarian mentality doesn’t work here. Here people work much harder. If necessary they work six days a week and every Sunday. The English accept this, the Hungarians don’t.” And he talked at length about the simpler tax system, honesty, and investing money and time into good material. According to him, people in Great Britain don’t expect instant riches. They appreciate quality.

Another man who had been a sous chef in Hungary had enough of badly equipped kitchens behind glitzy exteriors and left for better working conditions. Today he runs the kitchen and is also in charge of  the menu in a well known hotel.

But perhaps the most interesting story is that of a young woman who has been living in London for the last eleven years. When she came to Britain on a student visa she was still a college student who hadn’t manage to pass her German examination and thus couldn’t finish up her studies for another two years. So, she decided to spend those two years doing something useful. She became an au pair and, when her time on that job ran out, she worked in a pub. After many odd jobs, including cleaning houses, she was hired by the London Underground where they trained her as a driver. The pay was good: over  £40,000 in addition to free transportation for two members of the family, which means another £2,000.  In addition, employees get eight weeks of vacation. By now she is a “duty train staff manager” at one of the stations of the Victoria Line Seven Sisters. She owns her own house and since that interview was conducted she became a British citizen.

None of these people is thinking about going back to Hungary. And not necessarily because of money. They prefer the attitude of the English. Our Underground duty train staff manager claims that she needed no “connections” to get her job. The chef also said that he got his job because he was considered to be a good worker. He needed no friend or relative to help him. And this is what they hated in Hungary. They feel that what they achieved is due solely to their own accomplishments. And that is a good feeling.

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105 comments

  1. 101 posts! Is this a record for HS?

    And a fascinating discussion too. Many thanks to Cheshire Cat (your English is impressive), An (as always), Bowen (ditto), Wolfi (whose posts so often make me smile) and the others who have contributed to this discussion. There’s so much more to say (and ask) about this subject, but unfortunately I don’t have the time or knowledge to do it justice.

    I’m off to do the washing up now!

  2. Two comments: we left the US because we found that raising a family there was just too difficult and too expensive (no affordable child care, not enough high-quality affordable education, the health insurance problem, general lack of public amenities, higher incidents of gun violence…) Personally, I feel our quality of life is better in Europe (we are not in Hungary).
    Also–concerning Hungary–every young person I know from Hungary is planning to emigrate and not come back. It is a brain drain of tragic proportions.

  3. Petofi1 :

    buddy :

    CharlieH :
    American Tap Dance has been exported too

    Well the US has as rich of a folk music tradition as any other country. Just look at one style, cajun/zydeco, very much in the folk tradition and I imagine you’d find nearly as much there as what you’d find in Hungarian folk music. Also, what is blues but folk music that originated from itinerant black musicians? And since rock and roll is a direct descendant of the blues, and rock is present in nearly every country, we could say that American folk music in the form of the blues has spread all over the world. Quite an achievement!
    Other forms of music that were more or less developed in the US: bluegrass, (also in the folk tradition), country, gospel, jazz, big band, swing, soul, R&B, ragtime, hip-hop/rap, house, disco, punk!
    I’m sure there’s more especially if we get into subgenres (Piedmont blues, Bakersfield country, etc.) But anyway the US has nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to music.

    buddy :

    CharlieH :
    American Tap Dance has been exported too

    Well the US has as rich of a folk music tradition as any other country. Just look at one style, cajun/zydeco, very much in the folk tradition and I imagine you’d find nearly as much there as what you’d find in Hungarian folk music. Also, what is blues but folk music that originated from itinerant black musicians? And since rock and roll is a direct descendant of the blues, and rock is present in nearly every country, we could say that American folk music in the form of the blues has spread all over the world. Quite an achievement!
    Other forms of music that were more or less developed in the US: bluegrass, (also in the folk tradition), country, gospel, jazz, big band, swing, soul, R&B, ragtime, hip-hop/rap, house, disco, punk!
    I’m sure there’s more especially if we get into subgenres (Piedmont blues, Bakersfield country, etc.) But anyway the US has nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to music.

    Yes, well Kingfisher went a little gaga over Hungarian folk music. Scratch a Hungarian
    and he’ll bleed his pride all over you. Fact is, a lot of Hungarian folk music is mixture from Serb or Romanian or Slovak stuff. I’m no expert but it’s ridiculous to claim that American folk
    music is boring and ‘one key’.

    Serbs Romanians are/were Eastern orthodox semi-asian cultured countries (they were no part of the western catholic-protestant civilisation( therefore the western music instruments (violin chello etc…) appeared many many decades later in backward orthodox people’s music. Therefore it is impossible to effect western folklore music.

  4. Well, we have a new participant, an ignorant Hungarian, Bulkers. Too bad that he didn’t call himself “bonkers.” It would have been more appropriate. Man, you don’t know what you are talking about. In addition your disgusting attitude toward other people is revolting. I should also mention here that your earlier comment on Mutt Damon’s opinion about Bánk bán was also unacceptable. You indicated that only Jews dislike Hungarian national treasures. You bring shame to Hungary.

    I might also warn you right here and now that I don’t tolerate that kind of prejudice around here. Go elsewhere where your messages will find a more appreciative audience.

  5. What a great discussion!

    May I also add that having lived in various places within the UK, my experience tells me that Englishmen from the North and particularly from the North East of England are just as attached to their families and mother as any other men I knew in Hungary (if that is the case at all?). Although, here, while most mothers are just as caring and loving as Hungarian mothers, once the young man is married, they tend to keep a healthy distance from the newly formed couple and only give their opinion on more sensitive or private matters when specifically asked. Turning back to the original question of attachment, is this something to do with traditional family values still strongly prevailing in more ‘rural’ areas? Such as in the case of those Hungarian men who are most likely to decide to work abroad and who also (- in my mind) come from a similar (rural) backgrounds? None of the young men living at present in the Hungarian capital I know wants to work abroad as they all find means to get by in the City where they feel most comfortable. Young males I knew to have come to the UK from Budapest were here to study at university and to return straight after (partially because they had a very low opinion on the country and its citizens fueled by an insane degree of prejudice and racy attitude towards every living creature here). I must add here that even those who studied at a university did not have a real chance to meet with young British or international students/young people on a leisurely basis as they had also worked beside their studies. All the rest of the Hungarians I knew at that time, (which is only a few years ago) did not attend formal education, but worked day and night to sustain themselves and, at the most, took occasional English lessons to improve their chances for employment As a result of this rather difficult and often demoralizing economic and social situation which they had to put up with for years, resulted in them being similarly disappointed and sour about the UK and the people they met here -employers, social advisers, other Hungarians who attended university and seemingly had a better position, etc). The Hungarian girls I know or knew from this less privileged circle were also in mostly depressing relationships with Hungarian men, but were largely unable to make a change of any sort, let alone make valuable relationships with Englishmen or men other than the ones who were in their immediate circles. Although, I remember one exception -which, I believe, surprised most and instigated envy in the rest. The point I wanted to make is that -as I see it- it is just as rare to see a Northerner (English!) male person from a small mining community, for example, with a European wife as it is to find a Hungarian man from the countryside with a British one.

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