Two friends so fine
Is there anyone in Poland who does not know this saying? Magyar and Pole, two friends so fine; together they fight and drink their wine? In Hungarian, it goes like this: Lengyel, magyar – két jó barát, együtt harcol s issza borát, vitéz s bátor mindkettője, áldás szálljon mindkettőre. Hungarians also know this proverb well. Although dating back to the 18th century, it most likely became commonplace one hundred years later. The saying very aptly expresses the multi-century and unique relationship between the two nations, one without equal in Europe. In the historical memory of Poles and Hungarians there are, in fact, only good memories, and both nations entertain a slightly idealised image of each other. Dark pages of history have been forgotten, such as the unsuccessful attempt of the Polish King Casimir IV Jagiellon to take the Hungarian crown in 1471, or the invasion of Poland by George II Rákóczi, who in 1657 left it vulnerable to the threat of partitions. Poles remember that Hungarians gave them Saint Kinga of Poland, Saint Hedwig and Stephen Báthory, while Hungarians owe Poland Vladislaus II, Louis II and General Józef Bem. For many generations, both nations have ignored what divides them and focused instead on what unites them, having a lot of mutual sympathy for each other.
A difficult language
Quite a large number of Hungarians reside in Poland, although no statistics are kept. They can essentially be divided into those who stay here for a short period of time, such as employees of multinational companies bound with contracts lasting several years, and those who, for family reasons, have become associated with Poland for a longer period of time, sometimes even for the rest of their lives.
- If I was to end up in another country in Europe, I am glad that I arrived in Poland - explains Timea Balajcza with determination, or we should rather say Balajcza Timea, because in Hungary you introduce yourself with your surname first, followed by your first name. Timea was born in Budapest. She attended middle school in Paris, where her mother worked for five years as a representative of one of Hungarian monopolies. They returned to Budapest in 1986, when the coming changes were already palpable; however, Hungary took a long time to start resembling the world they had the opportunity to discover during their stay in France. Timea was drawn to the West. While at university, she took advantage of an opportunity to spend a year in Rotterdam as part of the Erasmus programme.
- Nobody was partying apart from Poles and Hungarians. Polish students organised a party and we, the girls from Hungary, accepted their invitation. The Czechs living opposite failed to make an appearance, just like the Slovaks, Ukrainians and Romanians – recalls Timea. It was at that party that Timea met her husband Robert, a student of the SGH Warsaw School of Economics.
Istvan Tanczos also met his future wife Dorota during a night out, at a disco by the Baltic Sea, where he travelled together with his friends on the invitation of a university friend – the only Pole in the group. This was back in 1987. Istvan has Hungarian origin but never lived in Hungary himself. He was born in the Czech Republic, and when he was six moved with his parents to Slovakia, to his father’s home town. He attended a Hungarian primary school and a Slovakian high school. Later he studied dentistry in Bratislava.
Istvan and Dorota got married in 1992. – It so happened that I was collecting my diploma on a Thursday and on the Saturday we were getting married. We had our civil marriage ceremony in Slovakia and a wedding reception for 100 people, while one month later we had our church wedding and another reception for 100 people, this time in Poland – remembers Istvan. They have three children: Mateusz (26), Weronika (22) and Michał (16). Weronika was the only one to follow in her father’s footsteps to study dental hygiene.
Judit Kovacs, Markus Sinkai i Peter Kerkay
Judit Kovacs, Peter Kerkay and Markus Sinkai work for a large international company, which has its headquarters for Central and Eastern Europe in Warsaw. Judit arrived in Warsaw in January 2017. She moved here to invest in her professional development and raise her qualifications. She was surprised by the difficulty of the Polish language. She was hoping that by living in Warsaw she would learn a little Polish to enable her to understand the people and the culture better; however, her Hungarian ear found Polish to be an unconquerable obstacle so in her everyday life Judit uses English.
In contrast, Peter Kerkay is fascinated with the Polish language. He started learning it from his very first days in Poland, i.e. November of 2016. At first, he studied it on his own, and later with the assistance of the Duolingo app on his phone. In February 2018, he began regular lessons with a tutor, which enabled him to speak Polish. – I believe that if you are visiting another country, then your hosts will certainly appreciate your being able to at least introduce yourself, say thank you or order a beer in their language. – And adds: - I like the Polish language. It is interesting, full of exceptions, and after two years of learning it, I still enjoy it. Peter is also interested in Polish history and culture. He put a lot of effort into getting to know and understand Warsaw after moving there – I think that these two things – language and becoming familiar with the city’s history – helped me to acclimatise here. I took a liking to Warsaw immediately – the city is full of green areas and traces of the past.
Markus Sinkai started working in Poland in February 2017 and had a hard time coming to terms with the cold Polish winter, but over time he got used to the Polish climate. He speaks English at work: – By the time I return home from work, I am too tired to learn Polish. When I need it, I take notes and use Google Translator to translate written text, e.g. emergency exit – he laughs. – As a result, I know many individual words and when people are talking I can understand the subject of their conversation.
Timea Balajcza came to Poland when she was 23, less than a year after meeting Robert. She still remembers the first cold winter in Poland, when the temperature fell to minus twenty degrees. The couple got married in 1996. They had their fair share of adventures. At that time, Timea did not know Polish, and she spoke English with Robert. They got married in a registry office in Poland. The embassy sent an interpreter who spoke Hungarian so badly that Timea did not understand her. – After the wedding, I told my husband that I agreed to something, without knowing what I agreed to. Later, they had a church wedding in Hungary. The marriage ceremony was conducted by a priest who was supposed to speak English. – Maybe he could speak English, but he forgot to use it, and the whole ceremony was performed in Hungarian. Robert was whispering to me during the service: I don't understand. Later he said that he did not know if our wedding was valid at all, because I did not understand anything in Polish and he did not understand anything in Hungarian – laughs Timea.
They decided to live in Poland from the start. The fact that Robert had already had a job was the decisive factor. Timea had previously lived in France and the Netherlands, so moving to Poland was not an issue for her. She was also not worried about the language because she knew that sooner or later she would master it. While living in France, she discovered that she had an exceptional talent for languages. Today, apart from Polish, she speaks English, French, German, Spanish and Norwegian. However, before she mastered the language of her new homeland, she found it difficult to find a job. She got her chance in 1996 in Auchan, which was opening a store in Piaseczno at the time. Like any senior employee (Timea is an economist), she had to complete a one-year internship on the shop floor. On her first day at work, with a dictionary in her hand, she found herself in front of three women working in the crockery department. She did not speak Polish, they spoke only Polish. All four of them were a little terrified. But she quickly learnt new words and mastered the new language in very little time. Just as she likes it – using practical situations, when working and talking to people. – I remember that once I had learnt Polish, it was an important moment for me when at a railway station I understood a message read out in ... Russian. I called my mother immediately: Mom, I understand Russian!
Istvan Tanczos, just like Timea Balajcza, never learnt Polish formally: - I knew Czech, Slovak, we learned Russian at school and another Slavic language came to me very easily. When I met my wife, I spoke and wrote letters to her in Slovakian, while she used to write to me in Polish – Istvan explains. – When I started working, none of my patients complained about language difficulties. It all went smoothly. It wasn’t all that easy when it came to finding a job. The diploma was recognised without any issues, but obtaining the right to practise his profession was quite problematic. In accordance with the regulations in force at the time, it was prohibited to employ foreign stomatologists. The wait for Polish nationality was five years. The officials used to ask me: “Why did you come? You can live and work in Slovakia.” But he wanted to work in Poland, because there was a different culture of going to the dentist there, and in Slovakia it would have been difficult to find a job for his wife – a teacher. He was told to wait until the law changed. – In the end, I succeeded with my father-in-law’s assistance. I got a temporary right to practice my profession, which I was extending until I became a Polish citizen – recalls Istvan. Today, he owns a four-seat dental clinic in Góra Kalwaria and specialises in implantology. His clinic is very popular among Hungarians. – I made it a point of honour that I treat Hungarians for free; at least in this way I try to support my countrymen. As a result, I have frequent contact with them. It is really nice to talk to someone in Hungarian.
We laugh at the same things
After many years of working for French companies operating in Poland, Timea Balajcza finally decided to launch her own business. She did it both for herself and her family – she and Robert have three daughters: twins Emma and Laura (20), and Diana (16). For the last nine years, she has been in charge of her own translating agency, and she admits that she is content with running it in Poland – if I had a company in Hungary, I would be one in 10 million, while here I am Timea from Hungary and this fact helps me greatly. People remember me and have a friendly attitude towards me as a Hungarian. I consider it a positive aspect when running a business – Timea explains.
She knows that Poles and Hungarians are very well disposed towards each other from her own observations and experience.
No one is aware or even considers that both nations share a common cultural code: the centuries-long experience of being a borderland country and the bulwark of Christianity, with its culture of the nobility and its love of freedom and national martyrdom, which makes us perceive history as a sequence of tragedies affecting our countries while the wider world remains indifferent. We know what we see. – Some behaviours are similar. If I am to compare my female friends from Hungary and Poland, I do not see major differences, apart from the language. We understand each other. When I go to France, I see the French react with surprise to some of my remarks. – Timea Balajcza adds. Markus Sinkai also confirms that the mentality of Poles and Hungarians is very similar. When we joke with Polish colleagues at work, we laugh at the same things. Markus and Judit note that both Hungarians and Poles are characterised by pride and attachment to their own history and traditions, as well as pessimism and focus on the negative aspects, which distinguishes them from the nations of Western Europe. They identify the source of such an approach in the difficult past of those two nations.
Peter Kerkay was surprised to hear that Poles believe that complaining is a typically Polish trait: – Hungarians also complain! When Poles say that they are really good at it, I tell them that it is not true. We are Eastern European nations, and we think in quite a similar way.
Traditionalists and rude con artists
Has something surprised them in Poland? Istvan Tanczos mentions the religiousness of Poles: – My father was of Calvinist faith, my mother was a Catholic, and although I was christened, it wasn’t customary for us to go to church every week. In Poland, the church traditions are much more cultivated. Timea Balajcza also found this close relationship of Poles with tradition surprising, and especially the fact that it is not limited to the older generation: – Poles pay particular attention to traditions linked to Easter or Christmas. Twelve dishes and an extra plate for Christmas Eve, an Easter basket, which I really like, because we don't have one like that in Budapest. – But she also mentions the character of Poles: – Poles are quite fiery and certainly know how to say “no”. Hungarians will complain, but they will not protest. Women in Poland are much stronger than Hungarian women and often dominate in relationships. They were shaped this way by difficult Polish history. Hungarian women are less daring. These may be stereotypes, but they are confirmed by what I can observe.
Poles are thought of as con artists: – I often say that when a door is closed, a Hungarian will stand in front of the door and the Pole will go round the other side to see if any windows are open. – Timea links it to the nations’ differing experiences of communism. Everything was available in Hungary. In Poland, in order to survive it was necessary to engage in some wheeling and dealing. Such tricks may lead to misunderstandings. Peter explains: – Poles are very competitive and at the same time they try to figure out how to achieve the best result using a shortcut. The difference between us is that when we Hungarians are proud of finding such a shortcut, Poles try to hide it. This behaviour surprised me at work, and I find it difficult to understand and accept. Why not be honest and proud of your solutions, your achievements?
Timea is unhappy about the rudeness of Poles, the fact that they do not usually say "Good morning" or "Bless you" when someone sneezes, that they are not willing to help when asked for it in the street. She still hasn’t got used to these aspects, even after 23 years in Poland, and she thinks that such behaviour is also the result of the extremely difficult situation in the 1980s. But she also knows from her experience that once the initial wariness is overcome, Poles are very cordial and hospitable. Markus Sinkai has similar insights: – Until they know you, Poles are quite reserved, even suspicious. Every morning, when I went out to work, I met the same people walking their dogs or taking their children to the kindergarten, and they never gave me any sign that they recognised me, nobody greeted me. What was interesting was that when people found out that I was Hungarian, their attitude changed completely. You could see it in their faces and their smiles. They were saying: “Oh, you’re Hungarian. How nice.” And suddenly they became open, interested and certainly more talkative. However, getting closer to the Poles requires a lot of time – Markus summarises.
What I like, what I don't like
What do they like about Poland? Peter explains with amusement that he will start with food, because Hungarians like to talk about it. – I love Polish soups, they are delicious. In the first year of my stay here, I tried the sour rye soup in ten different places, and I still eat żurek whenever I can because I absolutely love it. Markus notes that the opinion shared by Hungarians that Polish cuisine consists of cabbage and beetroot is exceptionally unfair. He also appreciates Polish soups, especially chłodnik: – When I tried your chilled soups I fell in love with them. In Hungary, cold soups are limited to fruit soups, and I didn’t know that there could be any other. Now, if anyone from my family or friends visits me in the summer, I persuade them to try a chilled soup.
Markus greatly appreciates the beauty of Polish nature and the variety of landscapes. In his opinion, this potential is not fully taken advantage of by Poland. Peter, on the other hand, admires Chopin’s music and likes the fact that Warsaw organises free concerts, promoting the work of this great composer and taking care of its national heritage.
Istvan, who has been living in Poland for 27 years, has seen how much our country has developed over the years and his observations apply not only to the capital, but the entire country. There has been a huge development of infrastructure. When Markus’ mother visited him for the first time in Poland, she also noticed the good quality of roads.
What do they dislike about Poland? On the whole, they miss their family and friends who stayed in Hungary. Nothing can replace their absence. Judit talks about the lack of sun, and misses the milder Hungarian climate. Markus misses having everyday contact with his mother tongue and has the impression that, as a result of his continued use of slightly simplified English as used by ex-pats, his Hungarian language is also becoming simplified. He tries to remedy this by reading in Hungarian in any free moment he finds.
Peter misses ordinary Hungarian sausages with paprika, because Polish sausages are different: – My colleagues from work also enjoy the Hungarian sausage very much, so I bring it for them from Hungary instead of sweets. Timea, in turn, misses the cuisine she remembers from family home. She mostly misses spicy dishes: – Wherever I go, I ask for paprika and salt, even without trying the dish.
My place on earth
How do they like living in Poland? – I already think in Polish, I have a job here, I have a family here, and I have put down roots here. – Istvan Tanczos admits. Timea Balajcza at times finds it difficult: – When I am here, I feel Hungarian. When I go to Hungary, it seems to me that life is better in Poland. It is easier to belong to only one country. I can see it from the example of my own children looking for their place in the world. I send my girls to Hungary so often that they feel both Polish and Hungarian.
Judit Kovacs has an Italian boyfriend, so she will not have links with Poland for too long, as it is challenging to divide your life between three countries. But for two years of living here, she has noticed that Warsaw is becoming increasingly beautiful, the city has opened up to the river, and the Vistula boulevards are now full of bars and people. She sees nothing that would have discouraged her from living and working in Poland. Her fate simply had something else for her in store.
Markus Sinkai in Poland feels almost like at home: – My feelings and emotions are Hungarian, but every time I come back from a business trip, as I travel a lot, and I land in Warsaw, I feel like I’m coming home. At the moment, I’m not planning to move anywhere else. I just feel happy here.
Peter Kerkay concludes: – When I came here I planned to stay in Poland for a long time, maybe even forever, but after these two years I have discovered that I miss my family and friends in Hungary very much and that I find it difficult to build a deeper relationship here, to find the right person. Sooner or later, I will put my family and my future family above my career and return to Hungary. I am not going to swap Poland for another country, for example, a Western European destination, I will simply return home to spend the rest of my life there.
Marta Dzbeńska Karpińska
politolog i fotograf, redaktorka portalu wrodzinie.pl