By Anna

On Tuesday and Thursday I take the metro from Votosmarty U. to Battyany ter. No one makes extended eye contact with me, a quick glance and then look away. Barely an acknowledgement of your existence, just a concentration on going from A to B. I think my mom and sister would fit in here, I however, am extrinsic and feed off of smiles and friendly nods of hello.

The parliament building from castle hill

The parliament building from castle hill

As the escalator surfaces at Battyany ter. a church with green copper steeples emerges into view. You can turn around after stepping off of the escalator and see the magnificently gothic parliament building. I walk one block down, ring number 51 and say hello to Ilona, my language teacher. She let’s me in and I take the elevator to the fifth floor (though sixth for us in the United States because the first floor here is the ground level). The elevator doors are manual and this I forget everytime.

During my lesson we sit in chairs facing the parliament building. I ask Ilona why Hungarians do not make eye contact or say hello. She does not understand me initially. I explain further, that in the United States people may nod or say hello in passing. She nods and says it is a cultural difference and that it is only a surface thing and that young people are not like this. She tells me to go to Godot ter. where the young people are.

Though I understand the cultural difference, I still do not know why. That afternoon I learn about Hungary’s last 50 years while at The Terror Museum. The Nazis invaded, the Soviets invaded and they clashed in the middle of Hungary, who only wanted to remain neutral. But Hungary doesn’t joke about knowing how to bury their dead without reason—hundreds of thousands were killed and deported during WWII and for years after. 200,000 Jews left, 11,000 have returned since.

Faces of those who died from 1944-1967 from The Terror Museum

Faces of those who died from 1944-1967 from The Terror Museum

The Soviets won and during their occupation (1944-1991) if anyone made eye contact with a Soviet guard they could be under suspicion and would be taken away to the cellar prison of the Hungarian Arrow Cross Government (Communist) on Andrassy U.

Hungarians were trained to avoid eye contact for decades. I had guessed that the reason for avoiding eye contact was the fear of intimacy, but it was actually a cultured fear of abuse or death from a culture (the U.S.S.R.) that has had centuries of abuse itself.

Fear and internalization continues in Eastern Europe, but today, Hungarians celebrate 20 years of freedom from the Iron Curtain (1989) with passivity and pride.

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