In March 2012, I travelled to one of the places I'd always dreamed of going to: Hungary. I've had an extreme interest in this Carpathian nation since 2008 and I've studied the culture and history of the Hungarians extensively. I've also studied Hungarian on my own since 2009 and the first time I was able to really use it was during this vacation. My trip to Hungary was one of the best moments in my life and I learned several things from my experiences there. The main things I learned was not to focus too much on my expectations and that when traveling to another country, always try to use that country's language.
My interest in Hungary started while I was living in Michigan and stemmed from my interest in vampires and occultism. Due to these interests, my mother bought me a book on vampire lore called Vampyre: The Terrifying Lost Journal of Doctor Cornelius Van Helsing. Although I didn't know it at the time, this book is probably the most influential book in my life as it not only triggered my interest in Hungary and Hungarians, the aforementioned interest in Hungarians that I developed is what led to me becoming interested in history and linguistics in general and made me the history/language fanatic I am today.
The reason this book was able to trigger my Magyarophilia was because it took place in Transylvania. Since this book is meant to be not only a storage of vampire folklore and knowledge but also a fictional tie-in to Bram Stoker's novel Dracula, it described the region of Transylvania and aspects of its culture and history in great detail. At the time, I was only 12 and knew nothing about Transylvania and most Michiganders my age (Japanese people around 12 would almost certainly not know about Transylvania) either didn't know either or described it as a region in Romania. I found out from this book that Transylvania is actually a historical part of Hungary and that the region is multiethnic and has many aspects of vampire lore. I initially believed that Transylvania is part of Hungary even today because the first few pages of the book contained something that indicated this and also triggered my interest in Hungarian in general. This was a small box at the corner of the page labelled: HUNGARIAN PHRASES FOR THE INTREPID TRAVELER An Essential Armory of Expressions. The phrases in the box were basic Hungarian words and phrases like "Szervusz" "Hogy Vagy?" "Igen" "Nem" "Köszönöm" "Kérem" "Viszontlátásra" and "Nem tudok Magyarul" and this intrigued me as this was the first time I ever heard of such a thing as "Hungarian" and because I only knew Hungary as a European country that was in the Axis during World War II and had a dispute with Slovakia for some reason. I also discovered two more boxes of "HUNGARIAN PHRASES" in the book along with accounts of Hungarian folklore such as the tale of the Hungarian noblewoman Countess Elizabeth (Erzsébet) Báthory (who is described as having tortured many girls to death and bathed in their blood afterwards), and an illustration of two Forint bills. These all served to pique my interest in Hungary and led me to do my own research on Hungarian culture, history, and language. I was very surprised by what I found.
As a Japanese boy living in America, I often had to face many misconceptions about Japan. By the time I'd started to become interested in Hungary, I'd encountered many books on Japan in Indiana and Michigan and I knew that many of them had lies or false information in them. For this reason, I didn't completely believe everything about Hungary that was presented in Vampyre: The Terrifying Lost Journal of Doctor Cornelius Van Helsing at first. When I did my own research however, I saw that everything in that book, from details on Hungarian folklore, to the tradition of vampires in Transylvania, and even the Hungarian phrases written in the book, were all completely true. This led to me becoming fascinated with Hungary and Hungarian culture and led to me becoming a Magyarophile. I also decided to teach myself Hungarian as my third language and because I had very few resources, I decided to teach myself the phrases contained in the book (ironically, I still have trouble with some of those phrases even today). I was also able to procure a list of Hungarian phrases for myself at my school in my "World Languages" class when we were studying Japanese because my teacher, who knew of my Magyarophilia, made me study Hungarian during a class when we were using computers to study Japanese on a multilanguage site as she decided that it would be a better use of my time. I later printed out a list of Hungarian phrases that I found on the site I used at school. Apart from the language, I also studied the history and culture of Hungary extensively and among other things, found out that Transylvania is known as Erdély in Hungarian and that 1.5 million Hungarians still live there, that Hungary was actually quite large but lost 72% of its territory after World War I due to Trianon, that Hungarians invented the ballpoint pen, artificial blood, the Rubik's Cube, and the Atomic Bomb (Hungarian scientist Leó Szilárd was the true mastermind of the formula for the Atomic Bomb, although he was against its use), and that Hungarians are Uralic and came from Siberia and therefore their language and many aspects of their culture are completely different from most of Europe. My research on Hungarians also sparked my interest and subsequent research on linguistics and ethnic history in general and is more less indirectly responsible for my extreme interest in certain ethnicities (such as Uralic peoples, Tungusic peoples, Kalmyks, and Ryuukyuuans).
Eventually, I was presented with a chance to actually use my Hungarian. I was able to find the location of a Hungarian restaurant called Hungarian Rhapsody which was supposedly run by Hungarians (I later found out this was true; the manager happened to be a Hungarian). I went there with my dad and I was happy to be presented with an authentically Hungarian menu consisting of Lángos, Gulyás, Csirkepaprika, and other things. Although I was initially disappointed when the clerk and the waitress didn't understand the Hungarian I tried using as they turned out to be just normal Anglophone Michiganders, my dad then told them that I was here with the practicing my Hungarian and this caused us to get a new waiter. This waiter was a Hungarian immigrant from Transylvania (and on top of that, he happened to be a Székely) and he immediately started talking to me in his native language. I was surprised and delighted to use my Hungarian though the conversation was actually mostly in Hunglish because my Hungarian skills were barely existent at the time. This caused me to further my self-study of Hungarians. I also learned from the waiter that he is from a distinct group of Hungarians living in Transylvania known as the Székely (who have a somewhat different culture compared to Hungarians of Hungary).
Although I continued my research on Hungarians, it was only when I was 13 did I seriously start studying the Hungarian language. This age was also when I returned to Japan so I had to balance out studying Hungarian with developing my decaying Japanese skills. Consequently, my Hungarian barely improved during my first few years in Japan and it was only when I got a tutor did it start to improve significantly. However, this only happened after my trip to Hungary.
The first impression I got when I arrived in Hungary was that it was oddly familiar yet different at the same time; the airport's atmosphere was similar to most airports I'd been to but it had an unfamiliar feeling to it as well. Although I'd done nearly three years worth of research on Hungary before my trip, I was still surprised about various things. After I got off the plane and went through immigration I saw that the airport wasn't that different from other airports I visited throughout my life. I was also surprised by how the airport staff acted. Their behavior was similar to the Japanese airport employees and they were much more considerate than the American airport staff that I was accustomed to dealing with on most trips in my life. I also managed to practice my Hungarian with them without worry since they could speak English.
However, when I exited the airport and entered the taxi that would take me to my hotel in Budapest, I was surprised by what I saw on my way there. The scenery was quite similar to that of Michigan albeit with more buildings. Even though I'd done lots of research about Hungary, I was surprised to see that Budapest was much smaller than I imagined. Due to my belief that Hungary was a great country from the start, I expected Budapest to be a huge capital but none of the buildings reached 100 meters. I later learned from a tour guide that Budapest has a 96-meter rule that discourages building from being over 96 meters in height (this is a tribute to the Honfoglalás, the 896 Magyar invasion of Europe). Another thing I was surprised by was how hospitable and astute the locals were. When I lived in America, I was really annoyed by how Americans would often call me Chinese or Korean when it's obvious that I'm Japanese and then excuse themselves by saying that it's hard to tell and/or that Chinese and Koreans are more numerous than Japanese. It is VERY EASY to differentiate between Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans (Chinese and Koreans typically have family names that are only one syllable while Japanese surnames almost always have at least two syllables, Chinese and Koreans have different accents from Japanese, Koreans write in Hangul which is completely different from Japanese Kanji/Hiragana/Katakana, while Chinese write in Hanzu which has noticeable differences with Japanese Kanji and doesn't use Hiragana or Katakana, Japanese names almost never end with a consonant while Chinese and Korean names often do, Japanese are Japonic, Chinese are Sino-Tibetan, and Koreans are either Isolate or Koreanic, etc.). In Hungary, everyone I came across could tell that I was Japanese (despite the fact that there are fifteen times more Chinese than Japanese in Hungary) and on two occasions the Hungarians specifically tried using Japanese just to cater to my family's needs. When I visited a local restaurant in Budapest, the waiter could somehow tell I was Japanese and he brought me a menu written in the language despite the fact that I spoke in Hungarian. Another time the locals used Japanese specifically for me and my family was when I was on a boat tour on the Danube River. The guides made one of their announcements in Japanese even though we were the only ones on the boat (and also the only Asians). I learned from my experiences in Budapest that I shouldn't count on my expectations; I was surprised by Budapest's size for I expected the city to be bigger and I was surprised by the Hungarians' hospitality since I was expecting the people to be more reserved. However, my biggest false expectation was that Hungarians would be able to speak English.
Since my youngest days, I've had the impression that nearly everyone on this planet could speak English. I started to challenge this view when I returned to Japan in 2010 and saw that barely anyone in this country was an Anglophone. I'd expected Hungary to be full of competent English speakers but I was proven wrong when I started exploring Budapest. Even though I was in the capital of Hungary, very few people seemed competent in English and for the first time in my life, I had to use Hungarian. I managed to get by well only because I had some ability in the language. During my stay, I saw that very few people in Hungary (apart from the airport staff, hotel staff, and the tour guides) could speak English and I realized that the Hungarians, being an Uralic nation, are in a similar position to the Japanese when it comes to learning English. This may be why the locals treated me particularly well when I tried using their language; I received no malice from Hungarian Far-Rightists whom I asked for directions in spite of their dislike of Asians (I later learned from one of my tour guides that they're pro-Japanese due to their belief in Turanism) and I even managed to purchase a well-made 7200 Forint clock at the Budapest bazaar for only 5000 Forints without haggling (and the salesman seemed pleased that I was talking to him in Hungarian). The only problem I had was when I was at a bookstore and I requested some books I liked but didn't know the Hungarian titles and merely attempted to translate the English titles. Although I had some doubts on my long-held view of English being a "universal" language, my trip to Hungary changed my views to the point that from now on, whenever I visit another country, I'll be sure to study its language.
My trip to Hungary was one of the best times in my life and I managed to learn two valuable lessons from it: don't believe in your expectations too much and always try to learn the local language of a nation before visiting. Next time I visit Hungary, I'll be able to do more because I'm now more prepared and the next time I visit a country or region I've never been to, I'll be sure to keep in mind the lessons I learned from my trip to Hungary.
After my trip to Hungary, I started studying Hungarian more seriously and started taking formal classes. That being said, my level hasn't risen considerably although I've become more comfortable with Hungarian grammar. My biggest accomplishment that resulted from my continued study of Hungarian is the fact that I and my teacher were invited to the Hungarian embassy in Tokyo for a dinner party commemorating Japanese-Hungarian relations on two occasions. During these occasions, I was able to meet Hungarian Ambassador Szerdahelyi and learn more about Hungarian culture while also practicing my oral Hungarian skills.
In conclusion, my Magyarophilia is perhaps the biggest influence on my life. Not only is it responsible for sparking my interest in many languages and nations as well as linguistics in general, my study of Hungarian has also led to me becoming more aware and has helped me from my identity as a Magyarophile. This year, I managed to pass the A2 level of the ECL Hungarian exam and this qualifies me as a Magyarophone.