…as if they had no other choice than
Pepsi or Coca Cola,
hamburger or hot dog
You have a spacious home in the southwest corner of a huge country, surrounded by smiling people. Freedom is so great that it hurts but you still live in the prison of your thoughts. You try to fit in, alternating your image between the long-haired hippie and the well-groomed professional for a while until you realize that success is not awarded based on appearance. You’re not from here, you don’t belong here.
You desperately learn their language, your vocabulary is already larger than the average American’s and yet you’re unable to have a casual chat with them. You try to join like-minded people, but after years of house painting gigs, artistic circles don’t accept you. It turns out that American Jews are primarily Americans, and you are also primarily Hungarian and Jewish only by incident.
When you join a club for water sports enthusiasts, the members are already paired up, and you’re left alone in a group of twenty-somethings after rejecting the advances of the nice but gay John.
Jokes from Budapest are not funny to them, and baseball analogies ring hollow to you. They’re talking about Bob Hopkins, you’re talking about András Kern. No matter how hard you try, after five or six years you have to accept that the cultural gap is unbridgeable. The majority of natural born Americans live a uniform lifestyle as if their choices were limited to Pepsi or Coca Cola, hamburgers or hot dogs. After a few pretentious, strained relationships you long for a Hungarian woman who can make you laugh without being tickled. Zsuzsa and Sári understood when you talked about the two-dimensional cat, Jessee and Lynn did not. Of course, Zsuzsa and Sári are no longer available. One of them is a department head in a ministry with two children and a broken sense of humor, the other has disappeared in the world or is hiding behind a man’s name.
— What makes a Hungarian woman better than an American? — asks your friend Paul after seeing you stumble from one ill-fated affair to another. He wouldn’t understand the real reasons but you don’t want to offend his patriotic feelings, so you give a stereotypical answer:
— A Hungarian woman does not shave her legs, but she can cook.
You think you’re in love with the teacher you met on your home visit, who laughs heartily when she hears about the two-dimensional cat. The woman also thinks she loves you and happily moves in with you, although she was just fed up with the demagogic school principal and hated her housing conditions in Budapest. Of course, she can’t teach in Los Angeles. After a year, she gets her first American job in a library.
The work is soul-killing and pays miserably. After a couple of years, she finally gets a stable position at a department store chain, gets her green card for legal residency and leaves you for an American colleague. The new relationship doesn’t last long because her partner doesn’t understand the joke about the two-dimensional cat. She breaks up with him, too, moves into her own apartment where she enjoys independence and freedom for a while, but she’s lonely. The story does not end here, but starts again. She has a spacious home in the southwest corner of a huge country…
Translated from Hungarian by AB, 2023.