Irish goulash or Hungarian stew?

Way back in 1957, American author James Michener immortalised a little bridge on the Hungarian/Austrian border. In his book, The Bridge at Andau, Michener chronicles the reality of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution using a series of both composite and real characters, with names changed to protect the innocent. I think I’m safe in saying that in 1957, not many Irish people had been to Hungary, but Michener must have had met his fair share of both nationalities as he came to the conclusion that, at least back then, the Hungarians were the Irish of Eastern Europe. I’ve just come back from a longer-than-usual visit to Ireland and if Mr Michener were around today, I’d love to sit him down and have a chat about this. If anything, I think the Irish are becoming the Hungarians of Western Europe!

The long and the short of it

Hungarian is a lengthy language. It takes longer to say mass in Hungarian than it does in English, even though the translation is the same. I know. I’ve timed it. Well, over on the island, Ireland has gone mad adding extra words where they’re not needed…and I’m not talking about the traditional story-like embellishments for which we’re famous. Those don’t count.  I’m talking about slipping in ‘do’ and ‘would’ and ‘like’ where they’re simply not needed. RyanAir staff saying ‘We do hope you enjoyed your flight, and we do hope that you travel with us again …’ The Gardaí (the Irish Police) saying ‘We would ask drivers to slow down…’ And every young one old enough to wear high heels saying ‘Yeah, like, it was, like, a great night, like…’

Brace yourself, Bridie!

The Irish are not known for being openly affectionate. Just ask anyone who has dated someone Irish in the last century. When Pope John Paul II stood in front of a crowd of 200,000 of Ireland’s finest back in 1979 and shouted ‘Young people of Ireland, I love you’  it was the first time that four-letter word had been aired in public. With the advent of the EU, the more upwardly mobile Irish social set replaced the traditional handshake with a peck on the cheek but, still, this public display of affection was usually reserved for maiden aunts and grannies. With the birth of the Celtic Tiger, air-kissing became de rigueur for anyone with a second mortgage! Hold out your hand in Dublin these days and you’ll be dragged into a two-cheek kissing frenzy that has crossed all class boundaries and age groups. Everyone’s at it. Now, just as in Budapest, it takes an age to say hello or goodbye to a group of people. And there’s the added trauma of that split-second decision as to whether you should or shouldn’t go for broke… I mean, how well do you have to know someone before you get familiar with their cheekbones?

Whose round is it?

A gang of us met up in our local pub in Dublin last week. It was a typical Friday after work and the recession had taken the night off. The place was heaving. We had stools but no table and when there are more than four involved, a table is essential to focus the conversation. Next to us sat a young couple chatting away over a remarkably clean and empty table dotted with pristine beer mats and not a drink in sight. Surreptitious glances on our part gave way to open stares until someone voiced what most of us were thinking. They had to be foreign.  I went one better and reckoned they were Hungarian. Budapest is the only European Capital in which I’ve seen people who have the wherewithal and the fortitude to sit in pubs with an empty glass in front of them or without a drink at all. In Ireland, the sight of the level of beer in just one glass on the table sinking below an inch is enough to start a mad reach for the wallets and a dash to the bar. The thought of not having another pint primed and ready before the first one is drained is enough to stir the coldest corpse. But there’s no mistaking a Dublin accent. When they finally left and said their goodbyes, the pair turned out to be Irish.

While I was sharing my theory with a Hungarian friend earlier this week, I illustrated the similarities further with the famous WB Yeats quote: Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy that sustained him through temporary periods of joy. You could easily switch ‘Irish’ for ‘Hungarian’, I said. And what about Sírva vigad a magyar they asked… wouldn’t Sírva vigad az ír work just as well?

I rest my cutlery.

First published in the Budapest Times 17 January 2010

8 Responses

  1. Hmmm…. But there are important differences. 🙂 In the early 1800 we Hungarians decided not to adopt and stick anymore with the German language which was almost killing out Hungarian and thanks to the Calvinists we do speak nowadays our language , while you Irish adopted English. What do you say about that?
    Other differences: At least 25% of us is protestant, and once upon the time we were a great power… We like lingering on the past and have suicidal tendences… :))

  2. Ah, but Erik, in our defence, it was illegal in Ireland to speak Irish back then, and still we didn’t let the language die. Even though only 1% use it on a daily basis, millions around the world have knowledge of it and can hold down a conversation. Why even in Hungary, I have met Hungarians who speak Irish – and that was some shock, I tell you 🙂 Can match your suicidal tendencies with a deep melancholy. As Chesterton so famously said:
    For the great Gaels of Ireland
    Are the men that God made mad,
    For all their wars are merry,
    And all their songs are sad.

  3. PS – @ Erik: Tried adding this comment to your blog but for some reason it won’t let me 🙁 Have you come across Ambrose Bierce’s DEVIL’S DICTIONARY?

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