Friday, July 16, 2010

Can you see?

As I imagine many of you have figured out, I am the daughter of a career military man.  My father served 22 years in the Army and Air Force, and continues to be involved in the military through his job as a test pilot for a major defense contractor.  For me, this means that I grew up traveling, changing homes, meeting new people, and seeing the world.  I also grew up on military bases, surrounded by soldiers and their families.  This is an environment, a way of life, really, that few people are able to understand.  Your life in some ways becomes very uncertain when you are depending on the military, but in other ways you have the security of a built-in community of people who understand you and are willing and ready to support you.

Being the daughter of a soldier has also led to me being a tough nut to crack when it comes to American foreign policy.  I identify as a pacifist, because the thought of war is terrifying and horrible to me.  Nevertheless, I understand one hundred percent why wars happen.  I also understand the mindset of the people who "support" war, which I put in quotes because nobody really supports war.  This leads to interesting political debates where I am left with nothing much to say except, "I agree with you, but don't say that again.  You don't understand."

It's a lot like someone insulting a member of your family.  You can complain about your relative, but God help anyone else who does.

The military part of my life continues to be a big part of me.  I often wonder who I would have been if not for having been a brat.  Would I be as independent?  Would I be willing to travel around the world?  On the other hand, would I have childhood friends?  Would I trust in my own ability to have someone love me for more than three years at a time?

Today, I went with my father to a military ceremony, specifically a changing of command and retirement ceremony.  There was a lot of pomp, which was to be expected.  What I didn't expect was how I would be affected.  I've sat through dozens of these things in my lifetime, including the retirement ceremony for my own father, and to be honest I don't really remember any of them.  At the time, to me, they were nothing more than just a normal part of my life.  Having been removed from the military system for several years now, and from America itself, the ceremony today affected me a lot more profoundly than I expected.

The national anthem makes me cry now.  It's true that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and when you hear the song that represents your country and the sacrifice of your father (and your family) only once or twice a year it is bound to have a greater impact.  I learned this my first Christmas back from Hungary when I found myself crying at a hockey game, so I wasn't surprised.  What I was surprised by was the emotion I felt over the reflections on family.  What I was really surprised by was my quick succession of distaste at an aggressive line in several speeches, immediately followed by a gutting sadness at a reference to sacrifice in the very next line, immediately followed by respect for the dedication referenced in the following line.

How do you make those feelings work together?

I think that today I figured out why I get so angry when people make anti-war comments that I politically and intellectually agree with... it's that most people feel that stab of distaste at aggression and (arguably righteous) anger, but they don't hear or understand the next line, the line about sacrifice and loneliness and isolation.  No matter how much lip service is paid, they don't respect the dedication.  And they can't, because they just don't know it.

You see a picture of a soldier petting a kitten, and half the world sees the kitten, half the world sees the soldier's giant gun.  It's very rare that people see both, and understand that both aspects are equally real.  The two things are very hard to reconcile with each other.  Sometimes the world is really hard to understand.

Monday, July 12, 2010

World Cup

About a month ago my life was overtaken by football.  And yes, I call it football, and I also call the game we Americans play with an egg-shaped ball football, too.  This is because I never watched or played soccer with Americans, but I have watched and played football with Europeans.  I also smell chestnuts and think of the word for chestnuts in Spanish, castañas, because I never smelled chestnuts until I lived in Spain.  Words code in your head, people!  Anyway, so I call both football, usually accompanied by either a mime of a kicking foot or a throwing arm.

So about a month ago my life was overtaken by football *mime kicking foot* as the World Cup started and my social life began to revolve around bars with good televisions.  And I sat with my friends, drank beer and fröccs, and cheered on the USA and Spain, and any other team that struck my fancy.  For the American match against Ghana, I even went so far as to wear a red shirt with stars, a white skirt, and blue tights.  I was decked out.  For the Spanish matches I wore my Real Madrid jersey.  I hissed, swore at the television in various languages, and generally had a great time.

I must admit that watching the matches at home alone was not as fun.  Nevertheless, I caught them all, including making so much noise at the TV during the semi-final match against Germany that Otto, my dog, jumped up on the treadmill with me and knocked us off the back.

And now España is the world champion, and a team made primarily of Real Madrid and Barcelona players made that happen.  And maybe that will make Spain a little bit of a better place.  Because maybe sports shouldn't matter, but they do.  Especially when you watch them with friends.

I leave you with a funny little image stolen from a friend.  ¡Viva el pulpo psíquico!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A comment on comments

So this has been weighing on my mind for a bit now, and I think it's worth saying.  This is my blog.  It's not CNN, or Fox News, or the BBC, or even a "professional" blog.  I get no money or any other sort of benefit for keeping it.  I keep this blog for my family and friends, so that they can sort of keep up with what's going on in my life.  Primarily, though, I keep this blog for myself.  It's mine.

I'm 23 years old.  I have a bachelor's degree from a middle-range college.  I'm not particularly smart, original, or funny.  I have no great spiritual revelations to share with the world.  What I am, actually, is a young woman who has struck out on my own in the world, far from my family and the life I grew up with.  I need my own space to work through my thoughts, to reflect on my experiences, to ponder, to wonder, to complain.  Through the process of having a blog, I have made every effort to be honest.  The picture in the sidebar is actually me.  The location up top is actually where I am.  My name is Lauren, that's true.

What this blog is absolutely not is factual.  It's written from the perspective of one person, myself, and while I make an effort to be a reasonable human being in my writing, I don't interview others or conduct polls on what I'm writing about.  I don't go back and view replays or slow-mo shots.  It's my perspective.  It's how I feel.  Because while this blog is certainly not factual, I do try to keep it honest.  Sometimes I write entries that I read the next day and cringe at my hysterics, but I don't delete or edit them because that is how I felt when I was writing the entry.  And for me, it's alright that I'm far from perfect.

I've written entries singing the praises of America, and entries criticizing aspects of it.  I've written posts waxing poetic on the glory of Hungary, and posts where I've called the entire nation xenophobic and bitter.  I'm sure that next year, I'll write posts where I both love and hate Spain.  On the posts where I compliment a country, I generally get no response.  But when I criticize something, I get comments.  And that's fine, readers, because you are certainly welcome to disagree with me.

BUT.  What I do not appreciate is people who have the audacity to tell me how to think, feel, or act.  If I am upset, I have the right to be.  If I am angry, I have the right to be.  If I exaggerate a situation, perhaps that is how it felt from my perspective.  If you want objectivity, I do recommend the BBC.  If you want the perspective of Lauren, by all means, stay.  Disagree.  But do not personally attack my perspective, and do have the decency to link to your own blog or include some form of identifying details, as I have done on this blog.

So consider this my disclaimer.  This blog is written from the perspective of a 23-year-old girl.  It is not objective, enlightening, or even particularly well-written.  I won't lie, but I will be biased.  I will praise and criticize things based on nothing but my own opinion.  I'll also write stupid posts about nothing.

And in 25 years I'll look at this blog and laugh at myself.  Until that point, I have this space of mine.  Play nice.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


This, I am.  I feel it.  While Pennsylvania has never really felt "home" for me, America certainly has.  But I feel disconnected and strange.  It's small things, really... hearing the conversations of people around me, and becoming severely irritated that people can spend 15 minutes discussing the merits of various spoon sizes.  Ordering a medium ice-cream and being given more ice-cream than any sane person should ever be able to eat in a single serving, only to be informed that it appears a rather small serving, actually a bit of a rip-off.  Telling the cashier that I don't need a bag because I have my own and getting strange looks from her and everyone else in line.  I've also been asked more than once where I'm from.  Apparently I have developed an accent.  I contend that it is nothing more than simple enunciation.

I miss Hungary.

When I tell people about my life in Hungary, they're pretty much horrified.  No car?  Such a small room?  Biking everywhere?  Unrefrigerated milk?!  What a wonderful thing to be able to travel, sure... but what did I do without a clothes dryer?

Don't misunderstand me when I say that I loved the traveling I was able to do.  Hell, I'm even enjoying the convenience of a clothes dryer.  But it's not like my life stopped without one, or like I even missed one, while in Hungary.  Sure, there were times when I thought, "If I had a clothes dryer I could wear this shirt now, damn..." but it wasn't anything that actually impacted my life.  I didn't miss having a car because I didn't need one.  I didn't mind having a small room because I didn't need one any bigger. I honestly forgot these things were ever important, because I got more in the bargain.  I loved the traveling, but that's not what I miss right now.

I miss pedaling across the Arpad bridge, nodding to my fellow commuters and looking north up the Danube.  I miss my glimpses of Parliament, the Citadel, the Basilica.  I miss my students and colleagues.  I miss walking and noticing some detail on a building for the first time.  I miss my friends, gathered around a smoky little table and drinking a bit more than responsible.  I miss the snorts of derision, head tilts, and smiles I would get for talking.  I miss making eye contact, and instantly smiling.  I miss being required to think before speaking, even in my native tongue, and most people around me having to do the same.  I miss my HungaryAmericans/Brits, who understand all these crazy things going on in my head.

It's not that I "gave up" standard of living for the benefits of living abroad.  It's that I usually didn't notice anything was "missing" or "wrong" or "less."  Sure, now I am in America, and I see a bagel and go, "Sweet!  Bagel!"  But it's not like I walked around Budapest a zombie for bagels, dreaming of bagels.  If I wanted bagels, I made them, which took longer, sure, but was certainly healthier and actually fun to do.  In fact, I would occasionally get irritated with people who complained about things they really missed from home, even though I sometimes did the same... their complaint shone a light on something I had forgotten about.

It bothers me, really and honestly bothers me, that I start to try to tell people about this gift I've had, and their first question is something like, "But didn't you miss having a car?"  I know that I am a bit of a snob, but this is insane!  The culture, language, architecture, cuisine, political environment, whatever... aren't those more interesting than small differences in the standard of living?  Normal is normal wherever you are, and as long as you are loved and challenged, it doesn't even matter that much that you are warm and fed.  The things we think we need, we actually don't.  I lived a perfectly normal life in Hungary, and I was supremely content with it.  I hate that people are trying to make me feel so bad about it now.

I've decided that I like living abroad for another reason.  I like surrounding myself with unusual people... foreigners, and those who befriend foreigners.  We understand each other better. There, when people think I am strange, they shrug and go, "foreigner."  Here, when people think I am strange, they stare and whisper, "strange girl," or "freak," or, worst of all, "snob, self-hater, unpatriotic traitor who must really hate the people and country who brought her up to leave them."  And that cuts.  In both places, the truth is just exactly that I am strange, but I much prefer the shrug to the stare.

I know I've only been back in America for a few days, and I am sure that by the time I am leaving for Spain I will be adjusted and sad to leave.  I just wish right now that I could get some acceptance of my life, because I'm pretty damn happy with it and proud of it.  I'm making something pretty amazing of it, I think, and every time someone refuses to see that I feel a little bit more separated... disconnected.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


I made it to my parents' house safe and sound, and without even any real incident beyond a slight rush in Newark. My bags made it as well, with my painted egg being the only tragedy of the trip.  My clothes are already in my closet, my toiletries are in the medicine cabinet, my laundry in the hamper.  I fell asleep at ten and woke up at six, to a snuffling doggy nose, which is a bit on the early side but ok.  I'm settled and feeling alright.  Nevertheless, it's a little bit strange to be here.  I suspect it will be.

While I was walking through the airport in Frankfurt, I heard a buzzing sound and looked around for a TV that would be playing yesterday's Germany-Argentina match.  Suddenly I had to laugh at myself... the buzzing was coming from the moving sidewalk.  Not all that buzzes is a vuvuzela.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Szia, Magyarország!

I'm sitting in Magda's lovely flat, watching Viva in an attempt to tire myself out for my transatlantic flight tomorrow.  It appears to be all-magyar music hour, which seems about right.  My bags are sitting by the door, ready to be ferried downstairs in the morning.  Bálint is coming to the airport to help me since I have more bags than hands.  Last night Magda, Lyla, and I went out dancing, making a great effort to dance like the craziest, drunkest people on the floor despite being, without doubt, the most sober.  It was insanely fun.  I'm going to miss crazy Central European dancing.  I'm going to miss sitting in gardens with my friends, drinking a fröccs and speaking Hunglish... we went tonight to watch the match and say goodbye.

I hope that everything goes off without a hitch tomorrow, and that I arrive on time and with my luggage.  It would be a great help.

This is, incidentally, my 200th blog post.  I came here almost two years ago, but it seems simultaneously like two months and twenty years.  What a difference two years makes.

Akkor, elbúcsúzom a Magyarországnak.  Találkozunk majd ujra... mindent köszönöm.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Last night we went to our Hungarian teacher's home to have a farewell dinner.  The dinner was delicious, naturally, and her family is all so sweet.  Then we walked around the castle (her flat is at the base of the hill) and took some pictures.  As we were leaving, she thanked us for being such good students: always on time, homework done, words learned.  We thanked her for putting another language into our heads.

It got me thinking about language.  I speak three languages, which is not much, but which is pretty good by American or Hungarian standards.  I'd like to speak many more, but I am realistic enough to know that I will probably get no more than one, maybe two more.

The thing about learning a foreign language is that it changes you.  The way you think, process ideas, and even use your own mother tongue are deeply affected by adding another language into the mix.  Because language is so much more than words and grammar, though those are certainly important.  Language is culture and history, too, and it completely impacts your personality to speak a different language.  The simple demands of changing your pronunciation and voice quality (intonation, how nasally you speak, volume) makes a huge difference in how you feel when speaking.  Try it: go speak angrily for a few minutes, and you will start to feel angry, whether you  have any reason to or not.  The same goes with any other emotion: show it, and you feel it.

When I speak English, I am who I am.  I suppose other people would be better at describing who I am in English than I am myself.  It's my default setting, so it's rather hard to analyze from the inside.  I do recognize that my English has changed a lot: I speak more slowly and clearly, and my American friends here often comment on my extremely crisp enunciation.  I have lost the "American slur" and a good number of British words have sneaked into my vocabulary.  Speaking English, the patterns and intonations of it, identifies me as what I am: American, young, female, optimistic, overly confident and also a bit insecure.

When I speak Spanish, I am someone else.  Now it takes me a few minutes to warm up and not have Hungarian words sneak into my Spanish, but once I get going I am loud and brash.  I speak quickly and the quality of my voice is harsher and more nasal.  When I speak Spanish, I naturally feel excited.  Because I currently do so much reading and so little every-day conversation in Spanish, my Spanish has become quite literary.  Spanish, to me, is the language of books and music, and also love.  My most profound romantic relationship thus far in my life took place in Spanish, and that has also affected who I am in the language.

When I speak Hungarian, I am still something of a bumbling idiot.  I misplace the modifiers in my sentences, my intonation is still too variable, and my vocabulary is rather limited in practice, no matter how extensive it is in understanding.  Because I am still rather nervous speaking Hungarian, I pitch my voice a bit higher.  As a result, everyone who knows me from Hungarian (and most people here who know me in English, but often hear me speaking Hungarian) think I am pretty much the cutest and sweetest thing ever.  Here they have an adult, albeit a young-looking (and actually young) one, speaking with the grammar of a kindergartner and the vocabulary of a second-grader, and it unsettles them.  As horrible as it sounds, this helps me get away with a lot: anything I don't understand, I just explain in Hungarian, and they cock their heads, give me a little smile, and forgive my mistake.  I get into things for free or at extremely reduced rates constantly when speaking Hungarian, always with that little head cock and smile.  My friends' parents adore me, thinking I am just adorable, and feed me and ask me questions, rewarding me with the characteristic Magyar head-cock-and-smile when I say something particularly amusing.

It used to drive me totally insane, but I think I will miss that little smile.

Nevertheless, I speak Hungarian now.  It's up there in my head wreaking havoc.  A few days ago, after Spain missed a particularly dramatic shot on goal, I snapped "Istenem!" at the TV.  I pet Balint's new dog, and asked her, "Mi van, guapa, huh?" all three languages blending and revealing me for, I guess, what I really am: a blend.  An amalgamation of everywhere I have been, everyone I have loved, every beautiful sight I have marveled at, and every word I have learned and uttered.

I am glad that crazy little Magyar is up in my head, being adorable and missing modifiers, wearing unnecessary socks and carrying tissues everywhere, kissing everyone on the face and letting men open doors for her.  I know she will fade away over the next year as first my inner American first comes to the forefront, fed by barbecue and relaxing on the deck, and then the dramatic española that lives in my mind become stronger, stamping around, crying at flamenco, and reading poetry in the sunshine.  Nevertheless, I hope to keep that little Magyar up there around as much as possible.  Frankly, I like her, and I would miss her if she were to leave.