Culture Clash: the Chinese Expat Living Experience in Hungary
The Budapest Business Journal asked three Chinese nationals living in Hungary what cultural surprises they have met in their interactions with Hungarian society.
Property, Petőfi’s Poems, and Hungarian Pop
Wanliang Wu, 52, is originally from Zhejiang province, south of Shanghai, in eastern China. Wu has spent more than 12 years in three stints living in Budapest, working as a real estate developer here since 2018.
At school, I was deeply influenced by the poem “Freedom, Love” by Sándor Petőfi. It was taught, in Chinese translation, in the textbook for middle schools. This is the most well-known foreign poem in China, no competition. And, at the time, pupils who studied Hungarian might have the chance to study in Hungary. That was very attractive in 1988, although this dream did not come true for me.
So, I majored in Hungarian at university and got to know this country, including its history, culture, cuisine, places, and so on, relatively well. I like living here and am glad the ties between China and Hungary are getting closer in all fields.
Ten years ago, I had a Hungarian restaurant in Beijing. I had a Hungarian chef and waiters beside the locals. For sure, I like Hungarian cuisine. But here, we occasionally get really salty dishes in restaurants; that is a bit problematic. Hungarians like salt and sugar more than we Chinese.
Another problem is the lack of skilled, physical workers, so related tasks may be slow and expensive compared to Chinese prices. This is all professions: workers in construction, in factories, doctors, nurses, air-conditioning installers, cleaners, plumbers. Many have gone to the West. In my opinion, the lack of labor is one of the biggest problems for the Hungarian economy.
I have translated 100 poems of Sándor Petőfi into Chinese and sent them to a well-known Hungarian publisher. I think these will be published in book form by May. I hope I can finish translating another 100 Petőfi poems by the fall. Why 200 poems in total? Because this year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of this great poet. I still dream of visiting those places where Petőfi went, including areas now outside Hungary.
My second dream is to translate Hungarian pop songs into Chinese. So, I sing them, make music videos and publish them online for Chinese people. My favorite pop stars are getting on now: Zsuzsa Koncz, Éva Csepregi, Sándor Homonyik. I also want to know more about Tankcsapda.
A Slower Country That Cares for Disabled and Animals
Sophia Zhao, 24, grew up in Shanxi province, Taigu county, about 530 km southwest of Beijing. She’s currently studying for a master’s degree in fashion design at Metropolitan University, Budapest.
This is the sixth year that I’ve been living in Hungary. In that time, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree, married, and started my master’s degree. Whether good or bad experiences, after five years, I treasure them all.
One big cultural shock for me was, unlike China, there were not a lot of entertainment activities in Hungary, making the lifestyle slower. From government office workers to university administrators to shop cashiers, in my experience, everyone is more chilled out than in China. Hungarians have their own rhythm of dealing with work. You cannot rush them, which has made me become a more patient person since I arrived here.
However, I’ve noticed many heart-warming details here that I wish Chinese society could adopt. For example, when I left China in 2017, there were a lot of cities with no facilities to inform visually challenged people when it is safe to cross the road. Similarly, buses have no slope for wheelchairs to access nor dedicated space for them. Policies here have created a more friendly environment for disabled people, which I hope we will soon take on in China.
Since I am also an animal lover, I also found out there are so many dog parks here in Budapest. There are even shelters and organizations for all kinds of animals, for example, where I adopted my beloved hamsters, Pluto and Bambusz.
While there have been moments when I faced bad people or things in Hungary, I accept that is just how life is; it does not matter where you are. I’ve met great people here, I met the love of my life, and I’ve built a family and friendships here. There have been good and bad times, but I am glad I could call here my other home.
Super Kind School Teachers Appreciated, Not the Pessimism
Jiu Xu, 36, left Shanghai as a child to grow up in Hungary. Today, married to a Hungarian, he’s an operations manager with a Chinese multinational in Budapest, leading a team of 300 people.
I came to Hungary in 1990 with my parents, who were market traders. Later they opened a shop in Székesfehérvár. As a child, I was happy to move abroad, but when I arrived, I was confronted with culture shocks that I had to overcome and accept daily. Language barriers put such an invisible wall around me that I found it hard to breathe. I wanted to go home.
These feelings eased after I started at the local village school, where, having set up a separate timetable for me, the teachers taught me with incredible kindness and patience. Other children were curious and accompanied me everywhere, helping me to learn more about their lives.
During that time, I learned their language, and the language difficulties slowly disappeared, so I understood their way of thinking better, although I still cannot think or count in Hungarian after 25 years here.
In China, I had very little time to be a child; I had to study all the time and had my days fully booked with all kinds of lessons. It was the norm, though I can’t say I wasn’t happy because I had nothing to compare it to.
I started university in Germany, reading mechanical engineering at the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg. Even though Hungary and Germany are close, they have different mentalities. German people are less direct and easygoing but kind and helpful.
As 30% of German university students are foreigners, I experienced multicultural life. There, I was not stared at like in Hungary.
The Chinese believe that flexibility allows you to adapt easily and grow faster, but they place less importance on accuracy and detail.
When I was a kid, my parents would say, “We’ll go to Uncle’s house later,” but in reality, that could mean any time, morning, afternoon, or evening. In contrast, Germans are extremely punctual, and every step is planned in advance, but in return, they are more rigid and slow to adapt. Hungarians, on the other hand, are much more easygoing and extremely patient. Work is never rushed. “Walk slowly; you will get further,” as one Hungarian proverb puts it.
So, you have to learn to slow the pace of your life. However, one of the attributes which I cannot identify with is the extreme pessimism. I hear the word “impossible” a lot, always looking for the bad in good things and also finding it. My grandfather told me that as long as you are human, you can solve everything and achieve everywhere.
This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of March 10, 2023.
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