Sunday, February 1, 2009

Top 5 Expat Traps

5. Relationships. Hungary may seem like a bachelor’s paradise at first blush, but the reality is much more complicated. It is true that any number of long-term relationships and marriages spring up between expats and locals, but there also seems to be a disproportionate amount of break-ups, infidelity, and co-dependence. When so much around you is foreign, it is really easy to cling to somebody who can navigate that web. The real test of the relationship’s value seems to be in the dynamic change that occurs outside the context of this country.

4. Cadism. The sleazy cousin to the above. Despite the sad-sack expats lined up at the bar of certain local establishments, is relatively easy to carouse in Budapest, so much so that it becomes a viable pastime for those with any talent for it. But this ultimately turns into a hollow pursuit, even for the most lascivious of us.

3. Cynicism. With so much corruption and negativity around, it is easy to become infected by lowered standards and expectations. But dreams never get downsized, no matter where you escape to, and if you are not going to make it as a writer or artist in the West, it is equally unlikely that you will make it here. The result is a blaming of the crass commercial forces that dictate to whom the spoils are granted, rather than honest self-appraisal.

2. Alcoholism. “When the morning comes twice a day or not at all.” That Uncle Tupelo line rings harrowingly true if you have ever seen the sun rise from inside a kért for a few consecutive mornings. It is always easiest to look at the next guy and say he is worse off, because there is always somebody worse off hereabouts. Lots of factors conspire to make alcoholism particularly easy to fall into in Budapest. First, drinking is an acceptable part of the social culture of Hungarians. But equally dangerous is the lack of real diverse English-language entertainment. Film, theater options remain limited. Bars are just the most convenient, cheapest form of play-time activity.

1. Stasis. What day is today? If you can’t answer that question then you probably need to check yourself. Most boho expats fall prey to this condition at one point or another. Stasis enables all the above, which is why it is number one. I know people who are repeating word for word the same grandiose plans they had when they arrived to Budapest so many years ago, without having taken few, if any, steps to accomplish them. It is just simpler, and probably less psychically damaging, to talk. And because you can create a bubble around yourself here so easily, you can live in a state of suspended animation, without having much meaningful contact with your native community. Unfortunately, time does not stop, and when you come up for air, friends have started families, bought houses, made something of themselves. Then again, there are those who travel here precisely not to make anything of themselves. And in this success-driven, globalized culture, that goal is at least a little applaudable.

-Matt Ellis is a free-lance editor for Word Pill, a service for writers of fiction and non-fiction.

Matt Henderson Ellis is a freelance manuscript editor and author coach working with writers who publish in print and digitally.


Vándorló said...

Although you talked about it in your first two points (and it's central to those dependencies/social misgivings) the top of the list has to be 1. Hanging around with expats.

With it comes all the bullshit that you are already an interesting person, who should be listened to, that somehow you are already going somewhere, without having really started to move anywhere. And the time passes and, hey presto, you're the same boring old fart you were, only your liver and lungs aren't such impressive filters of toxants any more.

This directly links to the next universally popular mark of a resident loser, that they never learn the language - for which there are no excuses, just stupidity and laziness.

I disagree with you about there being no alternative to bars etc... There's something called books, but I haven't tried them myself. Or the modern replacement for literature and learning which is restaurants and restaurant reviews.

As most of the great travel writers have pointed out throughout the centuries, if you can't make your neighbourhood daily trecks interesting and exciting (for you or anyone else) then there's no escaping the fact that no amount of travel or experience is going to expand your horizons.

Mokus said...

Ha! You are absolutely right, though I would not put that as number 1, as I have made a bunch of great expat friends here, many of whom actually do things of value. As for books, yeah I know, read more....

YesSir said...

Great blog, Matt. Very true! I would say that your Ex-Pat list could be true in many locations, not only Budapest. I'm sure many Ex-Pats in different cities experience what you write about at sometime.

My guess is that Vandorlo, Responder #1 to your posting, has never had the opportunity to experience the Ex-Pat life, hence his jealousy disguised as bitterness, perpetuated by the cloud of negativity that hovers over Hungary.

But you, and many other foreigners, have noted those same negative attributes of Hungarians. What a great trap you set! Here we have Exhibit A, a Hungarian writing a response and proving your point. Bravo!