Saturday, December 08, 2007

Notes from an Austrian Village

I find myself in the gymnasium of a middle school in Austria in a village whose name I do not know. My seat is a stack of exercise mats; the children I am ostensibly teaching English to are playing a ball game a few meters away. This is a dodgy proposition – a ball just hit my laptop. I live in Budapest, Hungary, some two hours southeast of here and a rather different place. This is a village, but it doesn’t feel like a Hungarian village. In Hungary, the villages are generally poor, disheveled and dilapidated. Here everything is tidy, updated and maintained. There is a distinct sense of being plugged in to a larger system that keeps the water flowing and the food coming in, keeps the standards up and makes sure that no one falls beneath the cracks. People are secure and comfortable. They leave their personal belongings – including purses and mobile phones – on the table in a café when they go to the toilet. They do so without a second thought. In Hungary, this would not happen.

There is a higher standard here, but there is a greater sense of comfort and security. A powerful, comforting sense of tradition also expresses itself in the way food and drinks are served and the way people greet each other. In Hungary, I get the sense that people are constantly wondering if they are presenting themselves correctly. Here people just seem to act naturally and there is genuine sense of what that natural way is. But at the same time, it doesn’t feel “real.” As if these Austrians are the ones fooling themselves and Hungary is where the “real” world in all its cruelty and insecurity manifests itself.