Travelling on the Budapest subway could be considered one of the least private places one can imagine no place perhaps for retaining even some degree of intimacy in our interactions. Yet it is not entirely impossible.
We only have been in Hungary for maybe a couple of weeks, it was still summer and I have not realised yet how difficult it can be to relearn a different context one shall use the language in.
Travelling on the subway our younger child, Ernest did what he does –just like his sister – so well and that is charming people around him. He is quick and efficient sitting in my lap looking up at people ‘forcing’ them to smile back. I was chatting away to him in Hungarian as I usually do while becoming increasingly entertained by the passing friendship he built with a young fellow standing next to us. I made an effort – eventually – to engage him in conversation and slightly shocked and puzzled stopped mid-sentence than made another effort now through the ‘right’ language though my speech did not feel honest. I was uncomfortable to start a conversation in Hungarian with a stranger.
Being surprised I started thinking about what might just has happened and begun paying far more attention to how I engage in conversations or avoid doing so. I came to realise that I was not at all happy to speak to people in Hungarian, feeling generally rather uneasy and uncomfortable when doing so. This is a condition that has become far better since but often I still feel distant through this language while also have a familiar closeness that feel now too close.
Of course nothing comes without its context for one doesn’t just decide for some reason or other to be in a certain way... For the past eleven years however I spoke less and less and with decreasing frequency except for my children whom with of course I talk and talked more as time passes. Therefore Hungarian has become an increasingly intimate language that is hardly if ever shared with anyone other than close family. Meeting the occasional other Hungarian perhaps helped emphasising its intimate value.
Suddenly everyone and everything around me shares the very language that has become a complex symbol and especially tool in the years spent in non-Hungarian speaking communities. It’s a learnt reflex to switch language when starting to speak to someone other than my kids yet it does not feel like one when one has always done this so. It feels natural and it is hard when one have no choice but to let go of so much associated value. The first tries sounded disastrous.
I still miss the intimacy and often still feel uncomfortable. This is natural, true, people connect through the medium of the language too and I need too , I am learning the tools and tricks again, speaking, communicating and slowly finding ways.
At times now, especially in contextualised or semi formal settings I am starting to enjoy speaking with strangers, meeting people. Other times I still feel too close although I am aware of the benefits they have to my language use as well as living life.
It is amazing how one can ‘forget’ a language that has felt so familiar and in certain ways still feels. Recently I have been writing emails in Hungarian and while I was aware of strangling the words and structures I could not help, I had to keep on writing knowing this is the only solution against this rust. Using language in a variety of ways.