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“I’m 1/3 Venezuelan, 1/3 Hungarian, and 1/3 Austrian – but the Hungarian part is the strongest in me”

Zsófia Nagy-Vargha 2020.03.06.

When asked about his nationality, and to which nation he belongs to, it is not an easy answer for Carlos Müller. “I am one third Venezuelan, one third Hungarian, and one third Austrian.” But he adds that the identity he feels most close to is Hungarian. The former polygraph expert currently lives in Budapest. He left the Caribbean two years ago with nothing but two suitcases. In his opinion, the Hungarians are much friendlier and more positive than the older generations in Venezuela had told him.
The interview was originally published by our sister site, Ungarn Heute. Translation by Fanni Kaszás

What was the last lie you revealed with a lie detector?

That’s a very difficult question. (Laughs). I can’t remember it exactly. I have been doing polygraph research professionally in Venezuela for 18 years and have discovered a lot of lies, as well as some truths. With 18 years of experience with the polygraph… you see a lot. Especially in a country with a very high crime rate.

Do you miss this work though?

Of course I miss it. It was not easy to leave my beloved profession and other professional activities behind me after 18 years and start something new. We only decided a few years ago that we want to start a new life in Hungary. But you have to leave things behind.

Was it you who did not want to deal with it anymore or is it the lack of a market for it in Hungary?

When I was still in Venezuela, I looked into it beforehand and I found that there is no market for this. But when I arrived here, many said that although there is currently no demand for it, it may work in the future. In the beginning, I thought that it was good to start something completely new, to look for new experiences in life. Although I would like to continue, it is not a problem that I no longer deal with it.

Why is there no market for a polygraph examiner in Hungary? Are people “more decent”?

First, it is a matter of habit: people in Hungary are not yet familiar with this method, and they are not used to someone asking whether they are really telling the truth or not. Secondly,

in Venezuela we use the polygraph very often in business, especially when recruiting people. In South America you want to know exactly who you are employing.

Of course, you want to employ honest people. So the basic philosophy is that we can teach everyone something, but we can’t educate everyone. In Hungary, I primarily try to bring the method closer to people, to explain to them how we use polygraphs in Venezuela. I have given lectures on this in several places and would like to continue.

Does that mean that your customers who used polygraphs were primarily companies?

We worked privately with the companies. There were two major areas: recruitment and security advice. For example, if there was a crime, we used the lie detector to uncover cases that the police alone could not solve.

photo: Attila Lambert/Hungary Today

What are you currently doing?

Here in Budapest I work for an Indian multinational company as head of recruitment. So I managed to stay in the same business area that I was already familiar with in Venezuela. It is a great new experience to work for such a large multinational company. Almost 100 different nationalities work here, similar to Venezuela, which is also very multicultural. The country was built up by immigrants, so I’m used to being in touch with people from all over the world. I feel at home at the company.

You also speak many languages ​​fluently. Which ones?

Spanish, German, Hungarian, and English.

When asked what nationality you belong to, what do you say?

That is a difficult question.

I think I’m one third Venezuelan, one third Hungarian, and one third Austrian. It mainly depends on where I am, what I am doing, and which language I use the most. There were times when I felt more like a Venezuelan than a Hungarian or an Austrian. Then again, there were moments when I felt more like a Hungarian.

I believe that the Venezuelan and Hungarian identities have had the biggest impacts on my life. I was born in Venezuela, grew up and attended school there, had friends there, went to university and worked there for a long time. On the other hand, I have been an active member of the Hungarian community in Venezuela since I was four years old: I attended the Hungarian kindergarten in Caracas and then I joined the Hungarian scouts.

There is a so-called Hungarian house in Caracas and I spent most of my life there. I managed the house for the last two years I was there, and am trying to continue doing that from here as well. Hungarian culture and traditions have always been very dear to me. The Austrian less so, maybe because we didn’t have an Austrian community in Venezuela. There was a German one: all German-speaking colonies met in a Catholic community. There were different programs there, so I also tried to keep the Austrian traditions and the German language alive.

photo: Attila Lambert/Hungary Today

They often say that it is more difficult to keep the Hungarian roots when the mother is not Hungarian. Your mother is Austrian. How did the Hungarian identity become so strong in you?

I don’t know how my parents arranged it among themselves, but thanks to my father, the Hungarian identity was always a little more present with us. Maybe because we had more opportunities to keep the culture and traditions alive in the Hungarian community.

I speak only Hungarian with my father and German with my mother. For us, the common language is German. I graduated from a German high school, where I also came into contact with European and German culture. My mother also really likes Hungarian culture. That probably also helped make me more Hungarian.

You mentioned the Hungarian scout movement. Is it still an active part of your life?

I have been scouting since I was 6 years old. They say once a scout, always a scout. When we got our neckerchief, we swore to stay scouts for life. Our scout groups continue to exist both in Venezuela and here in Hungary. Last year in Budapest, we founded a Spanish-speaking group with members from Venezuela. These groups brought the Hungarians living in the country together. That was actually the main engine of Hungarian identity. Many of us realized back then how important this work was for our parents. Thanks to them we were able to get to know the Hungarian culture, and now it is much easier to start our life in Hungary anew. We learned not only the language and culture, but also the mindset.

You have been living in Hungary for 1.5 years now. Did you imagine life in Budapest like this?

I already realized in 2012 that I would have to leave Venezuela at some point, but I didn’t make the decision until 2018. It wasn’t easy to start again in Budapest; however, it was a little easier than I had imagined. It was a big advantage that I knew the language. I had previously read that there are many job opportunities in Hungary, but it was a tedious and lengthy process to find a new job and start everything from scratch.

A positive surprise was that – although I had heard very often from the older generation in the Venezuelan Hungarian community that everyone in Hungary is very sad, grumpy, and depressed – my experiences here are completely different. People received me very kindly and openly.

Have there been any negative aspects?

In the beginning, I thought the city was a bit old. I mean the architecture. Budapest is very beautiful, but old. For example the doors. (Laughs). I told my Hungarian friends that I don’t understand why people don’t at least paint the old doors. They said, “Yes, but these doors have 150 years of experience! You can’t do anything with this door, this door has to stay that way.” Perhaps my Austrian mentality is stronger in this regard: if something doesn’t look good, you have to fix it. Of course, this is more of an anecdote and not a really negative thing. Most of the first experiences were positive.

You said in an interview earlier that almost all of your classmates went to Europe after graduation. Why did you only move to Hungary several years later?

Those were the times when I felt more like a Venezuelan than anything else. At the time, I think I was 100% sure that I would never want to leave the country. It was exactly 2000. I got there shortly after graduating from high school, had a lot of friends, we visited beaches and everything, these years were very good. At the time, I thought it was a country full of opportunities. Unfortunately, it completely changed over time, but I stayed there anyway.

photo: Attila Lambert/Hungary Today

You mentioned 2012. What exactly happened back then?

In December 2012, the Venezuelan state determined that a large part of the country’s shops should sell its goods cheaply, and they even set the prices. Many of the companies left the country afterwards, and as a result we also lost a large number of costumers. We noticed that things would no longer work economically for us. After 2012, we only worked to keep the company going. We had almost no profit. In addition, everything, such as apartments, cars, etc. has lost its value. Nowadays it doesn’t make sense to sell these things.

What was everyday life like? What difficulties did you have?

Where there are economic difficulties, there are automatically problems with public security as well. People had no money, so crime rates also started to increase. There were times when we walked on the street with fear.

For example, in Caracas, there were 30-40 homicides in just one weekend. With such statistics, of course, one lives in fear. Many of our acquaintances were attacked, robbed, or kidnapped.

It was one of the reasons why I decided to leave the country. There were also problems with medical care – the healthcare system no longer worked well. There were very few goods in the supermarkets. For me, that wasn’t really the biggest problem. I am a boy scout and I know if there are no potatoes then there is rice, if there is no rice there is something else. We also had to live from one day to the next. We didn’t know what would happen the next day. The rules of the game were constantly changing: you had to read the news every day to know what was allowed and what was prohibited…

In a way, your story is similar to that of your grandfather, who left his home, Hungary, with two suitcases. What did you have to leave in Venezuela?

I also came to Hungary with exactly two suitcases – just what the airline allowed. The material things are the least of it. We locked our apartment and left everything there. I could only sell a few things, such as my car.

I had to leave my whole life behind and start from scratch. Who you were, what you did, everything stays behind, you can’t bring it with you. People didn’t know me here. Anyone who leaves their home country automatically becomes a nobody in a new country.

My parents still live in Venezuela. My mother is 79, my father 77. He said that he had emigrated before and didn’t want to go through it a second time. It’s really sad that the third generation of our family should experience the same thing that our grandparents and parents did in their 50’s. My mother said the same thing, and that she would not be able to endure winter in Europe. They have already gotten used to the tropical climate.

In recent years, many people from Venezuela have come back to Hungary. Are you in contact with them?

I know many of them. Especially those who worked in the Hungarian community or visited the programs in Venezuela. The community consisted of approximately 2500 people. Although all of them have Hungarian ancestors, many of them no longer speak Hungarian. Those who do not know the language have difficulties with the integration, although you could work your way with English as well in Hungarian.

photo: Attila Lambert/Hungary Today

Are you following Venezuelan events and news?

When I first came to Hungary, I think I might have watched the news every two hours to find out what’s new. Now I’m still following the events, but only two or three times a week. I also regularly call my friends who can report objectively on the Venezuelan situation.

Do you think you will return someday?

It is not easy to answer this question. Maybe yes, when I’m already retired. (Laughs). Nobody knows what to expect in the future. In 2000, I never thought that I would move to Hungary one day. I will probably not return in the next 15 years because the country should be put in order first and that takes a lot of time. It would also not be easy to start my life again from scratch.

Interview by Zsófia Nagy-Vargha/Ungarn Heute

Translation by Fanni Kaszás

Photos and featured photo: Attila Lambert/Hungary Today