Adrian Courage, thanks to his Hungarian mother and regular holidays by the Balaton, speaks Hungarian perfectly. What is more, he has lived in Hungary since 2003 and runs a successful translation company in the capital. He enjoys life in Budapest, where he feels people are more family-oriented and friendly than in the UK. Hungary Today interviewed him on the occasion of the publication of the third edition of Visszidensek (Remigrates).
You were born in England. What attracted you to move to Hungary?
My mother is Hungarian, so I grew up speaking Hungarian and spent every summer here. I have wanted to live here ever since I was a little boy. I have now lived here since 2003.
How did you eventually move here?
My career path was helpful in that I chose to be a translator. I started my career in Germany at a small agency. When I first moved here, I was still able to work for my old boss in Germany, which made the transition easier. After a year or so, I built up a client base in Hungary.
Two hundred years ago, Adrian’s ancestors earned their living from beer brewing. Although Courage beer can still be bought all over England, Adrian’s grandfather was the last family member to have anything to do with the brand and the brewing industry.
Wouldn’t you be better-off business-wise in England?
Of course, I would. It’s easier to make money there, but harder to be independent. It was a trade-off, but the latter is much more important to me. I never wanted to work for a big corporation, I always wanted to be my own boss, and here the conditions for that are arguably better than in England, where everything is a lot more regimented, companies are well-established, and starting an independent business is perhaps more difficult. It’s hard to say, but I’m happy with the way things have turned out.
How difficult was it to start a business in Hungary?
The actual paperwork was not at all difficult – it was more difficult to find actual clients and work alone was also tough in the early years. Luckily, I had some good contacts who helped me out.
What exactly does your company deal with?
Our main competency is to create high-quality text (what is known as ‘transcreation’) in English, but we do Hungarian translations as well. We work, for example, with the Opera House and Müpa Budapest, but also MOL and various agencies. The business also allows me the freedom to get involved in other projects. I’m also writing a book, which is nearing completion.
What was it like to grow up with parents with different mother tongues?
My father doesn’t speak Hungarian but I regularly speak Hungarian with my mother. I always enjoyed speaking Hungarian, and it was an interesting contrast to learn German, which has much stricter grammar rules and sentence structure than Hungarian and especially English.
Growing up with two languages gives you a different perspective on life, two different ways of thinking.
They say you take up two different personalities, and I have certainly noticed that in my own life – when I speak English, I become British and the same is true for Hungarian. Language plays a very significant role in culture and the way people see the world.
As a child, what did it mean to you to be Hungarian?
When I grew up in the late 80s and 90s, Hungary was in transition. Everything was extremely cheap, people were poor but generally lived well, and they were not nearly as obsessed with their work and career. I noticed that people had time for their families and children had better relationships with their parents – I suppose that was a positive side of the socialist regime: by necessity, people spent more time with their families and friends. Meanwhile, I noticed people in the UK, including my classmates, were a lot more career-focused and materialistic.
How were the holidays here?
We always went to the Balaton, my great-uncle had a holiday house in Gyenesdiás, near Keszthely. And from the age of 13, we spent our summers with teachers and their families at the Móricz Zsigmond Gimnázium camp. The camp was very basic but it was a really great time for us growing up.
How do you remember the regime change?
I was born in 1977, so I was very young at the time, but I obviously heard family members talking about it a lot.
I remember the prices were totally unrealistic in comparison to the British prices: a tram ticket, for example, cost 2 forints, which was around 2 pence then.
I also remember people forming long queues at the first Adidas shop and outside McDonald’s.
Seeing that there is a craft beer revolution happening in the world, have you never thought about reviving family traditions and brewing craft beer in Hungary?
As an Englishman, I’m fond of beer and approve of the craft beer revolution as well, I don’t think I need to be part of that.
What will your book be about?
It’s a personal story, a journey a bit similar in idea to the Visszidensek book, but I also touch on contemporary issues. For example, there are always two sides to every argument, we live in a world of paradox. For example, when Viktor Orbán talks about ‘illiberal democracy’, this sounds like a paradox to a Westerner, even though the West is entering into a kind of ‘liberal dictatorship’ if you look at political correctness and the overreach of the left in the controlling how people think. It’s an interesting time, the pendulum is swinging back and forth.
What’s the biggest difference between British and Hungarian politics?
The biggest difference for me is that it is much easier to talk to people who disagree with me here in Hungary.
I would not say I am conservative necessarily, but it bothers me that real conservative thought is almost entirely gone from Western mainstream discussion. The idea that men and women might be different is almost unacceptable, even though people experience this difference every day in their personal relationships.
How do you view Brexit?
First of all, I think the problem is that people didn’t understand the question posed by the referendum. Given the outcome was so close to a 50-50 split, it was very obvious to me that it would take a very long long time for Brexit to actually happen. Now, 3.5 years have passed and still no one knows what it really means. As far as I am concerned, it’s not that different from a business deal, and those are always concluded behind the scenes. We will never really see the whole picture.
In the short term, I think it will have a negative impact, and the long-term effects will be positive for Britain. But then the second question arises: will Britain remain intact? The departure of Northern Ireland and Scotland is also in the cards, at which point there will no longer be a Britain to discuss. In any case, the real changes we have seen in the past 20 years have been technological and economic rather than political: internet, smartphones, globalisation, and so on. Now that Boris Johnson has won the election, people have at least stopped talking about Brexit in the UK, because, love him or hate him, people believe the new prime minister will get Brexit done.
In the Visszidensek book, you praise Hungary for being family-oriented. Is it really true, given that Hungary also faces issues with demography loss?
Yes, I think so, certainly in terms of how people think about family. If you ask 25-year-olds in the UK, Germany or America if they want to have children, many people will say no, never. This is always surprising to me, but I also hear this in Hungary now. Even fewer people will answer that their life’s purpose is to have a family. Because they think that means sacrificing their own potential and career, as well as their opportunities to enjoy themselves.
I think we are heading in the same direction in Hungary, once a society reaches a certain level of wealth, people tend to wait to have children.
It’s funny that a few decades ago, Hungarians didn’t think about whether they could ‘afford’ to have children, even though they were much worse off than they are today. That has changed now and I’m not sure it’s a good thing.
What would make you go back to England?
At this point, nothing.
I like Budapest very much, it’s still very interesting to me. The city is constantly changing, evolving. I like its diversity as well, there are plenty of foreigners and expats who love being here and that always makes me a little bit proud.
I certainly wouldn’t want to go back to London, it is too big and busy for me. And, in my experience, friendships are also deeper over here. You can easily ask people for favors, your friends always call you back and generally have more time for you. People here are more community-minded, in my experience, and that suits me well.
images: Attila Lambert/ Hungary Today