American-Hungarian or Hungarian-American? The everyday life and thoughts of the modern-day Hungarian settlers of America

Now that we have become familiar with the socio-demographic characteristics of the survey participants and with the responses of those who immigrated to America, in the following 20 questions we shall learn the thoughts and feelings of all participants in connection with Hungary and the United States – indeed, we shall even glean insights into certain aspects of their everyday lives. In this section, we shall also obtain answers about their self-defined identities.

Let us examine the questions promising to be the most interesting ones of the survey, ones that both immigrant and American-born respondents answered.

What is your current status in the U.S.?

A large majority (72%) of the respondents are American citizens (including dual citizens). Even if this ratio is not so high among the Hungarian immigrants, still more than half of them (59%) can already carry the “blue passport ”. This is clearly consistent with the previously discussed motivations for immigration (e.g. “to marry an American citizen”) and the long length of stay in the U.S. (16 years, on average).

The second most common American resident status of immigrants from Hungary is the Green Card (24%). Among survey participants, only a negligible fraction (3%) were illegal residents according to local law, that is, tourists residing with expired tourist visas, although this small fraction was certainly influenced by the survey methodology, as well as the fear of possible reprisal.

Current Status in the US

The ability to compare current status to status at arrival is seriously limited, partly due to limitations of the survey methodology. In any event, a glance at the figure below allows us boldly to draw the conclusion that the majority of respondents – given their average residence time of 16 years – are not likely on temporary stays in the United States. The next question will resolve whether they might want to remain here or move back (permanently ) to Hungary.

status now and at arrival

In our survey, we have attempted to ascertain the respondents’ thoughts and plans regarding a permanent return in two steps. First, we inquired about the likelihood of a move back to Hungary. This question enabled us to filter out those who are occupied with the thought of a move “back home”, at least at some level. In the subsequent question, we ask only this filtered sample about the time scale of their possible return. Let us first examine the responses about probability of return.

How likely are you, all in all, to return permanently to Hungary?

Forty-one percent of the total sample responded that they are sure NOT to move back “home” in the future. This fraction is 49% among English-language respondents and 36% among Hungarian-language participants: thus, almost one in three Hungarian-language respondents has no plan whatever to return.

On the other hand, two thirds of immigrants from Hungary (and half of those responding in English) entertain thoughts at some level – or did so in this survey – of moving back home. True, only a small fraction of these (3-6%) replied that they definitely intend to move back at some time.

When do you plan to move back to Hungary?

As mentioned previously, we only posed this question to the 69% of the total sample, offering the five choices displayed in the diagram below.

when do you plan to move back

Analyzing these results and the replies specifying “other”, it seems that some people were taken greatly by surprise by this direct question, after merely not having declared a return home completely out of the question. As can be inferred from the response to the first question, only a very few respondents plan to move back. To be orecise, only 26% of those responding to this question (9% of the total sample) are certain of moving back to Hungary. It is also of interest to note that of this small minority, more than half plan to return only after retirement.

How often did you visit Hungary in the past 5 years?

Now that we know about intentions to return home, let us examine the frequency of trips to Hungary over the past 5 years. As we analyze the responses, it is, however, crucial to remind ourselves of the fact that while a trip to Hungary from a European Union country costs an average of a couple hundred euros per family member, the trip from America often costs a thousand dollars or more per head. For a family of three or four, this requires a major material sacrifice when planning the annual budget.

In view of this, it is perhaps not surprising that 31% of the total sample has not been to Hungary in the last 5 years. True, this ratio is so high primarily because of the immigrant and English-language respondents, since more than half these groups have not been to the Old Country during this period.

Visits to Hungary are much more characteristic of the Hungarian-language respondents: only the frequency of visits varies among this group. Of them, 18% have visited once and 28% twice or even three times. 23% visits home once annually, and indeed, 12% do so more than once a year. On average, they visited home twice in the past 5 years.

how often did you visit

How often did you visit a country outside of the U.S. in the past 5 years (not counting Hungary)?

Since it is difficult to assess the results of visits to Hungary on their own, we also asked how often the respondents have gone abroad, less their trips to Hungary. Considering the figure below in conjunction with the previous one, we can determine that over the past 5 years, respondents – even if only in small numbers – chose to visit countries other than Hungary more often Hungary itself. From a different viewpoint, half the respondents visited Hungary just as often as other countries, despite the major expense.

how often outside of US

How often do you keep in contact, or communicate with, your friends or relatives in Hungary?

The natural counterpart of visits to the home country is the maintenance of contacts with people back home. Well, yes, but as we can see, not every respondent travels home regularly. It was therefore a logical step to ask explicitly about the frequency of contacts with their Hungarian relatives and acquaintances as well.

how often keep contact

The figure above reveals that more than half the total sample maintains their Hungarian connections with at least weekly frequency. The ratio reaches as high as 70% among the Hungarian-language respondents. In this group, there is scarcely anyone who does not have a relative back home, or who does not maintain the connection.

It is not so among the English-language respondents or those born in the U.S., when nearly one third of the respondents either have no Hungarian connections or do not maintain them with their Hungarian acquaintances or relatives. Before one should pay attention solely to the negative aspect of the English-language respondent results, it is important to note that a quarter of these respondents maintain their Hungarian connections with at least the same weekly regularity as the Hungarian-language respondents. This is most certainly worth emphasizing.

How often do you follow news about Hungary?

Half the respondents follow news of Hungary with at least weekly frequency, and most of them daily, even. This latter group is mainly characteristic of the immigrants from Hungary, although – interestingly – even the U.S.-born respondents follow Hungarian news relatively often.

follow news on Hungary

How often do you follow news about the U.S.?

The real question, however, is: how does their tracking of Hungarian news compare to the frequency and regularity of their tracking of U.S. news? The figure below provides the information. Even at first glance, one sees the enormous difference, since the great majority of respondents follow American news daily, and this result does not vary significantly between subgroups.

Taken together, therefore, we can establish that respondents follow news about the U.S. much more regularly than news about Hungary.

follow news on US

What Hungarian society or community are you a regular or active member of, in the U.S.?

The next few questions allow a glimpse into the everyday lives of the respondents. First of all, we were interested in what U.S. Hungarian communities or organizations the survey participants were regular members. This question allows several answers. The figure below illustrates the responses. Because respondents can belong to more than one type of organization, each line can total more than 100%.

what hungarian community are you member

The most popular (30-36%) American-Hungarian community type are the internet Hungarian community forums. The second most often mentioned (25-27%) forum is connected to local forms of organization: Hungarian community and cultural houses. The next two mentioned , nearly equivalent in frequency, are other communities: the Hungarian schools and Boy Scouts. These two, however, are more characteristic of the Hungarian immigrants.

It is another highly telling datum that 40% of respondents are not active members of any Hungarian community. Interestingly, the breakdown shows no significant variation between subgroups. In other words, those coming from Hungary recoil from any organized Hungarian community just as much as those born in the U.S., or those responding in English.

To what extent are you satisfied with the aspects of life listed below?

We also asked the survey participants about their satisfaction with a few aspects of their lives. (The scale runs from 1 to 9, “1” means “not at all satisfied”, and “9” means “completely satisfied.”)

Respondents asserted themselves relatively satisfied in several dimensions of their lives (average response, 7.2 out of 9). Among these – admittedly, by a small margin – they were most satisfied with their state of health (7.4). Compared to the average, however, respondents were less satisfied in two dimensions: with their jobs (6.9) and their social lives (6.6).

This last dimension displays the greatest variance between the Hungarian- and English-language, as between the U.S.-born and foreign-born, responses. Those born in the United States and those responding in English were much more satisfied with their social lives (6.9 vs. 6.5 ).

To what extent life aspects

Please rate the level of relationship you develop or maintain with the groups of people listed below.

Survey participants had to rate, on a scale from 1 to 9, the extent of relationships, acquaintanceships and friendships with the listed groups (and individuals within them). (A “1” meant no relationship at all, and “9” meant a completely involving relationship.) Among the three choices, friendship and acquaintanceship with Americans dominated, and there was no significant variation in any breakdown. This might not be surprising in light of the average 16-year sojourn (for immigrants), and indeed it illustrates that immigrant Hungarians do not live in isolation in the New World.

level of relationship with locals

How important to you are the items below?

Beyond daily life situations, we also sought to learn how the survey participants relate to certain traditionally or typically Hungarian features. The eight listed features had to be rated on a scale from 1 to 9 according to their importance to the respondent, with “1” meaning “not at all” and “9” meaning “very important to me.”

level of importance

The respondents unequivocally (7.3) consider Hungarian food to be the most important feature, and Hungarian pop music (4.2) to be the least important. While Hungarian food was rated most highly by those born in the U.S. (8.1) and those responding in English (7.9), pop music was assigned to the bottom rank with similar scores by all.

Between these two, Hungarian literature (5.9) and Hungarian poetry (5.4) occupy relatively distinguished places, but these are more preferred by the immigrants and Hungarian-language respondents. It was largely the American-born and English-language respondents who “raised the score” of Hungarian folk costume (4.8), Hungarian folk dance (4.9) and Hungarian folk music (5.3). Hungarian film (5.5) was considered relatively uniformly important across all groups.

What has the United States provided you?

The questionnaire included four open-ended questions, where respondents had the means to express their opinions freely – within a limit of 100 characters. The so-called word-clouds visible below illustrate the English and Hungarian language responses by frequency. (The larger the font of a word in the cloud, the more often it was mentioned, compared to the rest.)
Glancing at the two word clouds, no great differences leap to the eye between the responses in the two languages (note: the more frequent Hungarian words are translated in a table following the clouds). If, however, we examine the two clouds more closely, we can notice that while the Hungarians “received” mostly work, life and material well-being, the English-language respondents also used words referring to family “traditions” (born, family, parents, children) with nearly equal frequency.

how you benefit from US English2

mit adott aY USA2

What has Hungary provided you?

We repeated the question with respect to Hungary. Here, likewise, there is much overlap between the responses in both languages, but here one can already notice certain attitudinal differences between the two word clouds. The English responses list all positive gifts, while in the Hungarian responses, negative “received values” already turn up occasionally.

What has Hungary given to you EN responses

What has Hungary given to you HU

This difference is brought into higher relief when we attempt to group and evaluate the responses with a different method. In the figure below, we have tried to assemble “gifts” cited in the Hungarian-language responses into like groups, from the most positive through the negative ones. In a fairly subjective fashion, we were able to collect 19 groups out of the responses. Next, we calculated the frequency of appearance of the words in each group, with respect to each nation.

Much can be discerned from the resulting figure. Among others is the fact that respondents associate opportunity, hope, freedom, material success, improved standard of living, career and word almost exclusively with the United States. By contrast, they received knowledge, experience, values, perspective, and ties of family and friendship in similar proportion from both countries. The quasi-exclusive gifts of Hungary, according to the respondents, are its language, culture, identity, memories, and roots – but here we can also add limited opportunies, low standard of living, and negative attitudes.

mit adott contrast


What adjectives would you use for the United States of America?

In the two remaining open-ended questions, we asked the participants to try to describe the United States and then Hungary with adjectives. We have again gathered the responses in word clouds by response language. Let us first look at the descriptors (mostly adjectives, but a few nouns as well!) offered for the U.S.

The two word clouds surprisingly display very great similarity, indeed. The five most frequently used descriptors for the U.S., overall, were: free, opportunity, open, friendly, and diverse.


adjectives for US EN

adjectives for USA HU

 What adjectives would you use for Hungary?

The truly great contrast between the responses in the two languages, and the relatively most frequent negative descriptors, both arose in response to the final open-ended question, when they had to describe Hungary. The difference is clearly visible at a glance at the two word clouds below (a table translates the most common descriptors in the Hungarian-language responses). While we can only find pejorative or negative words hidden away in the English-language cloud, they turn up in large numbers in the Hungarian-language cloud (corrupt, bad, negative, sad, depression, dreadful).

Adjectives for Hungary EN

adjetives for Hungary HU

What is the most frequently spoken language in your household?

One of the defining elements of identity is language. For precisely this reason, we devoted three questions to this theme. Similarly to the census data for Hungarian-Americans, we also inquired about the frequency of language(s) used in the family. Following this, we inquired further about the respondent’s or – if he/she has one – their youngest child’s language skills.

Let us first examine the responses regarding language frequency in the household. First, though, it is worth taking a look at the similar census data, in order to have a basis for comparison. However, we cannot analyze the census question on this topic one for one, because they did not pose the question the same way in 2000. What we can, on the other hand, compare is the frequency of households where English is spoken exclusively, because this response is obtainable from both the census and our survey. The comparison reveals the following. Of those who, for whatever reason, identified themselves as Hungarian or of Hungarian descent in the census – about 1.4 million people – 88% speak only English at home, while of all the respondents to our survey, only 24% do so. This is an enormous difference. If, however, we only compare to the census those respondents who were not born in the U.S., then this difference is no longer so significant (24% vs. 14%), but even here one can easily observe the greater assimilation of the census participants.

most frequently spoken language

The figure above shows the responses to this survey’s question about the language spoken in the home, where we posed the question in such a way that the respondent had to pick a value on a scale from 1 to 9. A “1” meant that they speak exclusively Hungarian at home; a “3” meant that they speak mostly Hungarian; a “5”, that they speak Hungarian and English about equally often; a “7”, that they speak mostly English; and finally, a “9” meant that they speak exclusively English at home.

According to the average of the total sample (5.4), the respondents use both languages about equally in their homes. If, however, we examine the responses according to birthplace or language of response, then it becomes clear that – unsurprisingly – while the American-born and English-language respondents speak primarily (7.2 and 7.1, respectively) English at home, the Hungarian-language and –born respondents do not necessarily use their mother tongue more often in their homes. The Hungarian respondents’ average value (4.1) indeed lies closer to equal usage of both languages, which can perhaps be explained by the years spent in the U.S., the presence of American spouses, and the Americanization of their children.

Please rate your own skills in the areas listed below.

Now let us look at the responses to a question asking respondents to rate their own language skills on a scale from 1 to 9, where “1” means not at all and “9” means at a native speaker level. The figure below illustrates the responses in different breakdowns.

Your OWN language skills here

The respondents judge their English skills as very good (8.0), and the Hungarian immigrants and those responding in Hungarian have similar opinions (7.5 and 7.6). This high value is perhaps not surprising because we know that the immigrants have been living in the United States for a fairly long time. Interestingly, the Hungarian respondents do not betray any significant difference between their speaking, writing and reading abilities, whereas immigrants are generally found to speak the foreign tongue better than they read or write it.

The expected large difference revealed itself in Hungarian language skills. We observe significant differences in speaking, reading and writing, in every breakdown. Worthy of note, however, is the English-language respondents’ knowledge of Hungarian (5.8, 4.8, 4.4) – according to their own self-rating.

If you have a child or children, please rate you’re their skills in the areas listed below. Should you have more than one child, please consider your youngest school-age child’s competence in responding.

Let us see how the respondents rate their youngest – but already of school age – child’s language skills. We faced a major dilemma with this question, but we finally decided to ask about the youngest child’s competence, because experience shows that the influence of the local culture and language is most detectable in the youngest child.

The respondents rate their youngest child’s English competence as virtually at the level of native speakers, independently of the parents’ birthplace or of the response language. In contrast to their near-native speaker ability in English, the children no longer possess anywhere near native-speaker ability in Hungarian. Among the English-language and American-born respondents, we understandably find low levels in all three aspects: speaking, reading and writing. The youngest children of parent(s) from Hungary also display low values for Hungarian language skill. Among these, their speaking is best (6.8) and writing weakest (4.5).

your child youngest language skills

At the end of this block of questions, let us now turn to the two questions concerning identity. Respondents had the opportunity to respond more subtly to the question of which of the two countries they regarded as their homeland, whereas we also put them in a situation of having to choose between set responses, when the had to decide their own identity from among 4 possible choices.

Which country do you consider to be your homeland?

The answer to this question might already be anticipated on the basis of their responses to the previous questions and their socio-demographic data. They could shade their response via a scale from 1 to 9, where “1” means that they consider Hungary as their exclusive homeland, and “9”, the U.S. as their exclusive homeland.

which country for home2

On the basis of the total sample response shown in the diagram above, it appears that the respondents tend to consider the United States as their homeland. Nearly 42% of the sample considered the U.S. as more their homeland (combining responses from 6 to 9, inclusive), compared to the 24% who preferred Hungary (combining responses from 1 to 4, inclusive). Between the two, about one third (who responded with a 5) could not decide: these are the people who hold both countries equally to be their homeland.

which country for home

A bit more nuanced picture is revealed by the detailed results in the different breakdowns shown above; indeed, it is indisputable that the slight U.S. preference of the total sample is the result of the very strong preference for the U.S. by a large majority (69-78%) of the American-born and English-language respondents.

In the case of the Hungarian respondents, that is, those not born in the U.S., the dominant (41-43%) response is to consider both countries equally as their homeland. Nearly two thirds of these respondents (still?) consider Hungary more their homeland, while on the other hand, every fourth Hungarian respondent (already?) prefers the United States.

Which statement do you feel most comfortable saying?

Finally, let us see how the participants chose between the four statements that also generate the survey’s name. By way of reminder, here we no longer ask the respondents about their homeland, but ask them to choose between four different statements of identity.

Here, too, the results have proven to be most interesting. A negligible fraction of the respondents declared themselves to be either solely and exclusively Hungarian (4%) or solely and exclusively American (1%). Of the total sample, a slight plurality (50%) declared themselves Hungarian living in the U.S., compared to an American of Hungarian origin (45%).

whihc country3

In the breakdown by language and birthplace, however, the picture is not so finely balanced. A large majority of the English-language and American-born respondents (77% and 84%, respectively) declared themselves Americans of Hungarian origin. In contrast, more than two thirds of Hungarian-language and Hungarian-born respondents (70% and 68%) consider themselves to be Hungarians living in America, and here 6-7% also declared themselves to be exclusively Hungarian.

The next report will discuss which responses determine who considers himself to be what, and which country he considers his homeland. Until then, let us concisely summarize the most important results of this section.

  • A dominant majority (72%) of respondents possess (at least) American citizenship, and no more than 9% of them are definitively planning to move back to Hungary. Among these, more than half plan their return for after their retirement.
  • Respondents follow news about the United States much more regularly than news about Hungary.
  • The most popular form of Hungarian-American community are the Hungarian community forums offered by the internet, but 40% of respondents do not participate regularly in any Hungarian community at all.
  • American-born and English-language respondents are much more satisfied with their social lives than those arrived from Hungary.
  • Immigrants from Hungary do not live isolated lives in the New World, because friendships and acquaintances with Americans dominate among them – to a similar extent as they do with those born in the U.S.
  • Respondents speak both languages nearly equally frequently in the home. While the American-born speak mostly English at home, the Hungarian respondents do not necessarily use their mother tongue significantly more frequently in their homes.
  • Respondents rate the English language skills of their youngest children at native speaker level, regardless of the parents’ birthplace or the language used to complete the questionnaire. The youngest children of Hungarian-born parent(s) are judged to have low Hungarian language competence, but within those limits, their speaking ability rates highest, and writing lowest.
  • A plurality of respondents (42%) rather consider the United States their homeland, although 24% opt for Hungary, and one third opt for both countries. Among immigrants from Hungary, the dominant response (43%) is to consider both countries equally as their homelands.
  • A negligible fraction of respondents declare themselves solely and exclusively Hungarian (4%) ir solely and exclusively American (1%). A slight plurality of the total sample held themselves to be Hungarians living in America (50%), compared to Americans of Hungarian origin (45%). Two thirds of immigrants from Hungary consider themselves to be Hungarians living in America.

 A huge THANK YOU goes to the following individuals for their generous help translating this and the remaining parts. We really appreciate their support!

  • Mária Jánossy
  • Viktória Johnson
  • Péter Czipott

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