2009, an office in London. Five hungover colleagues in a meeting, desperate for lunch already. Someone mentions onion soup (that has nothing to do with the meeting at hand, which is about commodity futures). He calls it French onion soup. The Frenchman at the table wakes up and begs to differ. He blames the Germans for the onion soup. The German declares that it is called French onion soup in Germany, and for a reason. And thus a war of stereotypes commences.
The French colleague is accused of frogs, the Polish team mate of being a plumber, and the Briton is blamed for the beer we had in the pub. Then I, the Hungarian chime in, and say something super-witty (obviously). The British colleague looks at me, exasperated, and begs me, for the thousandth time, to help him find something he can use against me.
“Tell me a single stereotype about Hungarians!”
Well, I say, you may want to refrain from attacking me altogether for Hungarians are known to be vampires. “Pray, tell me!” he implores and I tell him that it’s obvious, since Dracula lived in Transylvania and that makes him Hungarian. Obviously.
“No, I just made it up.”
Little did I know, however, that Count Dracula had actually identified himself as Hungarian (or Magyar) in Bram Stoker’s original book. Read below:
“I have had a long talk with the Count. I asked him a few questions on Transylvanian history, and he warmed up to the subject wonderfully. In his speaking of things and people, and especially of battles, he spoke as if he had been present at them all. This he afterwards explained by saying that to a boyar the pride of his house and name is his own pride, that their glory is his glory, that their fate is his fate. Whenever he spoke of his house he always said ‘we,’ and spoke almost in the plural, like a king speaking. I wish I could put down all he said exactly as he said it, for to me it was most fascinating. It seemed to have in it a whole history of the country. He grew excited as he spoke, and walked about the room pulling his great white moustache and grasping anything on which he laid his hands as though he would crush it by main strength. One thing he said which I shall put down as nearly as I can; for it tells in its way the story of his race:—
‘We Szekelys have a right to be proud, for in our veins flows the blood of many brave races who fought as the lion fights, for lordship. Here, in the whirlpool of European races, the Ugric tribe bore down from Iceland the fighting spirit which Thor and Wodin gave them, which their Berserkersaa displayed to such fell intent on the seaboards of Europe, ay, and of Asia and Africa too, till the peoples thought that the werewolves themselves had come. Here, too, when they came, they found the Huns, whose warlike fury had swept the earth like a living flame, till the dying peoples held that in their veins ran the blood of those old witches, who, expelled from Scythia had mated with the devils in the desert. Fools, fools! What devil or what witch was ever so great as Attila, whose blood is in these veins?’ He held up his arms. ‘Is it a wonder that we were a conquering race; that we were proud; that when the Magyar, the Lombard, the Avar, the Bulgar, or the Turk poured his thousands on our frontiers, we drove them back? Is it strange that when Arpad and his legions swept through the Hungarian fatherland he found us here when he reached the frontier; that the Honfoglalas was completed there? And when the Hungarian flood swept eastward, the Szekelys were claimed as kindred by the victorious Magyars, and to us for centuries was trusted the guarding of the frontier of Turkey-land; ay and more than that, endless duty of the frontier guard, for, as the Turks say, “water sleeps, and enemy is sleepless.” Who more gladly than we throughout the Four Nations received the “bloody sword,” or at its warlike call flocked quicker to the standard of the King? When was redeemed that great shame of my nation, the shame of Cassova, when the flags of the Wallach and the Magyar went down beneath the Crescent, who was it but one of my own race who as Voivode crossed the Danube and beat the Turk on his own ground? This was a Dracula indeed! Woe was it that his own unworthy brother, when he had fallen, sold his people to the Turk and brought the shame of slavery on them! Was it not this Dracula, indeed, who inspired that other of his race who in a later age again and again brought his forces over the great river into Turkey-land; who, when he was beaten back, came again, and again, and again, though he had to come alone from the bloody field where his troops were being slaughtered, since he knew that he alone could ultimately triumph? They said that he thought only of himself. Bah! what good are peasants without a leader? Where ends the war without a brain and heart to conduct it? Again, when, after the battle of Mohacs, 3 we threw off the Hungarian yoke, we of the Dracula blood were amongst their leaders, for our spirit would not brook that we were not free. Ah, young sir, the Szekelys—and the Dracula as their heart’s blood, their brains, and their swords—can boast a record that mushroom growths like the Hapsburgs and the Romanoffs can never reach. The warlike days are over. Blood is too precious a thing in these days of dishonourable peace; and the glories of the great races are as a tale that is told.’
It was by this time close on morning, and we went to bed. (Mem. this diary seems horribly like the beginning of the ‘Arabian Nights,’ for everything has to break off at cock-crow-or like the ghost of Hamlet’s father.)”
Vlad the Impaler (or Vlad Tepes), who inspired the story of Count Dracula, had not been Szekely nor Magyar – as much as ethnicity in the 19th century sense is applicable to the 15th century in which he lived. But Bram Stoker’s 1897 book that relaunched the legend has clearly identified the count as Szekely. And this is exactly the kind of thing that can set off bitter fights among nationalists.
And settle inane ones in multinational work teams.
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