From our very first storybook, Americans are raised with a can-do attitude –– our national identity prides itself on the ability to conquer hurdles and persevere through what life has handed us. We champion success and award gold medals to high achievers.

On our first day in Budapest, I sat with my classmates in a Hungarian culture lecture and was met with an ultra-realistic worldview that challenged the “happily ever after” American fantasy.

“You live happily until you die,” explained our lecturer, Mária Sántha, placing her country’s mindset in American context. We had little knowledge of Hungarian attitude and the blunt statement made us giggle. Though her deliverance clever and her smile sweet, the statement was a shockingly accurate representation of Hungarian attitude.

Hungarians take life as it comes at them. They are not driven to move up a social, economic or political ladder, nor do they scoff at the successful.

“These are the lessons history has taught us,” states Mária referring to Hungary’s 40 years under Communist regime from 1949 until 1989. Though it has been 29 years since the horrors of Communist rule, the people remain deeply marked. Their skin is thick, and their faces are stern because they had to be.

However, to label Hungarians simply as “serious” would be doing them a deep injustice. Though quieter and less smiley than Americans, Hungarians’ can be found walking along the Danube, arm in arm with those they love, or dancing beside strangers at their local beer garden.

This matter of fact approach is foreign to Americans, but perhaps it shows a depth to life that omits the performance stress that accompanies our drive and determination.