Volume XI, Issue 51 ~ December 18-24, 2003

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Neighbors ~ by Sonia Linebaugh

Kati Farnaday Hlousek

Some Bay Weekly readers may have been drawn in by interior decorator Katalin Farnaday Hlousek’s alluring accent at Fitzsimmons Design Associates in Annapolis. Others might know her from her days in the English as Second Language office at Anne Arundel Community College, where she empathized with new learners of English.

“The minute you open your mouth, people want to start a conversation,” she says. “So you talk and maybe you make a friend out of it.”

Kati has been making friends in America since 1995, when she came to Manhattan for six months to learn English for her business studies in her native Budapest, Hungary.

One of those American friends, Lubor ‘Borek’ Hlousek, who had escaped from the communism of his Czechoslovakian homeland, persuaded Kati to leave her happy life for another here in Annapolis, Maryland.

“If I stayed in Hungary,” says Kati, “I would have my family but not him. Here, I keep him — and I keep my family.”

Coming to America
Kati was 18 when she came to Manhattan to live with friends of the family and work for a German-Hungarian company.

I thought, What am I doing here? I didn’t speak any English. During the day, I was speaking German and Hungarian. I went to some English classes, but mostly I was alone in the evenings, so I watched TV — Melrose Place and 90210 — all these silly shows.

I started to go to a German culture club for someone to talk to. Mostly, they were fifth generation and they didn’t even speak German. In the first two months I didn’t say anything, but after a while I joined in. Conversations were okay if I talked slow.

We were practicing a quadrille, a French dance: four couples dancing in circles, 40 couples altogether. The women rented the big white gowns and the men were in tuxedos. Every week you danced with someone different. Afterward there were parties.

Love Changes Everything
Kati thought she would return to Hungary to a happy life in the hotel business surrounded by family and friends. Love changed her life.

I met my husband at the club. Borek came with some German friends. We hit it off right away because he had some Hungarian on his grandmother’s side, though he is from the Czech Republic. We were very good friends; we had a lot in common. I thought if he would come along when I was 30 or 35, he would be perfect. He would be the one. But I was only 18, and he was 30. I was just starting my studies, and he was finishing his medical studies. So we just hung out. I had my home and family and studies. I didn’t want to live here.

In a couple of months, I went home. I knew on the plane that I should have given Borek more of a chance. He called me right away, as soon as I got home, and asked if he could come visit and meet my parents. Then it was total.

Living in Real America
After a three-year, long-distance romance, Kati came to America for good. With both parents in medicine, it was natural for Kati to marry a doctor. After Borek finished his studies, they found a place to call home.

I’m from a big city, so I’d love to live in New York City. But I like the neighborhood in Hillsmere. I wanted a place where you can find all kinds of people and different houses, not all the same. Here, you have the water nearby. You have people pushing these baby carriages. You see the people pushing their trash can out in the morning, or maybe even the night before. You have your remote control for the garage. I thought, ‘Now you really live in America,’ and this is an American society.

We have a lot of visitors, foreign people who come for two or three weeks. My parents come all the time. My sister comes. Borek’s mother comes. I don’t have to worry about what they can do. While I’m at work, they can go for a great walk or bicycling or go to Quiet Waters Park, which is beautiful.

I call this home and I call Budapest home. One of my friends only feels good in the airplane between the two places, but not me. When I’m there, I’m there 100 percent. When I’m here, I’m here 100 percent.

International Living
Since I’ve lived here, the world has opened up so much. We have many European friends. You would be surprised how many are here in this little town. We have a group of 16 couples who meet together. A few of the spouses are American, but mostly they are German, Austrian, Italian, Turkish, French, Brazilian. No one is from the same country. We have a big international night, usually in November, with dinner at our house. Everyone puts together a little performance or brings some food from home.

We have a Dutch couple who moved to Indonesia who invite us to visit them. A French couple moved to Puerto Rico, and we’ve visited them already.

Still I stay in touch with my mother. With a baby due in April, now I know just how far I am from home. Every day, I wake up and get my coffee and talk to my Mom for 10 minutes. I have a good 10 people that I e-mail and keep up with. Everything cannot be perfect.

We go to New York a lot, and you can get anything in the Hungarian community there. They have the get-together house, the church, the butcher shop: It even smells the same. You can get salami, kielbasa and a type of salty cake my grandmother made.

I went home in May and again this November. I don’t really miss the food, but once I know I’m going home, I get a certain taste in my mouth. I definitely have to have the bread. And I ask my mother for a special type of pickled cucumber. The cucumbers taste different there, and so does the vinegar. But it’s nothing to complain about.

American Children
With a baby on the way, Kati and Borek are thinking about the future and the ties to family culture.

Our children are going to be born American and live as Americans, but I want them to know where their parents are from.

I will try to speak Hungarian to our child. Borek speaks five languages. He will speak German or Czech. We will speak English together. Our children will learn: Mom is trying to push this Hungarian on us, but she knows English, too.

I can’t take my children home and have them get off the plane and not be able to say anything in Hungarian. Everyone in Europe speaks English or German, but my parents would be so sad.

I’m interested in every type of culture. You know, the Pope says, ‘You live to travel and then you travel to live.’ The more you see and hear and get exposed to others, the more you learn; the more you become. I want my kids to feel the same way.

They’ll learn that for mom it’s great in the U.S. and it’s great in Hungary. Their father will tell them about escaping from communism.

Borek started medical school under communism. When he got to America, he was working in the hospital, working at a bar, cleaning churches and going to school. America gave him something he couldn’t get at home — though it’s now better in the Czech Republic; we have to tell our kids that.

It’s a Wonderful Life
Kati says her life has always been filled with good things. “It depends,” she says, “on the family you’re lucky enough to be born in.”

The story should start when I was three and my parents were hesitating because I was so quiet. They thought maybe they should look for special schooling. I liked to do things alone. I had a sister, but I was for myself, just alone. I was social but alone. When I went to kindergarten my mother was upset, for she didn’t know what was going to happen to me.

At the end of the day, the teacher said, ‘I can quit my job. She took care of everybody, told everybody what to do, and at nap time she made sure everyone was tucked in.’ I pulled my eyes so I looked like I was crying. Then, I was like a little adult and I was sitting on someone’s lap and having my second lunch while the other children were napping. My sister was a year older and I had gone with her sometimes, so I knew the whole system. I was comfortable there. Then my mom said, ‘Maybe she will be alright.’

I am still like that. I find myself being in different groups and meeting all these people. I’m very social. After school, I went around the world as a professional folklore dancer. I worked at a big hotel in New York City with movie stars coming in.

Now, at my work as an interior designer, sometimes they say ‘Kati, you are up front and always telling everyone what to do.’ But I say, ‘If I they need to know, I take charge if I see that no one else will do it. If they don’t know what to do, then I tell them, but in a nice way.’

Some friends say, ‘Anywhere you drop Kati, she could survive.’ And it’s true. You have one life, and then it’s over. When you have something else you love, it’s okay to let go and change. Maybe some day I’ll teach Hungarian folk dancing to children in my basement.

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Last updated December 18, 2003 @ 2:59am.