No, not “a fish,” or “irritated.” I will assume that most of my readers are mammals, or can pass for mammals. How do you define yourself culturally or in terms of Nation? In the US, this is a question that causes much puzzlement, perhaps amusement, or if you ask the wrong person, a long lecture about identity and why one dare not assume such a thing about a different person. Elsewhere, you will get a clear answer, perhaps. Then, if you go farther and ask “Why are you a/an X?” the reply might take hours of history to understand.
Yes, my mind has drifted into Central Europe again. Part of it is writing related, part is not writing related, and part is because I need a vacation and Medieval Europe seems pretty mellow compared to here and now. (Heck, in some ways the Volkerwanderung seems mellow compared to here and now.) The Middle Ages, AD 800 CE to 1500 or so, is the period when us vs. them expanded past tribe to fellow-religionists, and then to the idea of the Nation, the Volk, the People, a larger-scale “us.” States such as Poland-Lithuania, Hungary, and Bohemia became recognized political and economic units, and the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nations provided a common government*, economic stability (sort of), and a mediating power in much of Central Europe.
How do you define “Central Europe?” How do you define “Polish,” or “Hungarian,” or for a real challenge, “German?” YOu can use geography, as somewhere between the Urals and Atlantic Ocean, except then a lot of Russia is included, and everyone agrees that Russia is not Central Europe. So between the Atlantic and the Pripet Marshes? What about the Dnieper? Most people would agree on Germany, Poland, Hungary, Austria, the Czech and Slovak lands, and possible/probably Croatia. So the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, Hungary,** and Poland.
All these countries are Western Christian – Roman Catholic, Calvinist, Lutheran, Uniate, Hussite, or Anabaptist – or Jewish (not as common as in the past). All look west for culture and political ideas, more toward Rome-as-Imagined than to Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire. The historian Lonnie R. Johnson adds multi-national empires (multi-ethnic), opposition to the Ottomans, and lagging behind western Europe after the Renaissance. (Johnson, Central Europe: Enemies, Neighbors, Friends). You can quibble the details, but there’s a core there that works very well with what I’ve read and observed over the years. Poles and Hungarians most certainly look west, not east, for their history and culture, even if they look west warily. Germany post 1700 is suspect, to put it mildly, and the Poles traditionally tried to avoid getting entangled in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. Hungary likewise. Bohemia got in, then tried to get out (or at least to gain more independence within the Empire once the Habsburgs took over. 1620 took care of that for, oh 300 years give or take.)
Language works to define Pole, Czech, Slovak, and Hungarian, but Austrians and Germans all speak German, and there are differences in the culture and attitudes of the various parts of Austria and Germany. Someone from Hamburg is rather different from a Styrian. And the Swiss speak German, some of them, even if the Germans and Austrians aver that they can’t read written Swiss, or understand parts of spoken Swiss. But Switzerland is not Central Europe. Hamburg, the Rhineland, and Ruhr are not really Central Europe entirely, if you require Ottoman opposition and lagging behind Western Europe.
I think it comes down to “here’s the general guideline, and we’ll sort out the specifics later.” Sort of like “Hungarian.” Speaks Hungarian, is western Christian (but probably not Lutheran, because Lutheran is German,) or Jewish. Probably lives in or near modern Hungary. Is aware, possibly too aware, of Hungarian history, or a certain understanding of it. Prrrrooooobably no longer swears he or she is a descendant from one of the five founding princes who were the sons of a princess and an eagle, but . . . Poles are Catholic or Jewish or Uniate, not Lutheran, but other flavors of Protestant? Eh, well . . .
There’s a LOT of history in all those definitions and identities. Some of it is documented history, some of it is felt history, some is just understood but not really discussed. For Americans, it seems odd, perhaps anachronistic, downright off-putting perhaps to have the legislature vote to affirm that the Virgin Mary is the Queen of Poland. The US Constitution forbids that. Poland? No problem. Some controversy, but no problem. Ditto Hungary affirming that Mary is the true ruler of Hungary, and that other governments are care-takers. There are deep cultural as well as religious reasons for these choices, and links that go very, very far back, a thousand years back, in the past.
America is an idea and a choice. Central Europe is . . . a wonderful part of the world with too much history to be comfortable, at times. A Romanian writer-associate opined that “You don’t want to live in a place where a lot of history happens.” There’s something to that.
*In the sense that lots of people recognized that it existed, and claimed membership, and at least nominally followed its rules and decrees.
** Hungary claimed Croatia, or vice versa, before 1526, then again after the mid 1700s. Hungary also claimed what is now a chunk of Romania, just to confuse things.