If you are planning a trip to Budapest or other parts of Hungary, it’s just normal to try to find out a thing or two about these people. Knowing a little about the Hungarians and their customs will help you better understand their culture and therefore make your visit more meaningful and pleasurable.
Table of Contents
- Things You Should Know About Hungarians
- 1. Hungarians Have a Wicked Sense of Humor
- 2. Hungarian Don’t Open Up Too Easily
- 3. Hungarians Can’t Handle Criticism Very Well
- 4. Hungarian People Are Very Proud of Their Heritage
- 5. Hungarians Cherish Their Achievements
- 6. Last Name Comes First
- 7. Take My Name and Take it All!
- 8. Food Is a Serious Affair in Hungary
- 9. Table Manners Are Very Important for Hungarians
- 10. Hungarian People Love Paprika and Sour Cream
- 11. Hungarians Find it Hard to Believe that You Can’t Learn Their Language
- 12. Hungarian Etiquette
- 14. Hungarian People Can’t Get Over Transylvania
- What Pisses off a Hungarian
- Misconceptions About Hungarians
Things You Should Know About Hungarians
What are the Hungarians like? Well, it’s a complex question that shouldn’t be approached from one direction only. Although I am not Hungarian, I’ve been married to one for almost 50 years and lived among Hungarians for a good part of my life. Like with every nation, you can have both positive and negative experiences. So before you jump to any conclusions, let me throw in my twopence.
1. Hungarians Have a Wicked Sense of Humor
Hungarians are very funny people, but unless you are fluent in Hungarian it’s difficult to understand that. They have a dry and sharp humor that cuts to the bone, which doesn’t fit well with everyone. They also swear a lot, which to some people is offensive.
2. Hungarian Don’t Open Up Too Easily
Hungarians are perceived as introvert and quiet people. They are basically nice and polite, although not easily approachable. They are also very direct people which seldom hide their discontent. If they dislike something they’ll let you know right away.
Most Hungarians view foreigners with skepticism and tend to be suspicious of people they don’t know. Part of the reason is the language barrier, especially in the older generation. If you are approaching someone on the street, chances are you will not get a useful answer. Or you may be getting no answer at all. However, younger people who speak foreign languages will always appear friendlier towards tourists.
Unlike Romanians who seem very warm and welcoming to foreigners, Hungarians will keep you at a distance till they get to know you better. But once you gain their trust, they will be the most dependable, loyal and honest friends you’ll ever have.
3. Hungarians Can’t Handle Criticism Very Well
Hungarians consider themselves very intelligent people. And most of them are. But this sometimes leads to a superiority complex and even some forms of narcissism. Hungarians don’t think very highly of their neighbors or of most other peoples, for that matter. They also don’t do well with criticism. At all!
4. Hungarian People Are Very Proud of Their Heritage
There is a great deal of nationalism in Hungary. Most Hungarians are very proud of their country but consider that history wasn’t kind to them. They believe Hungary would still be one of the most powerful states in the world, but for the Treaty of Trianon under which Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory.
Hungarians have lived through great economic upheaval. Sadly most of them, even professional people like doctors, lawyers, or professors, can’t afford the same level of spending as people in other Western European countries. This somehow affects their sense of pride. Although they secretly admire the western culture and civilization, they are not ready to bow in front of anybody.
5. Hungarians Cherish Their Achievements
Throughout history, Hungarians struggled to maintain their own voice and identity. For centuries they have been under the control of powerful empires like the Hapsburgs and Ottomans, and later on under the control of the Soviets. But despite all that, they managed to survive as a people for more than 1,000 years.
Therefore today, when they have a distinctive identity, Hungarians display a lot of pride in their cuisine, language and other traditions and customs unique to their country. And not only that. Throughout its history, Hungary has produced a great number of mathematicians, Nobel Prize winners, great composers (Béla Bartók, Franz Liszt) and artists.
Hungarians pride themselves in sports achievements as well, having the highest number of Olympic medals per capita (482 between the winter and summer games). They have excellent sport teams, especially in water polo, fencing and kayaking.
Hungarians have also influenced industries across the world. For example, the founders of both Paramount and Fox Studios have Hungarian roots. And let’s not forget Erno Rubik, a professor of architecture in Budapest (Hungary), who created the famous Rubik’s Cube that we all know about.
6. Last Name Comes First
There are quite a few facts about Hungarian culture that may surprise you. One that I found quite interesting was the name order. When Hungarian people introduce themselves, they will say their last name first. For instance, they will say: “Galffy Laszlo vagyok,” meaning “I am Galffy, Laszlo” (Galffy being the last name). This is very confusing, unless you are aware of the name order.
When Hungarian family names first appeared, they served to differentiate between people with the same given name. For example, since in the same village there were more Laszlos, ‘Galffy’ made it possible to tell one Laszlo apart from the other Laszlos in the community.
7. Take My Name and Take it All!
And speaking of names. When a woman marries a Hungarian, she adopts not only her husband’s family name, but his full name. So when I married my husband – Laszlo Galffy– I publicly became Galffy Laszloné, meaning Galffy Laszlo’s wife.
On my passport and official documents I am of course only Anda Galffy. However, when I am introduced to new people in Hungary, I am called Galffy Laszloné (Laszlo Galffy’s wife). Kind of funny, right?
8. Food Is a Serious Affair in Hungary
Hungarians take food very seriously. They are driven by it! Food elevates the spirit and comforts a broken heart. It accompanies political discussions, concludes a business deal, or helps celebrate a happy event. Food may even cure an illness! In Hungary, food is culture and truth be told, Hungarian food is absolutely delicious!
Hungarian People think a lot about their next meal. “Mit kapunk ebédre?” (What’s for lunch?) Sunday lunch is sacred and is almost always a three-course event.
You’ll likely have a soup, then a main course (usually meat stewed in onions, garlic and paprika, accompanied by pickles or sauerkraut and served over egg dumplings). You will always finish with desert, which can vary from strudel, to pancakes with jam, to walnut cake, or chocolate cake).
Hungarian restaurants are so much a part of daily life in Hungary, that not even the perils of war or the collapse of the economy could keep their tables empty!
9. Table Manners Are Very Important for Hungarians
When Hungarians invite you to their house for a meal, they expect you to behave in a certain way. There is a dining etiquette that one needs to observe.
• Don’t start eating before your host/hostess because it’s considered greedy and ill mannered.
• Don’t discuss business or politics at the table.
• The host will serve you a certain number of dishes and it’s polite to try them all.
• If you can’t eat anymore, leave a small bite on the plate, or the host will continue to serve you.
10. Hungarian People Love Paprika and Sour Cream
Sticking with the topic of food, there are two ingredients that Hungarians add to almost any dish: paprika and sour cream. Paprika, Hungary’s piros arany or the ‘red gold,’ is an essential part of Hungarian cuisine and it is the dominant taste of their food. You’ll find paprika on any restaurant table as a condiment, next to the salt and pepper shakers.
When visiting Hungary, you will immediately spot the sour-cream-love of the Hungarians. They pour it on almost everything, even on bread. They eat it with onion, with cucumbers, with potatoes and yes, even with dessert.
11. Hungarians Find it Hard to Believe that You Can’t Learn Their Language
You don’t need to speak Hungarian to get around in Budapest. But although English is spoken in most tourist places, if you travel outside the tourist areas there is very little chance that you’ll get by with English or any other language by this matter.
They seem to have a fear of articulating any foreign words, even if they know a few. Addressing them in any language other than Hungarian will be met with frowns.
Hungarian is not an easy language to learn and will pose a challenge to anybody who tries. I know that from my own experience. Despite being married to a Hungarian for so long, I still don’t speak Hungarian. To the the dismay of my Hungarian relatives who truly believe there is really no excuse for me not to have learned the language after all these years.
12. Hungarian Etiquette
Hungarians etiquette is very similar with many other European countries. A handshake is a normal greeting, but gentlemen must always wait for a lady to offer her hand first. You will still see the older generation bowing as a greeting, or kissing the ladie’s hand.
If invited to a Hungarian’s home for a meal, bring a box of good chocolates, flowers or a Western liquor. Do not bring wine, as the Hungarians are proud of the Hungarian wines and they consider themselves experts in picking them. Arriving late is considered rude. In most cases, you are expected to be 10-15 minutes early.
Also, take off your shoes if you enter someones home. If they ask you not to, you may leave your shoes on, otherwise just take it off.
14. Hungarian People Can’t Get Over Transylvania
One thing that Hungarians have a hard time getting over is loosing Transylvania to Romania. This was the result of the Treaty of Trianon in 1920, when Hungary lost about two-thirds of its territory to its neighboring countries. But it seems that loosing Transylvania hurts them the most.
It it not so much that Hungarians think that Transylvaniais theirs, but that it WAS theirs for centuries. And many Hungarians have a very hard time “letting it go.” Romania and Hungary have been entangled into this feud for ages!
What Pisses off a Hungarian
• Hungarians are very proud of their wines and spirits and truly believe they are the best in the world. Surprise, surprise! Is there anything concerning themselves they aren’t proud of? As a result, refusing to drink a shot of pálinka when offered one, or telling a Hungarian you don’t like Hungarian wines is more than an offense.
• The second thing that will piss them off is assuming that life is better in Hungary since the fall of Communism. When the Berlin Wall crumbled, some people in Hungary thrived, but many still feel the effects of loosing the steady work and pay that Communism provided.
• Hungarians are proud of their cuisine and expect everybody else to like it too. Telling them you don’t like Hungarian food will not only trigger disapproval, but also be considered very impolite.
Misconceptions About Hungarians
Every nation has its own stereotypes, and Hungary is no exception. Many tourists visit the country every year and form their own opinions. But you’ll be surprised how many people who have never visited Hungary before have opinions about it. Let us see the most common stereotypes about Hungarians.
• Hungarians are grumpy people and never smile. Well, Hungarians DO smile when they have something to smile about. And they even laugh hard, when something tickles their funny bone.
• Hungarians are not hospitable and welcoming people. Although they tend to be a little suspicious of people they don’t know, Hungarians are more hospitable than you can imagine. Once they get to know you better, they are quick to invite you in their home, where you’ll be treated like a king!
• Hungarian food is greasy and spicy. Hungarian cuisine has indeed many spicy and fat dishes and that’s especially true in restaurants targeting tourists. But modern Hungarian cuisine is has a much wider and more health-conscious range of foods.
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