If you are one of my readers you probably know that I am not Hungarian. Then why would I write about Hungarians if I am not one of them? I figured that being married to one for forty some years qualifies me as an insider. After all, what better way to know a nation? So here is what you should know about Hungarians before you travel to Hungary.
Hungarians don’t open up too easily
Hungarians are perceived as introvert and quiet people. They are basically friendly, polite, and usually open-minded, but not easily approachable. They are also very straightforward and will seldom hide their discontent. If they dislike something they will 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. Their education system is not as good as in the other European countries, so less people speak foreign languages.
Unlike Romanians, who seem very warm and welcoming to foreigners (especially the ones from Western Europe and the USA), 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.
Hungarians are very proud of their heritage
There is a great deal of nationalism in Hungary. Most Hungarians are very proud of their country, especially the older generation. That is in part due to the fact that Hungary used to be a great nation that ruled Central Europe for hundreds of years. Hungarians were feared warriors that fought great battles, but history wasn’t kind to them. They believe their country 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 and most of them, even professionals like doctors, professors etc. can’t afford the same level of spending as foreigners. This somehow affects their sense of pride, but although they secretly admire the western culture and civilization, Hungarians are not ready to bow in front of anybody.
Truth be told, Hungarians have some good reasons to be proud of their country. Hungary has one of the highest number of Olympic medals per capita (482 between the winter and summer games). It also has excellent sports teams, especially in water polo, fencing, gymnastics and kayaking.
Throughout its history, Hungary has produced a great number of mathematicians, Nobel Prize winners, great composers (Béla Bartók, Franz Liszt) and artists. Hungarians have also been involved and influenced industries across the world. For example, the founders of both Paramount and Fox Studios have Hungarian roots. Also, Erno Rubik, a professor of architecture in Budapest (Hungary) is the creator of the famous Rubik’s Cube. Even the reputable magician Harry Houdini was of Hungarian descent.
But most of all, Hungarians are proud of the fact that they are still around. With lots of enemies and very few allies, surrounded by nations with languages and cultures very different from theirs, they managed to maintain their culture and identity for more than 1,000 years.
Last names come first
In Hungary, when people introduce themselves, they will say their last name first. They say “Galffy Laszlo vagyok” or “I am Laszlo Galffy.” 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.
Take your husband’s name. Take all of it!
And speaking of names, when a Hungarian woman gets married she adopts not only her husband’s family name, but his full name. So if Anda marries Galffy Laszlo, she publicly becomes Galffy Laszloné or Mrs. Galffy Laszlo (the wife of Galffy Laszlo.) Of course, for her friends and family she will still be Anda, but if she was to be introduced to a group of coworkers at her new work place, she will be called Galffy Laszloné.
Food is a serious affair and is not to be taken lightly
Hungarians are driven by food. Food elevates the spirit, comforts a broken heart, cures illnesses. Food accompanies political discussions, concludes a business deal, helps celebrate a happy event, or even survive a normal day. Food is culture. Hungarians are serious eaters and 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 wars or the collapse of the economy could keep their tables empty.
When invited to somebody’s house for a meal, a certain number of dishes will be served and you are expected to try them all. Starting to eat before the host/hostess is considered greedy and ill mannered. Also, politics and business are not considered good table conversation.
Can’t live without 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.