Habits and customs of Hungarians that creep out foreigners
Photo: Alpár Kató - Daily News Hungary
All countries and people around the world have their traditions and habits. Eastern people’s habits are strange to Westerners for example, but there are some things about Hungary the whole world finds strange or just simply disturbing. In this article, we aimed to collect habits, customs and traditions that are alien to many people but Hungarians.
The order of names
To us Hungarians, this is natural, but for foreigners, it can create a multitude of difficult situations. As Borsonline wrote, Hungarians use the surname or family name first and the given name or what would be the first name for foreigners only second. It is simple with only one surname and given name, but it gets more complicated with people who have more than one given name, or when a married woman introduces herself, it might be that she uses her husband’s name, and you will not know her maiden name. (Kovács Sándorné – the ‘né’ part suggesting that she is married to the man with the name preceding it.)
For many countries slaughtering animals is a profession, which is no different to what it is in Hungary. Still, we have a tradition when Hungarians invite a butcher to help them prepare a pig. The whole process happens in the back yard; from catching the pig, who will want to save its life no matter what, to stabbing it, scorching its fur off and then preparing all parts of it. According to Külföldremennék, this bloody mess is certainly not for everyone and not all people like it in Hungary either, but we are not startled a bit if someone mentions it.
The most burning matter is food
For many Hungarian families, the Sunday lunch is sacred, and every family has its own little traditions. In many cases, it is at least a three-course meal, or it is just an elevenses (tízórai – tenses for Hungarians), but it can have a variety of different main dishes. Picture a bowl of soup you can have as much as you want, then the main course of goulash or stew with pickles for example, and some dessert to top it all off. In truth, Hungarians could really take up gastronomy as a religion.
The language is sure to get you
The Hungarian language is challenging to learn for many foreigners since unlike English, it is an agglutinative language. To change a word’s meaning or grammatical function, it uses various affixes, mainly suffixes but also some prefixes and circumfixes. However, at Daily News Hungary we have many articles about the Hungarian language you could browse to help you learn more about it.
Hungarians have a unique pessimism, straight honesty and temperament
If you ask people from other countries how they are, most of them will tell you that everything is fine. If you ask Hungarians, however, you need to buckle up. We like to complain about things, and according to many foreigners we do so at every opportunity we get, and we can complain about anything. Hungarians also speak what is on their mind. We might not do that to people in higher positions, but to our friends and enemies, we are as honest as you get. For foreigners, it is almost rudeness. This is also present in our jokes. We jab and taunt our friends with sharp comments, but it is what we do, you should not take it too seriously.
Pálinka will find you…
… no matter what. How Hungarians consume Pálinka is similar to our eating habits. Of course, not every Hungarian likes it, but it is almost impossible not to encounter it at a party. But it is not just at parties. If you caught a cold and visit a Hungarian grandmother or grandfather, they will certainly offer you some Pálinka to help cure that cold. If you have a headache? Pálinka. Are you stressed out? Pálinka.
Dubbing as far as the ear can hear
Although as the customers are more and more interested in movies in original audio, for a long time in Hungary if you wanted to go to the cinemas, most of the movies would have been dubbed, only a few could have been seen with original audio and Hungarian subtitles. So if as a foreigner you would like to watch a movie in cinemas, aim for the larger cinema chains as they are more likely to have the film in the original audio.
The mysterious shelved toilet
Most Hungarians will understand, but it is mainly installed in older buildings and houses as the new types are usually what foreigners might have also accustomed to. We do not have a different word for it, so the best I could do is to describe this as a toilet (flush toilet) with a shelf. If you stand in front of it, the hole is not towards the tank side, but towards the front. It might be so that you could “examine” your stool to check for any warning signs.
According to Mocool, in some foreign countries, people have words that are not allowed to be said. In Hungary, there are not many, and even what we have, it is different from other countries’. Here is an entirely innocent example; we have a mint “candy” called ‘Negro’. It is because the wrapping paper of the candy depicts a chimney sweeper. He is covered in soot and ash hence he is black, hence ‘Negro’. Also, for Hungarians, ‘néger’ is not a swear word: it does not mean any harm.
A few shorties
We love stews and put paprika, onions and garlic in everything we can. Even if a recipe does not call for sour cream, we might put some on it anyway. In Hungary, we stick a paper on the bread to tell what type it is and how much it weighs. Mákos guba is something that foreigners do not get, but to be honest, we have a plethora of food-related peculiarities. We say hello as a greeting and as a goodbye, we clap for the pilot after landing even though he probably does not hear it. Waiters and waitresses do not usually talk to you; they mostly just do what you ask them. In Hungary, in addition to birthdays, we celebrate people’s name days, and we listen to the Hungarian National Anthem in the first few moments of the new year.
The oddest of them all
Probably the oddest habit we have is that Hungarians blow their nose out in public and loud as a trumpet. For us, it is as natural as anything, but for many foreigners, it is plain rude or even disgusting. (For Hungarians it is sniffling that is repulsive.) There were times when people used washable cloth tissues; many elderly people still do to this day.