A lot of fellow Hungarians, the exact number most likely somewhere in the realm of hundreds of thousands, have chosen to leave their country behind to temporarily or permanently stay in the United Kingdom. Naturally, they might encounter difficulties when it comes to dealing with social situations: this article serves as a guide for them, and for anyone who is interested.
Before we delve deep into the swirling whirlpool of everyday etiquette, it is important to note that none of the statements described below is a scientific fact. They are all based on my personal experiences and as such, are obviously very subjective: not to mention the broad generalisations that will undoubtedly occur. Nonetheless, I hope it will suffice as the first part of what I intend to be a multi-entry series.
Manners vs honesty: Be polite
Today’s topic is what I found to be the most difficult one: being polite at the expense of being honest. The south of the UK, where I am currently staying, is generally very polite. Actually, polite to the point where it feels weird and over the top for many Eastern Europeans. The constant “can I have x and y please?” and “are you alright?” questions are used in contexts that are alien to most Hungarians: the former is how you order something in a bar or a restaurant while the latter is a form of greeting.
When someone asks you whether you are “alright” or not, do not start to list your grievances to them. Rather, respond with the neutral “not too bad, how about you?”
It is all an act of politeness. That is not to say that politeness or etiquette do not exist in Hungary: it is just less accepted to be straightforward in British culture. I have had numerous occasions where I straight up refused an invitation to an event and received weird looks. You are not really supposed to do that: even if you cannot make it, you are generally expected to make an effort and then probably ditch in the last minute.
It works the other way around as well. Do not be surprised if you see a British person getting awkward or visibly indecisive in unfamiliar social situations.
Help them in order to ease the pressure if you feel like it: you will probably be rewarded with a pint after.
And finally, play their game. By that, I mean that if you want to avoid tricky situations, just be polite and generally less honest/straightforward/rough than you usually are. You can communicate the nuances later when you have already got a working relationship. Maybe they will let you off the hook after that?