Hungary cultural insights
The following cultural insights are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. The content in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.
On this page
Local and Canadian perspectives for the following subjects:
- Communication styles
- Display of emotion
- Dress, punctuality & formality
- Preferred managerial qualities
- Hierarchy and decision-making
- Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
- Privileges and favouritism
- Conflicts in the workplace
- Motivating local colleagues
- Recommended books, films & foods
- In-country activities
- National heroes
- Shared historical events with Canada
- About the cultural interpreters
- Related information
A good topic to start with, as in Canada, is to talk about general topics, such as the weather. You might mention where you are from and say something about your work or about recreation, sport, etc. You should not get into details about personal finances and politics must be dealt with caution. Hungarians are pretty sensitive about politics, as they have just started building democracy and a free economic society only 13 years ago. Hungarians like humour and good jokes, but these are not usually a topic at first meeting.
One must know that at the turn of the 20th century, Hungary belonged to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and during World War I it was on the side of Germany. After the war was over and Germany and its allies capitulated, they were compelled to sign a peace treaty in Versailles France, the treaty of Trianon. This treaty was very bad for Hungary, as the borders were drawn and more than 3 million Hungarians were torn away from the mother land and given over to Slovakia, the Ukraine, Romania (Transylvania, one of the birth places of the Hungarian nation) and Yugoslavia. This is one of the sores that a foreigner must not bring up when in Hungary. The Hungarian living outside of Hungary in these region still keep strong cultural ties with the motherland and are known as "Hungarians from across the border." A lot of nationalism is stirred up by extremists around this question, and there is hope that with the expansion of EU the borders will disappear and the culture of these people can further be nursed within the Hungarian culture.
Family and work are good discussion topics. In general, people are interested in your family background, professional interests as well as where you came from etc. It is important for them to understand the context in which you arrived in Hungary.
Hungarians enjoy hearing of your impressions of different parts of the country and places you want to visit within Hungary. They will be more than willing to offer suggestions of what to see or visit.
As Hungarians take pride in their rich food and wine, talking about this in a complementary manner will surely peak their interest.
Most Hungarians view foreign involvement (especially American) in Hungary with scepticism. For this reason, it is better not to show your enthusiasm for the palpable American economic influence in the country. Hungarians often say that after the Russians left, the Americans came in to take over economically, and some joke that the American influence is worse than the Russian! Interestingly, however, although there is also a lot of German economic presence, it is not frowned upon as much as American presence.
Hungarians have lived through great economic upheaval. It is therefore important to be sensitive that most Hungarians (even professionals like doctors, professors etc. who are poorly paid) will not be able to afford the same level of entertainment (such as eating in more up-scale restaurants, going to the opera etc.) as foreigners.
Hungarians have a somewhat dry sense of humour and since they are usually very upfront, it will be easy to catch on. They often like to complain and joke about the remnants of the inefficient bureaucratic system inherited from the communist era.
Hungarians are quite homogenous but social background and place of residence are important factors in determining peoples’ level of comfort with touching and gestures.
Hungarians like Canadians generally have a very strong sense of space and will generally stand so that the tips of the fingers of his or her outstretched arm just barely touch the other person. Distance can be even greater when speaking or dealing with strangers. It is best to carefully observe each person’s degree of comfort with touching and their preference for personal space.
It is not important to maintain constant eye contact but refusal to make eye contact is considered a sign of dishonesty.
It is customary to shake hands with men, but you should let a supervisor put his hand out first. A man shaking a woman’s hand should also wait for her to put her hand out first. On formal occasions a lady’s hand may be kissed. In some cases, when informal ties are very close, or in the case of relatives or very close friends, men and women might give each other a kiss on each cheek. While talking, men generally do not touch other men.
Hungarians use gestures to a minimum.
Hungarians are accustomed to living in small living quarters, especially in Budapest, and it may be for this reason that they require very little personal space relative to Canadians. An acceptable distance when talking may be closer than in Canada, but would also depend on how well you know the person.
Making eye contact is considered courteous and shows that you are being direct and honest, which is very important to Hungarians.
In terms of touching the person you are speaking to, it is done when someone is warming up to you on a personal or professional level. Greetings of friends involve kissing on both sides of the cheek.
Hungarians are often blunt in terms of their observations and opinions. There is no need to feel uncomfortable if colleagues or friends differ strongly in opinions or raise their voice, as this is quite normal and should not be taken personally.
Display of emotion
Although Hungarians are quite emotional people, which can be seen from their music, poetry, etc., in public they do not show too much affection. To show anger is very rude, as is showing of extreme fondness publicly. Of course this also varies in accordance to different age groups, as young people display such affection more often then elders, but in business life even they are also more conservative.
Public displays of affection are normal, which is evident by the fact that it is commonplace for couples to kiss on the metro, bus, street etc.
It is perfectly normal for friends and family to publicly disagree and raise their voice. Hungarians seldom hide their discontent. This should not make you uncomfortable as it usually passes as quickly as it occurs.
Dress, punctuality & formality
In general, work norms are similar to those in Canada, as Hungary has always clung to Western standards in its productivity. This is even more so now that Hungary is close to becoming a member of EU.
Work styles and pace differ between workplaces, but it is important to be clean and punctual. Generally, like Canadians, Hungarians are fairly informal, but both men and women tend to dress conservatively in the workplace. Dress depends also on the type of job. In an official office setting, like a bank, etc., men usually wear suits with neckties and ladies street-wear. In other place dress might be more casual, such as jeans, pullovers, etc. Usually a person wears a suit (ladies wear street-wear) to a new place of work and then adjusts to the dress of the colleagues. As Hungarians are usually open, friendly and helpful, one can ask his colleagues, what are the local practices in this regard.
Colleagues and even supervisors are often addressed by their first name. At the beginning, however, language used to address a colleague or a supervisor is formal and you would use Mr., Mrs. and Miss, as well as sir or madam. Using Mr. or Ms. with the last name is usually more appropriate for addressing a supervisor until told otherwise. When the connection becomes more warm and confident, then with the permission of the colleague you may address the person more informally. Usually with supervisors this will not occur or, if it does, it will only come about very slowly, after a very long time.
Most supervisors like to keep to the deadlines, so it is not uncommon to work considerable overtime in order to meet a deadline and not doing so may be viewed badly.
In only very few workplaces do they allow employees to and leave earlier or come in later than the usual work time, which is stipulated by the company’s leadership, but punctuality and reliability are both highly valued, by colleagues and bosses. Most supervisors like punctuality and demand the same of the employees as well as good work and productivity.
Absenteeism is only accepted if it is announced before hand with a suitable excuse, but if this comes about unexpectedly, the supervisor expects to be notified by telephone. If this is not possible, the supervisor will expect the absentee to provide a suitable verbal report explaining why he did not report for work.
Although the streets of Budapest are full of ostentatiously-dressed (and beautiful) people, particularly the women, in order to be taken seriously in the workforce, relatively conservative dress is wise. Hungarians take great care in appearances. Showing up to work clean and tidy in ironed clothes are important.
Most Hungarian names have short forms but these should only be used when/if the person tells you to do so. It is not uncommon for people to go by their formal name in the office and their shorter name with friends and family. Some common examples of short forms are below: Common Male Names: Laszlo - Laci, Karoly- Karcsi, Gabor, Gabi, Sandor- Sani, Zsolt- Zsolti, and Zoltan - Zoli. Common Female Names: Ilona-Itca, Zsofia- Zsofi, Zsuzsa - Zsu or Zsuzsi, Marta- Marti and Monika- Moni.
In Hungarian you are introduced to colleagues and friends with your family name first and then your given name. At the workplace, if you are speaking in English, they may introduce you in the English way with your given name first. (Take note that most Hungarians will communicate in English with foreigners, and a great deal also know German. A smaller minority will know French).
The formal ö form should be used as much as possible at first and abandoned only once the other person is more comfortable with te. It is also common for one person to use te and the other person to continue using ö out of respect, especially with the elderly.
Status is very important in Hungarian society and thus proper respect should be given to your colleagues and supervisors.
On average, Hungarians start work earlier than Canadians and it is not uncommon to work long hours with no lunch break. It is important to understand that many Hungarians are balancing more than one (paid) job at a time and work very hard to earn a living.
Tardiness, breaking deadlines and absenteeism will be frowned upon in the workplace, especially if you are a foreigner. Apply the same Canadian rules to Hungary.
Preferred managerial qualities
It must be taken into consideration that Hungary got rid of a communist social and political system only 13 years ago and since then it is building a market and democratic society. As a result, we have supervisors of four different categories. The first would be top supervisors, who because of their education, skill and personal qualities were used by the former society, as well. Besides them we find supervisors who came to power through political influences and did not have the skill or training for their post. They have either acquired the needed qualities or were swept aside at the change of the political system. Even so, quite a few have remained using the knowledge they had acquired under the previous system or using the money they were able to get by using up the opportunities that the change of political system offered. In the last 13 years, a new manager and supervisory style has slowly been coming about through education, training, etc.
The qualities of local superiors/managers that are important include education, experience, leadership, open to new ideas, being hard-working, personable, etc.. Leaders must be able to win the confidence of their staff with their own personal behaviour, talent and to be able to show an example to them.
Staff will generally cooperate more with a superior who is open to their ideas and needs. This is also true with an Expat. As previously mentioned, Hungarians are usually open and friendly, but an Expat must be careful to not try to show off, as then the Hungarians will get insulted and will not be good business partners or staff for him. Sooner or later with direct informal talks with the staff members, one will get to know what the view the staff has about the person.
The most important qualities are education, intelligence, knowledge, ambition and ability to speak multiple languages. Hungarians will not respect a local or non-local if they lack qualifications and will quickly see through this. The same qualities can be applied to Expats.
Since Hungarians are generally very honest and upfront, if given the opportunity they will let you know how they view you.
Hierarchy and decision-making
Here it depends, where a person is working. If he is working in a large company, major decisions are brought be the Board of Directors or the owners. These are then passed on to the managers, directors, etc. to be implemented with their employees. Depending on the assignment, the immediate supervisor might talk it over with the staff, discuss the assignment, and how he would like to fulfill it; at that time, he might ask for proposals from the staff. This is when ideas generated from the staff might be talked over and accepted.
On other assignments it might be just a straight order directing what is to be done and by whom. It is also acceptable to go to the immediate supervisor for answers or feedback, but in general this depends on the personality of the immediate supervisor. Even though most accept such practices, some do not.
The workplace in Hungary can be very hierarchical and decisions and ideas are generated at the very top. While it is acceptable to approach your supervisor, it should be done out of respect and courtesy, which are highly valued traits in Hungarian society.
Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
Hungary is fairly modern. There are no problems in connection with gender, even though a woman must prove her talent more than a man.
Since Hungarians are free to practice or not practice religious beliefs, no one deals with such questions. No one can ask about your religious beliefs personally or officially, so no discrimination may come about because of that.
In general today’s Hungary is a classless society. If society is to be divided in such terms, what we may find are such groups as intellectuals, skilled workers, unskilled workers, peasants, the homeless and unskilled people coming to Hungary to work.
In general, we do not have ethnic problems in Hungary, but we might find small groups of people hating gypsies, being anti-Semitic, or bickering about unskilled people coming to Hungary to work, claiming they are taking away their jobs. This is not the policy of the Hungarian government or the authorities as stipulated in the Hungarian laws, which are now being closely conformed with EU laws.
Hungary is still relatively behind Canada in terms of the roles of women at home and in the workplace. Women earn significantly less than men on average and may, at times, be more easily dismissed at the office, especially if dressed in a non-conservative fashion.
Religion does not preoccupy Hungarians in the workplace or social sphere. It is rarely discussed in formal or informal settings.
Hungary is still a very class-based society. It is not uncommon for colleagues and friends to ask you the professional background of your parents. Moreover, in Hungarian resumes it is common to disclose personal (and non-professionally relevant) bits of information including the profession of parents.
Ethnicity is more of an issue than religion in Hungary. As there are many ethnic Hungarians in Romania, Serbia and Slovakia, Hungarians differentiate between a person’s nationality and ethnicity.
In terms of other ethnicities in Hungary, Hungarians frown upon the Roma population and do not consider them Hungarians, although they have lived in Hungary for centuries. Hungarians are also uneasy with the growing Asian population, especially in Budapest.
I believe it is important to establish personal relationship with colleague or client before moving on to business as there is an interdependence in both cases and it is important to know who you are working with and how much you can trust the person. To establish such a relationship a person must be earnest and open, introducing himself in such a manner that he does not offend his business partner by showing off or insulting the person, and by giving out only as much information about himself as is needed. Personal questions like health, wealth, personal family matters, etc. are usually avoided. Mostly, professional background and matters related to work or business are the best topics to stick to.
Establishing personal relationships with clients and colleagues is normal. While in Canada a boss’ personal questions may make an employee uneasy, in Hungary it is common practice for your boss to ask about your love life etc. It is important for Hungarians to like and trust someone that they are dealing with. Hungarians like to understand a person in the context of their background, nationality, family, friends etc.
Privileges and favouritism
This is usually not the practice in Hungary, especially with regard to pay increases. The only time one would recommend hiring a friend or family, etc., is if one sees that it would be in the benefit of the company for that person to be hired and not just for the benefit of the said person.
Since Hungary has a high percentage of foreign involvement in business (with US and Germany) and in politics (the EU and NATO) they are quite aware of how foreigners function in the workplace and would therefore not expect special privileges. While many jobs in Hungary are obtained via a mutual contact, Hungarians differentiate how foreigners hire and conduct business versus how locals do so.
It would be appropriate for special privileges to be granted based on professional achievement and excellence, just like in Canada.
Conflicts in the workplace
The best method is to sit down with the colleague and try to talk over the problem, and maybe come to a compromise by understanding his point of view. As mentioned in previous sections, Hungarians are usually open and friendly and do not like conflicts, so it is quite easy to come to an understanding. When a person is being avoided or snubbed, it is obvious that there is a problem. That is the time to sit down and discuss the problem and not let it grow.
The best approach would be to confront the person one-on-one since Hungarians expect and appreciate honesty.
If you suspect a colleague is offended, it is best to approach that person in private to discuss it with them. While Hungarians are normally upfront, they may be intimidated if you are their superior and a foreigner.
Motivating local colleagues
I believe job satisfaction, commitment, money, loyalty, good working conditions, fear of failure, etc. are all important in Hungary. Among these, I would emphasize job satisfaction and money. In addition, a good job is hard to find in Hungary, so everyone tends to do their utmost, as they fear that they might lose a good, paying job.
Earning a living in Hungary, even for those with university degrees, is difficult. For this reason, a good salary is a great motivational factor. It is also important for Hungarians to respect and trust their superior.
Recommended books, films & foods
To understand Hungary’s culture, you must know that the Hungarian nomadic tribes came to Europe to the Carpathian basin around the year 1,000 A.D. They brought with them their own culture and language, which is completely different from other European languages. They then settled down and took up the Christian religion under King Steven, and tried to keep up their identity since then, even though they were on the road fighting wars for centuries. The lands of the Hungarians were invaded by the Tatars, the Turks, the French, the Austrians, the Germans and the Russians and all through these periods, the Hungarians succeeded in keeping their national identity, their own language, music, poetry, and arts. They have their own national heroes who fought and died for the sovereignty of Hungary.
It must be known that in the 1920s, economic and other conditions were very bad in Hungary, and at that time, more than three million Hungarian left their homeland and emigrated to the more developed nation such as Canada, USA etc. Another great immigration surge came after the Hungarian uprising against tyranny in 1956. Many of these Hungarians, including those in Canada, have tried to keep up their culture, their language, their music etc. and built or acquired cultural centres. Even today you these find Hungarian cultural centres throughout Canada.
In Canada you can find a lot of information about Hungary and about the Hungarian cultural life. In Toronto, there is the Hungarian Canadian Cultural Centre, which has a library with a lot of information for people who want to learn more about Hungary. We have four Hungarian weekly newspapers, a TV-show on CFMT OMNI I. and two radio stations. These media are in the Hungarian language, but you can access everything in English language as well.
At the University of Toronto they have a faculty of Hungarian studies where all kinds of information can be obtained about Hungary, its history, language and culture. Also, all kinds of books about Hungary can be found in different Hungarian bookstores in Toronto, among them we list the Pannonia Books on 104 Belmont St, or Panorama 55 Bloor St. In addition to having books in Hungarian, you will also find books about Hungary in English language, to satisfy the readers.
Two good websites to look up in connection with Hungary are www.mti.hu and www.budapestinfo.hu. Both websites have English text as well, and one can roam among the different topics and learn a lot about Hungary, past and present.
The following websites will be helpful in getting acquainted with Hungary: http://www.hungarytourism.hu/index.php?sid=ce08810195&langid=En - This is the Hungarian Tourist Office website and is great for describing what Hungary has to offer for tourists in terms of wine tasting in Tokaj and Eger, spas, most frequented museums, restaurants etc. http://traveltohungary.com/indexload.cgi?/english/hungary/places.htm provides a virtual tour of Budapest and other main tourist cities in Hungary. It’s a great way to get a feeling for the country and places you would like to visit. http://www.brigetio.hu/~personal/vt.htm provides a virtual tour specifically of the beautiful sites of Budapest. http://www.hungary.org/users/hipcat/ - is great for Hungarian news, culture, history and related links. http://www.ace.hu/ceicom/hungary/hunliste.html - provides information on Hungary’s many museums, along with a virtual tour. http://hungaria.org/hal/hal.php?halid=14&menuid=215 - is a great site for those who want to know more about Hungarian history and Hungarian federal holidays.
There are different magazines at the Embassy or in the Hotels, which give information about what is on in Budapest, such as cultural event, where to eat, etc.
When you are in Hungary I recommend looking up museums, (there are very many of kinds of museums in Hungary), watching Hungarian TV programs, (there are about 10 different TV channels) listening to radios, etc. At the different travel agencies they have special sightseeing tours with guides who know English, who can help acquaint the guest about Hungarian culture. Help can also be obtained from a concierge at the different hotels. Also, the Embassy can inform the traveler of what is on in Budapest, such as cultural events, what to see etc., and no doubt give other helpful advise and recommendations.
There are two English language papers. The Budapest Sun gives an overview of political and economic news, as well as lists of events and English language movies. The Budapest Business Journal is well written and is handy for giving a business overview of Hungary. These newspapers can be bought at most newsstands in Budapest.
In most metro stations there are tourist offices that you can buy tickets from, but mostly they speak Hungarian. If you want a ticket for the Opera House, for example, the best thing to do is go in person.
There are boat tours for the Danube River offered all along Vaci utca. You will also find tourist information offices there.
The heroes of Hungary are those who led struggles for independence and sovereignty. Besides them we find renowned musicians, film producers, painters, poets, writers, scientists, doctors, economists and sportsmen. They help bring fame and acknowledgment to Hungary.
A few of the country’s national heroes include:
Lajos Kossuth was Governor or Hungary and fought for Hungarian independence under the Austrian Empire in the democratic revolution in 1848. Hungary gained some independence as a result and the Austrian empire became the "Austro-Hungarian Empire" with a dual monarchy, the Austrian Emperor acting as King of Hungary. The last 45 years of his life Kossuth spent outside of Hungary, in the USA, England and in Italy promoting Hungarian independence and defending civil liberties of people living under occupation.
Ferenc Rákóczi II (1676-1735) led the first concerted revolt to free Hungary from Habsburg (Austrian) domination back in the early XVIIIth century. With help from King Louis XIV of France and sheer determination, Rákóczi made a number of unsuccessful attempts to contest the power of the Austrian Empire.
Sandor Petõfi was one of the greatest Hungarian poets. Although he died very young, he was a prolific writer. In life and in death he stood for Romantic ideals of a freedom fighter.
For more information and other famous Hungarians, please refer to the website: http://www.hungary.org/users/hipcat/famous.htm
Shared historical events with Canada
In Hungary, Canada has always been taken for a country that has accepted immigrants from all over the world, including those from Hungary, so Canada greatly respected as a multicultural country with people living there in peace from all over the world. As Canada is not a superpower like the USA, Hungarians feel it is more a partner to them than America. Because of the number of immigrants from Hungary in Canada, there are also a lot of close family ties between the two nations. Also, Canada is acknowledged and admired because of its wealth, its highly developed industry and intellectual resources as well as its beautiful environment. In this respect, there are no problems that would affect work or social relations.
I do not know any that would be harmful for relations. In general, Hungarians like Canadians.
Hungary is not very well known in Canada and I do not know of any harmful stereotypes.
About the cultural interpreters
Your cultural interpreter was born in Hungary from a Hungarian mother and a Canadian father and has dual citizenship. She was raised in Cegled, a small town until the age of 6, when she moved to the capital, Budapest with her family. She finished all her studies in Budapest. She graduated as an engineer from the College of Computer Science in Budapest. Afterwards, your cultural interpreter came to Canada to live and work in Toronto. She is currently living her two children and working full time in Toronto.
Your cultural interpreter was born in a small rural town called Port Dover in Southwestern Ontario where many Hungarians and other Europeans settled and have built their own communities. She studied Political Science at the University of Guelph and did a Master's degree in Political Science at the University of Waterloo. She subsequently worked in Washington, DC and then in Hungary, where she studied at the Kossuth Lajos University in Debrecen and at the Kozgazdagsagi Egyetem in Budapest. She has also worked on Lake Balaton as an English teacher and for NATO in Budapest, when Hungary was joining the alliance. Most recently in 2000, she returned to the Eotvos Lorand University of Political Science and International Law to teach classes on international relations. She has since returned to Canada to complete a second Master's degree at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs in Ottawa and has been working for over two years as a lobbyist at a private company in Ottawa.
Intercultural Issues are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. For each country, two perspectives are provided: one by a Canadian and the other by a person born in the selected country. By comparing the "local point of view" with the "Canadian point of view", you will begin to form a picture of that country's culture. We encourage you to continue your research using a variety of other sources and to use Triangulation as an evaluation process. Although cultural informants were asked to draw on as broad a base of experience as possible in formulating their answers, these should be understood as one perspective that reflects the particular context and life experiences of that person; they are not intended to be a comment on any particular group or society.
You may disagree with or object to the content of some responses. This is to be expected given the complexity of the subject and the problems associated with speaking generally about an entire country and its people. We would encourage you to share your experiences; your contributions will help to make Country Insights a richer environment for learning.
The content of Country Insights in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.