Everything You Wanted to Know About Hungarians – part 1/2

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Hungarians: But Were Afraid to Ask

There are around 14 million Hungarians in the world, from which around 9-10 million live in Hungary. But how are they? What do they like and what impression do they make on outsiders? What are the specificities that make Hungarians truly exceptional? Read further to find out.

Everything is upside down

Hungarian date format

First thing that stroke me when dealing with local red tape was the date format. Did you know that it is officially like this: YYYY.M.D? Kinda shows that Hungarians are not really continental Europeans as this calendar date notation is used mainly in East Asia, China and Japan. Read more about dates.

First name, surname, surname, first name

For some strange reason, the writing convention is to write first surname and then the first name. Do you know how you recognize the person on e.g. Facebook is Hungarian? Because they keep this format even when registering to international sites. So it often happens that you receive a notification Tóth is close by or Horváth likes your post.

This confusion is so strong that even some of my Hungarian friends claim that they never know, which one comes first: family or first name?

And one more funny story, when we went go karting, I was driving and on the screen it was showing my surname instead of my first name as the staff entered it incorrectly into the system. It looked pretty terrifying, but not on the track.

Getting married

The old school way of renaming wives after marriage is to change not only their surname, but also first name. So if your husband is Sándor Nagy, you would be Sándorné Nagy. Classy, hé?

Katalin és Csaba esküvő
Katalin és Csaba esküvő

So what options do the Hungarian women have when they find the man of their life? On the example of Katalin Kiss and Csaba Németh:

  1. Katalin can keep her maiden name and nothing changes for her except for marital status on documents;
  2. Katalin gives up her name, adds the suffix -né to her husband’s full name, and will be called Németh Csabané (demonstrates a true devotion to your husband, imagine that your entire name changes!);
  3. Katalin adds the suffix -né to her husband’s family name, adds her full name and will be called Neméthné Kiss Katalin (rather long);
  4. Katalin adds the suffix -né to her husband’s full name, adds her full name and will be called Neméth Csabané Kiss Katalin (even longer, but have not met anybody with such a name yet, can imagine that filling in forms can be truly a nightmare);
  5. Katalin takes her husband’s family name, keeps her given name “Katalin” and will be called Németh Katalin (as known from the Czech republic, where this is the standard with a suffix -ová or -á).

But wait, what if you are a man and get married and want to change your name too? The law is thinking of that and you have following options:

  • Csaba can keep his birth name, as Németh Csaba (the most common choice).
  • Csaba takes his wife’s family name, keeps his given name “Csaba” and will be called Kiss Csaba (here Csaba would win a lot as his name would no longer mean he is German and as bonus it would be much shorter).
  • Another option is hyphenation. So the family name Németh-Kiss or Kiss-Németh will be introduced for one or both newly wed.
There is always more to read:  Hungary: From illiberal democracy to pornography. Viktor Orban speaks.

Hungarian Language

Hungarian is a Finno-Ugric island surrounded by Slavic or Romanic languages. No living language can avoid influences from other languages and neither could Hungarian.

It is actually very cute that there are Slavic words such as kabát (kabát, coat) or funnily modified words like szekrény (skříň, closet), polc (police, shelf), szerda (středa, Wednesday) or my favourite csütörtök (čtvrtek, Thursday).

http://finno-ugric.com/images/Finno-UgricLanguagesMap.pngThe grammar also picked up bits and pieces of everything around, so to my big surprise, the separable prefixes exist in Hungarian and are commonly used. To illustrate – megyek (I go) – kimegyek (I go out) and in negative nem megyek ki. Fascinating and easy to grasp if you speak German, right?

About Hungarians

Tall Hungarian guys and their short girls

If you look for statistics on the height of Hungarians, the search results are shocking: on average the Czech men are 3 cm taller than Hungarians, Sweds and Fins are even 5 more cm taller. That however does not match with my experience. I really feel smallish here.

Source: Infographics daily

These guys are gigantic and the girls are really short, what are the consequences of this? Girls found their passion in extremely high heels that one wonders how comes they are even able to walk in them. Luckily, unlike many other European capitals, Budapest does not have a huge proportion of cobble stones in the downtown.

However, if you do go to a concert in Hungary, you can be more than certain that if there is a Hungarian couple standing in front of you, you should stand behind the girl and not behind the guy, as it makes it impossible to see anything across their 2m height.

Funnily enough, taping concerts on smart phones (and probably never ever watching the footage) gets into a different dimension with guys being that tall, they just simply raise their extra long hands and do the job for their girls. Nice video guaranteed.

Rain shoes

When the weather forecast predicts 2 drops of rain (it does not pour here a lot), then all the Hungarian girls change their heels for rubber rain shoes. These are of course very fashionable, have to match their current clothing style and have different designs. For a person that owned the last pair of rain shoes when I went for a summer camp when I was 12 and I never wore them, it really is something out of ordinary to see in the streets of Budapest.

Hungarians women like wearing rain shoes

Tejföl

Hungarians love sour cream! They put it on deserts, in soups, main dishes, side dishes, salad, lángos, everything that you can think of. And when you go shopping, the biggest fight is over the coolers that contain several types of tejföl in all different sizes ranging from a big family bucket to a small cup. What is so attractive about it and where does this obsession come from? I will try to find out.

To be honest, it is really delicious when you add a spoon of sour cream to your pörkölt as it smoothens up the taste! Try it!

No smile

The fate of Hungary has not been particularly the brightest (Treaty of Trianon will probably never be forgotten) and recent development has not been the nicest, which I am personally using as an explanation why the people are not smiling.

The first days after they removed my braces, I could not stop smiling and the Hungarians were returning me even longer dissatisfied faces. But coming from the Czech Republic, I kinda get the hang of it as there it is pretty common to not smile too. What could potentially make Hungarians smile by default?

Hungarians are Gentlemen

One thing that really stroke my mind was how big gentlemen Hungarian men are. They always let the woman enter and exit for example the elevator or room as first, which actually is a bit antietiquette when entering a grumpy bar, where the chance of getting hit by a flying chair cannot be entirely excluded.

They also greet ladies with “kezét csókolom” or simply “csókolom”, which I originally thought that it means “young lady”, but it actually is what the Czechs used to say in the last century too and that is “ruku líbám” or in English “kissing your hand”.

It is very cute when my Hungarian colleague picks up his phone to answer a call from his wife and he says “kézet csokolom”. This courtesy could without a doubt be something the world could learn from Hungarian men! And my only advice, keep being gentlemen and carry on!


Thanks for reading up to here, if you liked the article please comment or share. If you do not want to miss out a second part (yes, there is more on my list to share about Hungarians), become a fan on Facebook or sign up below to receive new posts directly to your mailbox.

Find out more about Hungarians, the second post from this miniseries is out: Everything You Wanted to Know about Hungarians [part 2]

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44 Comment

  1. This post was incredibly fun to read! I had no idea about almost any of this stuff. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  2. Bernadett says: Reply

    Hungarian language is not Finno-Ugric… In the past they were spreading this, but by now it is proven that it is not.

    1. So what is the categorization if not Finno-Ugric? I would be keen on reading more about this as more people were mentioning it but nobody provided me with any research link. Thanks!

  3. Bernadett says: Reply

    The family names Németh-Kiss or Kiss-Németh can be used for the wives as well, not only for husbands.

    1. Thanks Bernadett for the addition 🙂

  4. Maria File says: Reply

    The majority of this are false….like this stupid idea of Hungarian language are Finno-Ugric ..you should do more research about it and try to avoid the old communist references, read the newest version about how the Hungarian language is unique.
    and Hungarian men changing their name after Married.?…or Hungarian man great their own wife with kezét csokolom?….you won’t see or hear that ever…. where is this come from?
    But yes, sour cream is good….

    1. Hi Maria,

      Thanks for leaving a comment. Would you be able to provide me with some additional reading on the categorization of Hungarian? My linguistics professor at the Charles University taught us that Hungarian is categorized as a finno-ugric language with more similarities of languages in the Ural area. When I did my research (including the map, which imho shows that Hungarian is quite isolated in the region), I did not come across to any other categorization but the Finno-Ugric so it comes as a surprise that you are saying I got it wrong.
      I guess everybody can change a name after they get married, even men. The article however refers to various options of women name changes.
      Yes, I know a guy who is in his late 30s and greets his own wife with kézet csokolom. Seems that gentlemen did not die out, which is certainly good news. I find it utterly cute and that is why I shared it in the article.

  5. steven paroczay says: Reply

    One, correction to rule #4, when getting married. If she puts ne after husband family name, followed by her maiden name ex. she is Nagy Katalin & her husband is NemetTibor. If she used the format Nemetne Nagy Katalin, it would actually mean that she is divorced, but kept her husband’s name.

    1. Ah, I am missing out a whole bunch on what happens after you divorce 🙂 Thanks for this addition!

  6. Hungarian language is not finno ugric. This is a lie! Its muh closer to turk language. Even in Finnland doesn’t teach this anymore.

    1. Hallo Judit, so where would you categorize Hungarian? My linguistics teacher at the Charles University in Prague taught me that it is a Finno-Ugric language with influences from the Uralic languages. What is your take on this?

  7. For the married name part, don’t forget the funniest of them all (though rare, but I have seen some):
    If the husband has two given names, the -né suffix only goes to the last one, eg:
    Kovács József Sándor is the husband, then
    the wife could be Kovács József Sándorné,
    that is, her middle name would be a male given name 😀

    1. Wow, have not seen that one yet! Truly interesting! I always wondered how it feels to change your entire name (and even to become a József) 😀 Thanks for dropping this comment!

  8. Hey, don’t forget in the next post that there are no genders in the Hungarian language! No she and no he. And please keep on using the official sources, because for themost of the commenters Jesus Christ was a Hungarian Prince and we speak the language of the invaders from the Syrius 😀 Nice job anyway

  9. Congrats on the post, great job and a lot of insight into a culture and people who are known to be very cagey. Last time I checked, Hungarian was Finno-Ugric and I graduated from ELTE. I also know a couple of men who took their wife’s last names after marriage. Az for the kezet csokolom to the wife, while rare, it is a lovely form of expressing endearment for that couple, but it is most often used by men to address women (especially older women) who they are not too close to.
    Again, great job and don’t feel like you have to explain yourself to the nay-sayers. I would also be interested in their linguistic expertise as to what Hungarian language is…

  10. We had lived around and founded Kiyiv (today Kiev, Ukraine), before the last homecoming to carpat basin – but the language were much nearer to altaic languages at that time, because of the silk road people has used chatagay, and aramaic and we had to move from the Khazar/Hazara rulers. Hungarian, or more precisely Magyar is way much older then most of the languages. Thats why we still can read, and use our own cuneiform writing, and why we still know, and use in biggest percent of the ancient etimons (68%). But you can check this Prof. Angela Marcantonio book – Uralic language group: Facts, Myths, and Statistics (2002) Oxford. Also you can find more in the UNESCO book of History of Mankind (1963). By the way – more reality is that there is no 2 priest for the Cyrill and Method, just one – and Cyrill – is coming from the greek Kyrie, or Kyrillos – “lord” word. The Metodicus is just the word for “method” what Cyrill has used to give many alans and other remnants a new language the glagolite slavic abc, and to baptize them to christianity. There were no slavs before Attila death. But that is another story.

  11. It really is Finno-Ugric. There’s a bunch of pseudo-science buffs who claim otherwise, but then again, there are people who are convinced that the earth is flat. Unfortunately grammar education is so feeble in Hungary that non-professionals are apt to believe frauds.

  12. Another false claim is that Finnish schools teach that our languages are not related. Here is an article with excerpts from Finnish school books.
    http://www.nyest.hu/renhirek/nem-tanitjak-a-finnugor-rokonsagot-finnorszagban.
    Unfortunately it is in Hungarian but at least some of the pictures speak for themselves.

    Yes, there’s loads of similarities with Turkish languages (esp. in the vocabulary) as there were contacts before we came to this basin, but that has nothing to do with linguistic relations.

    The good news is that your teachers in Prague were quite correct. 🙂 I never understood why people have to make up new pasts instead of being proud of what we have.

  13. This must change from region to region then, because my mother is like ‘Nemetne Nagy Katalin’ and married for over 30 years and never divorced 😉 or this could be a new addition and they just don’t bother to change for older peeps.

    1. Wow, this is getting more and more interesting with the comments coming up! Thanks for this cent in the discussion 🙂

  14. Not true. It still means they are married. My mom uses her name like that.

  15. Hi, Hungarian here… Please don’t listen to these people, Hungarian is very much a Finno-Ugric language. It has picked up elements from a lot of other languages (mostly slavic and german, but there is some turkic and latin influence there too). You’ll find these people from time to time in Hungary, best to just ignore them… Saying Hungarian is a turkic language is like saying English is a romance language because it has a lot of words of French origin.

    1. Márton, thanks for your support in this opinionated exchange 🙂 I like your simile to English and French. I guess there will always be people having different opinions, just because linguistics is not like physics or mathematics.

  16. Heh, I didn’t know that. But I think it’s not always the case (from people I know). Probably only an old tradition remembered by a few people? But I know that a hundred years ago Blaha Lujza, the famous actress actually held her first husband’s name (Blaha) until her death, though she had two more (the first died, so no divorce), out of respect for him.

  17. Tricia von Titte says: Reply

    Baby Boomers and Millennials want to rewrite History and language as they have no recall of Hungary Before Communism .and Txt-speak lingo.

  18. If you are a foreigner and want the ” -né ” with the husband’s surname, that’s not possible 🙁
    I am from Brazil and married a Hungarian, unfortunately being “Tasnadiné” wasn’t an option, but at least I got a “Tasnádi-Gomes” , which raises a lot of questions about where I come from etc 😀 <3

    Love the post!!!!

    1. Haha, didn’t know that! One would think that the same rules apply. When you marry a foreigner in the Czech Republic, you can skip the addition of “-ová” to your name to indicate you are a female. Thanks for leaving this lovely comment! Have a good one 🙂

  19. Christian says: Reply

    Some of this points may came from former times.
    It was clear, that you (as a man) opened the door, helped with the coat, and so on and also “kezi csokolom” was in common use.
    But nowadays? May be some kids use a short “csok(olom)”, but men in Hungary became as lazy as we in Western Europe.
    Remains sour cream. I hate it, brrrrrr. So, I’m not Hungarian (but my mother was and still my wife).
    Oh, you forgot the coffee!
    In former times you got a “fekete” or “dupla fekete” in each coffee house.
    Now the waitress looks at you like a cow, asking “Micsoda?” and you have to use “espresso”; terrible!
    Same with csokis palacsinta (szegény Gundel forog a sírban). You will get it with Nutella, but where is that delicous taste of lightly bitter chocolate?
    And so on…..

    1. Haha, you are right with the coffee. It is just too globalized world now 🙂 but I like that you can just ask for hosszú kávé 🙂 and that rarely goes wrong. I just returned from France, and they still do palacsinta with real bitter chocolate. Who likes Nutella anyway! I am a big fan of peanut Nugeta, try it if you get the chance to go to a shop in Slovakia/Czech Republic.

  20. Fruzsina says: Reply

    That is not true at all! My mother is using the same format (Némethné Nagy Katalin) and she is not divorced. If you are divorced, there is no rule, you can do whatever you want: keep your husbands name (my aunt did that, she is still “Kovács Istvánné”), change it back to your maiden name (my mother-in-law did this).

    1. Thanks for the clarification! It is good that there’s so much freedom after all. Thanks for leaving this comment and good luck 🙂

  21. nice post! however all my girlfriends and myself are over 175cm. Im 181 😂 I don’t feel short 😘😁

    1. Oh, I believe there are exceptions 🙂 I am barely 170 cm, and there are moments when I feel tall in Hungary 🙂

  22. There are different theories. There are few on Wiki. 🙂

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternative_theories_of_the_Hungarian_language_relations

    Sometimes we say “keziccsókolom” in one word instead of kezét csókolom 🙂 I liked that part but the whole post is interesting.

    1. Thanks a lot, I read it. Many people just comment that oh no, Hungarian is not Finno-Ugric, but hardly ever get any details. I still believe it doesn’t really matter. Still it is a darn hard language to learn 🙂

  23. Hi Katechka,

    About language there is a very interesting fact. The Hungarian language looks like very old without any real relative in this region. The reason because it looks like very old is the word-bush system that shows a real natural improvement of language. I would show an example to understand what i’m talking about.
    There is a root eg: NY-L
    And the word-bush from it:
    NYAL – lick
    NYEL – swallow
    NYÁL – saliva
    NYELV – tongue or language
    NYÚL(IK) lengthen or rabbit (have you ever seen rabbit to run? long, short, long short)
    NYÚJT (eg lengthen sthg or give something when hand given or shoot out tongue)
    NYÉL
    NYÍL
    ETC…

    The similar voices has similar meanings – there are lot of example. About 65-70% of the Hungarian language comes from this ancient roots. In case of English it is about 8-15%.
    This is why we say it is not Finno-Ugoric. And also we have very few common words.

    1. I do not know much about the morphology and syntax of other languages that are grouped in Finno-Ugric language group. To my best understanding, Hungarian is a unique mix in the East European region. However, I would not compare it to English, and make a conclusion that it’s why the language is not Finno-Ugric. The languages in this group have all underwent their own development, because language is a living organism. It adopts new words, stops using other. When I started to learn Hungarian, I was surprised how many Slavic words there are. Which I assign to the proximity to Slav speaking countries, which of course is not the case of Estonian or Finnish. Thanks for sharing those word bush examples. If only it could help me speak better 🙂

  24. Hungarian language is not Finno-Ugric…sorry! 🙂

    1. So, to which European language group does it belong to? Germanic? Slavic? 🙂

  25. Czabay Apor says: Reply

    Seems to be the best preserver of the primordial language.

    http://www.magyar-megmaradas.eoldal.hu/cikkek/our-language/
    http://mek.oszk.hu/04500/04509/

    We have sources where reading a cca. 5K old Egyptian text and the detailed mathematical solutions is working, it is not how we learning these days, so for me was quiet convincing (however I can not read that symbols, the detailed explanation and the decoding method is catching up with the words and logic of the presently used language).

    The linguistic is not the only, have several history references (mainly from English authors) can trace back a direct line to support this.
    The music (the penta based folk songs) and art history also fortifying.

    1. This is interesting! I was once decoding a city name with these symbols for a friend.

  26. Ilovelanguages says: Reply

    Hungarian is definitely not Finno-ugric, it was long time ago when linguist called it that way. Since then a lot more studies happened and we know lot more of our language and the Uralic languages in the ugric group.
    And by the way you did not do any research on the origin of the words, because I’m pretty sure those words are not Slavic. Google is your friend use it next time 😉 https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uralic_languages

    1. Sorry, but no sorry. If you cannot put your real name and link besides your words…then I consider this to be spammy. Check back the comments above, we have been addressing the classification of Hungarian already. I am not sure what is your point? Does classification matter so much for making the point I am doing in the article? (Hungarian being isolated language island around Slavic and Romanic languages? Something not true on this? Also, is it necessary to “google” words that obviously have been adopted from a different language? What for? 🙂 btw yes, szerda and csütörtök were adopted from Slavic languages. It would be nice if instead of dropping such comment, you would do a little research yourself. There’s world outside of Wiki, too 🙂

  27. […] and friends. If you are curious about my observations about Hungarians, feel free to check out this post and this […]

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