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.
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?
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:
- Katalin can keep her maiden name and nothing changes for her except for marital status on documents;
- 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!);
- Katalin adds the suffix -né to her husband’s family name, adds her full name and will be called Neméthné Kiss Katalin (rather long);
- 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);
- 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.
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).
The 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?
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.
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.
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 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!
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!
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Find out more about Hungarians, the second post from this miniseries is out: Everything You Wanted to Know about Hungarians [part 2]