Culture in Hungary

Term Paper 2007 24 Pages

Cultural Studies - East European Studies






A Village Wedding

Hungarian Etiquette

Appendix 1



I. Introduction

Even though Hungary is often described as an Eastern European country, in fact, it is situated in the Carpathian Basin in Central Europe. Its capital is Budapest. The Republic of Hungary, as it is called officially, borders Austria, Slovenia, Romania, Ukraine, Serbia, Croatia, and Slovakia.

The national language is Hungarian (Magyar), a tongue, which is unique in the whole world. Although it is part of the Finno-Ugric family of languages, Finnish or Estonians and Magyars are not able to understand each other. Until today it’s not clear where these people originally came from. It can be assumed that they arrived somewhere from Asia. In history Hungary has survived several invasions, emerging empires and devastation of the Turks, the Tartars, the Habsburgs and the Russian. During those periods, the country went through various forms of governments, from Kingdom between 1000 and approximately 1900 to Communistic nation, beginning with the end of World War II until 1989, when the Iron Curtain fell on the border to Austria and the Eastern Bloc collapsed. Today’s governmental form is a Parliamentary Republic. Hungarian people have a very strong bound towards their religious beliefs. 68 % of those who declare religious affiliation are Roman Catholic, 21 % Reformed (Calvinist) Protestants and 6 % Lutheran Protestants. Jewish now form a very small part of the Hungarian population, resulting from persecution during the Third Reich. There also exist a small number of Greek Catholic and Orthodox believers as well as Muslims. Like in other countries, Catholic culture in Hungary tends toward particularistic ethics in terms of absolute values.

Geert Hofstede, a Dutch researcher, carried out a study of how values in the work place are affected by culture in order to evaluate their attitude and for avoiding misunderstandings in terms of business making and intercultural collaboration.

Power distance

Power distance can be seen as a measurement for equality or inequality among employee and employer. The figure assesses to which extend the employee is likely to accept unequal power distribution. According to Hofstede’s core values, Klara Falk-Bano, a member of faculty of Budapest Business School, analyzed the Hungarian culture in an eight year lasting research comparing to the Northern American culture. She states that compared to America, Hungarian business culture is only slightly higher in power distance (2002). Hungary, same as Poland, Czech Republic have less respect for positions than have most of the CEE countries. Hierarchy plays no longer an important role at the workplace, but still within the family. That differentiates Hungary from the US regarding power distance. At work, subordinates want to be heard and consulted, not only told what to do. Hungarians tend to maximize equality. If there is a hierarchy in an organization, it has been established only for convenience. They respect people who know what they are talking about or doing, but at the same time reject authoritarian rules.

Within the family, there is a strict recognizable hierarchy. Parents teach their children obedience and respect for elder people. In fact, the eldest form the centre of the organization. Today, it’s not that strict anymore, but still a younger Hungarian would never take the liberty to address elders informally. Even his or her grandparents should never be addressed other than in third person plural.


In individualistic nations the “I-concept” applies rather than the “We-concept”. Everyone is expected to look after himself. Hofstede found out that individualists value challenge, freedom and material rewards at work. Hungarians work hard to achieve their goals. They do not work only to survive, but to get acknowledgement. That’s why it can be regarded as doing culture. Regarding family relations, they value honesty, discussing problems, using guilt to achieve behavioral goals, and also maintaining self-respect. Hungarians are moderate individualists, unlike most CEE countries. It must be emphasized that there is still a difference between the eastern and the western part of the country. The society in the west is more goal-oriented, whereas the east is more relationship-oriented. Even though Hungarians are an individualistic culture, there is still a strong bond among family members. Traditionally, people are expected to put the interest of their family or group where they belong, before their own interest. Their identity is based on whom they belong to. A Hungarian proverb says “Madarat tolláról, embert barátjáról…” – you recognize the birds by its feathers, you know who a person is by the friends he has. This can be referred to their agricultural background. But also it can be recognized, that individualistic tendencies are growing fast. “We are becoming selfish, like the rest of the ‘successful’ world”. (Palhegyi, 2006). Not as common as in rural areas, people in Budapest live independent, but still have a strong relationship towards their parents. From my own experience, I know that a lot of younger Hungarians still live with their parents, even though they are adults between the age of 30 and 40. It must be emphasized, that the majority of those people are young men. Another country where this behavior is not unusual is Italy. The release from the family often occurs not until marriage.


Masculinity or femininity refers to the distribution of roles between the genders. Looking at Hofstede’s figures, Hungary is a strong masculine country (Appendix 1). According to my personal experience, I would also describe Hungarians as a very masculine culture. Men, especially in the rural parts of the country, still expect their women to stay at home, taking care of the household and raising the children. In the urban parts, like the capital, women are more self confident. Especially the younger generations of Hungarian women work and live an independent life. However, the father plays the dominant role in the family, and parents tend to maintain strict discipline with their children. However, feminist traits are recognized in their strong emotional behavior rather than rationality at home as well as at work. Building relationships of trust has top priority. But still, it’s a nation with male dominance.

Uncertainty Avoidance

Uncertainty Avoidance deals with people’s attitude towards the new and unknown and how they feel about ambiguous situations. Hungary is a culture with very high uncertainty avoidance. The people are often typified as very pessimistic, since they think that optimism is a characteristic for lack of information. Hungarians do not like taking unfamiliar risks, neither regarding relationships nor concerning the work place. Hungarians also fear unknown situations. They believe, what is different, is dangerous. An extraordinary feature is their selection regarding politeness. A Hungarian is nice and friendly to business partners and relatives, but on the street they act quite un-civil toward others. Besides, Hungarians can be seen as high context communication. They want everything written and in detail and you have to read between the lines. They avoid rude words like ‘no’ and tend to give indirect statements. In general, Hungarians prefer stable rules and long-lasting relationships. They even think uncertainty in life is a continuous threat which must be fought. They find themselves “under something more powerful” (Palhegyi, 2006). Hungarians usually blame others and life for their misfortune.This fact can be ascribed to their history and experience of being dominated by so many conquerors.

Hungarian culture is full of interesting traditions. In the following I would like to describe two customs. The first one will be a typical Hungarian village wedding and the second paragraph will be about Hungarian etiquette.

II. Body Paragraph 1

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A Village Wedding

Rural Hungarians usually marry young and follow their local or ethnic courtship and wedding customs. Urban couples, though, tend to be less concerned with following tradition.

The typical Hungarian village wedding is celebrated in a big ceremony with often more than 100 guests and plenty of dishes will be offered at several locations. There are various traditions how to celebrate the wedding. It’s still common, mostly in rural areas, to celebrate the feast like in the old days. In urban areas, such as in the capital Budapest, marriage has become a more modern festivity. Here, the bride usually wears a white gown on her wedding day. The ceremony described in the following shows a traditional marriage as it is still held in most rural parts of Hungary.

In Hungary, the bridal couple first gets married in a registry office. In most cases on the same day, the church wedding will take place. The civil wedding usually takes place a couple of weeks after all the paper work is done. The couple enters the courthouse with their witnesses. Here both, the bride and the groom have to sign their names in a book. Today, it is common to fix a time, when the couple sits on a platform and some guests come by, wishing them all the best for their future and sometimes presenting a poem for the bridal couple. The usually following religious ceremony forms the main wedding. But before the wedding is made, invitations have to be sent out. Prior to this, when the couple started with the preparation for their wedding, the best man has the responsibility to make personal verbal invitations to the guests. This person is usually the godfather of the bride or the groom, or sometimes even both of them. Those invitations are often made in a rhyme.



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Title: Culture in Hungary