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Hungary Customs & Etiquettes

The family is the centre of the social structure. Generations of extended family often live together. The grandparents play an important role in helping raise the grandchildren. The family provides both emotional and financial support to its members.

Hungarians expect friends to share private and intimate details of their personal lives. If you ever feel you are being asked personal questions, this is simply meant as part of the getting-to-know-you process. Even if you meet someone of the opposite sex for the first time, it's not unusual to kiss each other on the cheeks instead of shaking hands as a greeting.

Open display of the Communist red star and hammer and sickle symbol, and especially the Nazi swastika and SS symbols, and the Hungarian fascist Arrow Cross, is prohibited by law. Make sure your clothing does not have these symbols on it, even if it's just a joke. You can be fined for it. One possible exception is displaying shirts and symbols with Josip Tito's, Yugoslavia's best-known leader, known in Hungary for straying from Stalin's path.

Members of the Gypsy community may find the traditional Hungarian label 'Cigány' slightly offensive, preferring to be labeled as Roma.

As a rural tradition, Hungarians affectionately refer to themselves as "dancing with tears in our eyes" ("sírva vígad a magyar"), as in a bitter-sweet resignation to the perceived unluckiness in their long history. Avoid mocking Hungarian history and Hungarian patriotism.

Talking loudly is generally considered rude. You will notice how most Hungarians tend to keep their voices down in public places.

When entering a home, shoes should be taken off at most of the times. Do not worry that your feet will get dirty – the floors are just as clean as the walls – Hungarians are very neat and clean people.

It's an old tradition (although nowadays not held by everyone) that Hungarians do not clink beer glasses or beer bottles. This is due to the legend that Austrians celebrated the execution of the 13 Hungarian Martyrs in 1849 by clinking their beer glasses, so Hungarians vowed not to clink with beer for 150 years. Obviously this time period has expired, but old habits die hard.

Meeting & Greeting

Both men and women greet by shaking hands, although a man should usually wait for the women to extend her hand. The older generation may still bow to woman. Close friends kiss one another lightly on both cheeks, starting with the left cheek.

In the business context, it is safest to address people by their titles and surnames.

Gift Giving Etiquette

When visiting a company it is not necessary to bring gifts. If invited to a Hungarian's home for a meal, bring a box of good chocolates, flowers or Western liquor. Do not bring wine as the Hungarians are proud of the wines they produce.

Flowers should be given in odd numbers, but not 13, which is considered an unlucky number. Do not give lilies, chrysanthemums or red roses.

Gifts are usually opened when received.

Dining Etiquette

If in the rare case you invited to a Hungarian's house, do arrive on time if invited for dinner, although a 5-minute grace period is granted. If invited to a party or other large gathering, arrive no more than 30 minutes later than invited. You may be asked to remove your outdoor shoes before entering the house and do not ask for a tour of the house.

Table Mannerism

Table manners are Continental; the fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating. The hostess will wish the guests a hearty appetite at the start of each course. Do not begin eating until the hostess starts. Do not rest your elbows on the table, although your hands should be visible at all times.

Hospitality is measured by the amount and variety of food served; do try everything. If you have not finished eating, cross your knife and fork across your plate. Indicate you have finished eating by laying your knife and fork parallel across the right side of your plate.

The guest of honour usually proposes the first toast which generally salutes the health of the individuals present. At the end of the meal, someone toasts the hosts in appreciation of their hospitality.

An empty glass is immediately refilled so if you do not want more to drink, leave your glass ½ full. Never clink glasses if drinking beer.