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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Balatonfured, Hungary

Submitted by borschelrh

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?


Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

Not formally but I am retired military and have lived/worked in many nations including two 3 year tours in Germany and work on research projects in Peru, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and other "stans".

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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

No Hungarian is a total nightmare. But, I am (very) slowly learning the language enough to be functional. Having a translator is essential, especially when documents need translation. Hungarians love paper work and heavily document everything with lots of stamps and such falderal. I do speak German and in our area many Hungarians speak German as this is a tourist area.

Additionally, I am a pilot and there are many retired Hungarian Air Force pilots in our area who all speak English.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

Not especially. My experience led me to believe this wouldn't be particularly difficult. I am surprised at how few people speak English nor are they even slightly interested in learning. Additionally, my wife emigrated from Russia to the US prior to our marriage so I had more of a culture shock after our marriage than in moving to Hungary.

How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

Negligent. It is more of a humorous adventure than an annoyance.

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

Not exactly as described. Early on we experienced a great deal of attempts to steal and cheat from us which we have now gotten firmly under control. But, it is typical of third world countries experiencing enormous problems adapting to the new capitalistic economy. Hungary is a poor country with an extremely low salary base and many people are not living as well under capitalism as they were prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This has led to rampant corruption and a large amount of non-violent crime. Coupled with the removal of nearly all middle aged and older workers with experience this has caused a great deal of problems for the Hungarian citizenry. But, the corruption here pales in comparison to the Middle East or Russia. Hungary is working hard to get this under control and I can see noticeable improvements.

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

None in particular. I am experienced in most of these issues.

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

The people here have strong family values and very high food quality. As mentioned they patiently line up in cues and are generally very polite and warm. I have not experienced any anti-foreigner sentiment at all. I notice that most workers typically do a good job without requiring heavy supervision.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

There is a defeatist feeling in many Hungarians that things are bad and getting worse. But, on the opposite scale there is this overwhelming desire to get back the territories lost following WWI. I also find it a bit disconcerting that most Hungarians do not understand they have constantly been on the wrong side of every war they have fought in. It is weird to have a national day of mourning for Stalingrad for the loss of 200,000 Hungarian soldiers there but not recognizing that they were complicit in the Nazi attempts of Hitler to conquer Europe. The same is true for the attempted and failed revolution against Soviet occupation in 1956 only 11 years after the war ended in a country still being kept under control following the defeat of Germany and the Axis nations. So, they have supported Germany twice and lost heavily but still have this amazing desire for increased nationality even now that they are members of the EU and much of this is angering their neighbors which acquired the territories lost following the wars. I find this nationalism and increased right-wing behavior somewhat disconcerting.

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

Probably but unknown to me if I did.

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

Hungarians are fiercely proud of their traditions and very stubbornly refuse to abandon their language even though it is one of the least spoken languages in the world. So, learning a minimum of Hungarian is essential to a successful transition to life here.

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Comments about this Report

Sep 6, 2010 21:43

Hungary - a third world country??

Sep 7, 2010 09:59

Been to Hungary a number of times for extended periods and this is a pretty good overview. I would add the culture and history is great and enjoyable, even the smaller towns are fun. The locals will adopt you in a heart beat especially outside of Budapest.

Sep 8, 2010 08:38

I've been to the Balaton area including Siofok and Balatonfenyves several times and stayed a few weeks in each. My only trip to Balatonfured was in the early 90's in the middle of winter. I was passing through and stayed at one of the few, open resort hotels on the lake. I prefer the south-shore of Balaton as there is more going on there. A few years ago, we were even considering expat retirement in that area but ultimately decided that a warmer climate was more suitable for us. There are so few places anywhere in the world where bureaucratic corruption and petty theft are not commonplace and merely the way of life. Your article was a nice read.

Sep 22, 2010 04:26

"very stubbornly refuse to abandon their language even though it is one of the least spoken languages in the world" this arrogancy with other cultures is amazing, funny enough, Hungarian is the 18th largest lenguage on the world...

Nov 29, 2010 11:32

"they have constantly been on the wrong side of every war they have fought in" That is just your perspective. I mean frankly, if some country assassinated the American vice-president then I am sure America would decide to go to war with them, they went to war over far less. WWI was about how all the other countries took one side or the other after Duke Ferdinand's assassination, and it just blew up. America only took the other side because it always aligns itself with England. Technically, if it happened in the present day America would side with Hungary because they denounce any attempt at assassination now. After the war, France and Russia took 2/3rds of the lands from Hungary. This led to the decision to side with Germany in the beginning of WWII because they were promised their land back. History is always written by the winning side. If you read old journals and diaries written from the closing days of WWII you would see that all the countries including America were wrong. Instead of allowing troops to surrender they burned them alive or put them in front of firing squads. Many families who once hid the Jews in their attics were hiding German soldiers because they were being hunted down and killed. Most of the soldiers were doing their jobs and were just following orders. I am not saying Germany was right, I am just saying you cannot blame every German soldier for the disgusting things Hitler did. Even the start of WWII was more about the countries making military pacts with other countries and Germany lost all of its pacts due to the countries switching pacts so frequently.

Mar 2, 2011 19:33

As a fellow traveler and Hungarian; I have visited my relatives in Hungary, and yes, they are fiercely proud of tradition, customs and their difficult language. I would like to know: How do you address real or perceived, corruption, i.e. - feeling you [probably] where short-changed or in-the-process of being cheated out of money either in a market transaction or a rental issue WITHOUT insulting the individual?!

Apr 3, 2013 05:27

not to lay blame but to try and demonstrate the effect these decision have on the current environment.It's been a while since I checked back on this site. I now have been here over 3 years and I still hold with my comments made before. Yes, Hungary is very clearly in the third world type of economy. What I mean is the standard of living here is getting worse and it is already very low. $400 a month is very low for Europe and the amount of unemployment coupled with the burden of supporting a large amount of people living at the expense of the taxpayers here but also who refuse to work, is very difficult. The recent problems in the EU in the Eurozone do not directly affect Hungary as they are thankfully not in the Eurozone and I hope this government stays that way. Negotiating prices has become easier since we hired a full time property manager who negotiates for us everything. This saves an enormous amount of trouble and expense. As he is fluent in English we have abandoned our attempts to learn more than minimal Hungarian. My German skills have more or less recovered and when in trouble I revert to German which is widely spoken in this region. As for the nationalism this is a bit comical in a broad sense and is being used to circumvent the political process here. By issuing citizenship and passports to ethic Hungarians living in Romania, Slovakia, Croatia, etc. and permitting them to vote in Hungary is a travesty. The new constitution is also reprehensible and pushes Hungary towards a severe and potentially tyrannical government and due to the significant procedural changes makes it nearly impossible to change in the future. This virtually ensures a permanent Fidez government. In addressing the history of Hungary this is the perspective of both Russians and as an American. It is interesting that the failed revolution against Austria is also a holiday. Defending WWI in defense of the Empire that Hungarians despised is also interesting. My point is not to lay blame or to unnecessarily criticize but to demonstrate the effect these decisions have made on the current living conditions in Hungary. If you examine the perspective of the Stalingrad memorial Day from that of a Russian you might understand the consternation. Here is a country that invaded and killed a lot of Russians, then lost the war badly, and was occupied. The Russians introduced their political/economic system but only mildly compared to other countries like East Germany. The Hungarians tried to revolt only 11 years later which if you recall, the US was still fervently occupying Germany for much the same reasons. This was met with understandable resistance by the Soviets and the result was a much harsher implementation of communism and significant repression. If West Germany had tried to do the same I am certain the US, UK, and France would have repressed them equally. I merely point this out that Hungarians are still focusing on past mistakes much like the Southerners in the US still mope about the Civil War. It is pointless, and seen as counterproductive, particularly when it is a blatant attempt to circumvent other sovereign nations. Hungary needs to move forwards not backwards but as I said they are very stubborn. Personally, it doesn't affect me one way or another but represents the mindset of Hungarians in general. I love it here and am enjoying it immensely and do not regret deciding to retire here. As luck would have it the corruption in Hungary is benefiting us. I do not understand or even really care the why or how's of so much EU money coming into our town as grants from the EU. we have gotten a new market, a bicycle competition arena, a new marina, a new boardwalk area, renovated schools, renovated roads, new sportsplatz, new soccer field, a Tesco shopping mall, etc. We are now going to get a new train station, another new marina, and a lot more. No other town on Lake Balaton is getting anything so all of it is coming here.

Apr 4, 2013 04:38

That is a very interesting problem. Typically, we negotiate a fixed price through our property manager and it all seems to work out fine. However, one thing that has happened repeatedly is we often sympathise with the low rate we negotiated and give a bonus to all of the workers (not just the boss) usually about 1/2 way through a given project as a sign of appreciation and an incentive to keep on track. Three times now they have been very thankful for the money and never came back. So, now we have discontinued that practice. The other problem we consistently see is that estimators come to the home, take one look at our home and beautiful things, an then jack the estimate up way beyond reason and then won't budge. This happens even when we aren't involved in the negotiations. I mean they seriously raise the prices. For example we want to install and automated awning on our terrace. One of our Hungarian friends installed the exact same thing we want and we called his installer to get an estimate. He paid roughly $500 for the awning but for us the estimate is $3000. This seems to be the main problem. Eventually, we get someone who understands business better and will negotiate. But, really Hungarians have some very strange attitudes about business. Real estate pricing is a big problem and there are no standardized ways to get property vlues. Basically, Hungarians decide on a price and then stick to it adamantly even if it is insane. Their logic is someone eventually will be fool enough to pay the price. So, no negotations happen and properties stay on sale for years.My next door neighbor put his house on sale and in 1 year has had one person look at it because his price is crazy. He was offered a lot less and became insulted so refused to negotiate. The house now just sits there empty and no one is looking. So, Hungarians really need to figure out business and the real world.

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