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Expat Exchange - Culture Shock in Hungary
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Liberty Bridge in Budapest


Culture Shock in Hungary

By Betsy Burlingame

Universal Tax Professionals
Universal Tax Professionals

Summary: If you're planning a move to Hungary, or have recently settled there, it's natural to encounter some culture shock as you adjust to your new surroundings. Our insightful article is designed to help you navigate this transition smoothly. It offers practical tips and draws on the experiences of fellow expats who have successfully embraced the cultural nuances of Hungary.

Welcome to the enchanting land of Hungary, a country steeped in history and rich in cultural traditions. As you embark on your new adventure, it's natural to anticipate the excitement and challenges that come with immersing yourself in a new culture. Understanding the nuances of Hungarian life will help you navigate the initial culture shock and integrate more smoothly into your new surroundings. In this guide, we'll explore the phases of culture shock, the language barrier, common cultural faux pas, and gather wisdom from expats who have walked the path before you.

1. Understanding Culture Shock in Hungary

When you first arrive in Hungary, you'll likely go through various stages of culture shock. Initially, the honeymoon phase will have you enamored with everything from the stunning architecture to the hearty cuisine. However, as daily life sets in, you might encounter frustration or confusion as you navigate unfamiliar customs and social norms. It's important to remember that this is a natural part of the adjustment process. Over time, you'll move towards gradual adjustment and, eventually, feel at home in your new Hungarian community.

2. Language Barrier Challenges

Learning Hungarian, a language known for its complexity, can be a daunting task. While younger Hungarians and those in larger cities often speak English, you'll find that many everyday interactions require some knowledge of the local language. Don't be discouraged; even basic phrases can go a long way in showing respect and willingness to integrate. Many expats find that taking language courses and practicing with friendly locals can significantly enhance their experience and reduce the impact of the language barrier.

3. Top Cultural Faux Pas to Avoid

  1. Overlooking Formal Greetings: Hungarians value polite greetings, and failing to use formal titles and proper salutations can be seen as disrespectful.
  2. Ignoring Toasting Etiquette: When toasting with beer, avoid clinking glasses. This tradition dates back to the 1848 revolution and is still observed by many.
  3. Misusing Shoes Indoors: Always remove your shoes when entering someone's home unless told otherwise. It's a sign of cleanliness and respect.
  4. Forgetting Personal Space: Personal space is important in Hungary. Maintain a respectful distance during conversations to avoid making locals uncomfortable.
  5. Disregarding Quiet Sundays: Sundays are traditionally a day of rest, and loud activities or shopping may be frowned upon as most shops are closed.

4. Expat Advice on Navigating Culture Shock

Experienced expats often emphasize the importance of patience and open-mindedness when adjusting to life in Hungary. They recommend engaging with the culture by attending local events, trying traditional foods, and making an effort to learn the language. One expat shared a story of being invited to a traditional Hungarian wedding, which was a turning point in feeling truly accepted and part of the community. Another suggested finding local friends or expat groups to share experiences and advice. Most importantly, expats advise newcomers to embrace the differences and enjoy the unique journey of living in Hungary.

As you settle into your new Hungarian life, remember that culture shock is a temporary phase. With time, the country's charm will likely win you over, and the initial challenges will transform into cherished learning experiences. Embrace the adventure, and soon you'll be sharing your own stories and insights with the next wave of Hungary's expats.

"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," said one expat living in Balatonfured.

"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," said one expat living in Balatonfured.

"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," commented an expat living in Balatonfured.

"For me the Hungarian language is the most difficult and challenging aspect of living in Hungary. English is widely spoken and understood in most big cities, but there can still be issues with basic communication. Even though I have lived here for a while (I do love it), and I am trying to learn the language (nagyon nehéz - very hard), I often feel a bit lost, especially when trying to communicate with a non-English speaker or trying to read a sign or listen to an announcement when it is only offered in Hungarian. I will keep trying, but that is my biggest challenge," said an expat in Hungary.

About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder and President of Expat Exchange and is one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Prior to Expat Exchange, Betsy worked at AT&T in International and Mass Market Marketing. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

Some of Betsy's articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Portugal, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama and 12 Things to Know Before Moving to the Dominican Republic. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.


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