When I joined graduate school at the University of Alabama, moving directly from my native country of Hungary, I took part in a training intended for foreign students to get them familiar with American culture. The goal was to make it easier for students to cope with the so called culture shock.
Thinking back to those times I can recall that I indeed felt the difference between my home country (just a few years after the change to market economy from the soviet style system) and the US. The difference though was not solely because of different systems, but as I later came to realize Europe herself was different culturally as well as when looking at the general attitude of the people.
So, during one of the sessions in the course above, a question was asked of each of us. We were asked to list a few stereotypes that came to our mind when thinking about each others’ home countries. For Hungary, the following was listed:
- If a Hungarian passes through a revolving door right after you he will come out before you
- Two Hungarians can have three different and often contradictory opinions
- Hungarian women are beautiful
- Hungarians tend to eat rich dishes, full of fat
- Hungarians complain a lot and they are rather pessimistic when expressing an opinion
So this is the list, or what I can recall of it, that was brought up by members of different nations about Hungary and Hungarians. I myself could add a few more to this list:
- Hungarians do not make a toast with beer
- Most Hungarians think we are the descendants of Huns
- Hungary is a horse riding nation
So let’s look at the details:
If a Hungarian passes through a revolving door right after you he will come out before you
This is not very pleasing is it? This means some of my fellow citizens tend to show a pushy, intrusive behavior, especially when abroad. It also means though that people from this country will always find a way to get by often not paying too much attention to good manners and certain unwritten rules. Well at least it has a good side. I personally think it applies to other post-communist countries although to various degrees.
Two Hungarians can have three different and often contradictory opinions
Very true. This stems from the fact that Hungarians are very self-centered people who do not cooperate easily. It probably has historical reasons. During centuries of wars, living under occupation, and uprisings against occupations people learned not to trust too much in others even when they are fellow citizens. So the mental attitude above can be the residual effect of our history.
Hungarian women are beautiful
I agree, but it is just an opinion. When having lived in America for a while I started to think the same thing about women around me, and they had nothing to do with Hungarians. So yes, when hearing this from someone I tend to think, I am happy you have good memories from my country.
Hungarians tend to eat rich dishes, full of fat
Well yes, traditional Hungarian cuisine is like that, but we happily try to integrate new things as well. For instance the best burger I have ever eaten was at Teddy’s Fab, in Deerfield, IL, making me forget about the often stated opinion that hamburger is just a junk food. Well that was definitely not true.
Hungarians complain a lot and they are rather pessimistic when expressing an opinion
True and I attribute it also to history. Hopefully it will change in the future. I have to add though, that while this is the norm there are huge variations on a personal basis.
Hungarians do not make a toast with beer
After the revolution and war against the Habsburg Empire, which started in 1848 and fell in 1849, generals of the Hungarian army (most of them deserted from the Austrian army when learned there was an uprising in Hungary) were executed. Austrian army leaders celebrated their victory and made a toast with beer. For 150 years after that no Hungarian was supposed to toast with beer. And although the 150 years has already passed it still feels unusual for us to make a toast with beer.
Most Hungarians think we are the descendants of Huns
I don’t know if this is true (might as well be), but it is definitely more glorious than the official version of our ancient history. Don’t forget Attila had a great empire and even took Rome.
Hungary is a horse riding nation
We like horses and like horse riding as well as all related sports. In eastern Hungary on the great plain, tourists are entertained by professional horsemen who can perform a few really exceptional stunts (riding two horses simultaneously while standing on them with one leg on each).
So this is it for the list. Anyway when, after nearly 6 years in the States, I came back to Europe to spend some time at CERN – a research center that is built partly in Switzerland, partly in France – (Geneva on the Swiss side and various small cities on the French side) and I had to arrange the usual official matters I was seeing someone at CERN’s HR department. I was asked where I would work and live (French side or Swiss side) in order to find out in which country I would need to request a work permit for. I said I would work on the Swiss side and live on the French side. “That is impossible” was the answer (in a distinct French accent) I received. I was startled, because I was sure I had never heard this phrase during the last 6 years. It is not that everything is possible in the US, it is rather that they do not state it ahead of time. So, I was facing a major cultural difference between Europe and America right upon my return.