Hungarian culture is rich and diverse. Some might say one article can’t do it justice. Well, we do what we can.
Here goes your complete guide to the customs, traditions, and beliefs of most Hungarians, so you can (hopefully) understand the country and its’ people a little better.
Why Are Hungarians So Different?
The people of Hungary take great pride in their culture and identity. While this is true for nearly all nations around the world, there is a particular reason Hungarians are so hung up on preserving their customs.
You see, Hungarian people are not like those who surround them. They are direct descendants of Magyars who settled here during the Early Middle Ages.
Like Finnish and Estonian, Hungarian belongs to the Uralic language family. In other words, it is unlike any other language that surrounds it. It’s a similar story to that of their neighbors in Romania, but the language is completely different.
What’s Up With The Language?
The language is key to Hungarian culture. But why is it so different?
Hungarian originated in the Ularic region of Asia. It separated from Ugric languages of Western Siberia around the first half of the 1st-millennium BC.
Interestingly enough, there are many Iranian loanwords in Hungarian. Scholars think it was early contacts with Iranian nomads that brought Hungarian tribes to become nomad themselves.
It is around that time that they moved away from their lands of origin (and the language separated from Ugric).
When these same tribes settled down in Central Europe, they brought their unique language with them.
As a member of the Finno-Ugric language group, the closest languages to Hungarian are actually Finnish and Estonian.
Slavic languages have very little in common with Hungarian, even though Slavs have lived along with the Magyars for centuries.
Hungarian Language: The Weirdness Continues
Hungarian culture may be complex, but wait until you try to learn the language!
There are 14 different vowels in Hungarian (as opposed to just five in English). They are variations on the common “a, e, i, o, u” and include “á, é, í, ó, ö, ő, ú, ü, ű”. Pronouncing the wrong vowel can change the meaning of the word. You better start practicing in front of the mirror!
If the vowels were not enough, consider the longest word in Hungarian. It has a whopping 44 letters.
Megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért translates roughly as “due to your (plural) repeatedly not being possible to be desecrated”
Alright, but that’s a pretty complicated expression, right? Well, consider that “to desecrate” would be translated as szentségtelenít. That’s still quite long. In fact, most Hungarian words are.
The alphabet they use also uses 44 letters and some have 2 or even 3 parts.
And, as if all of that is not already a mess, there is no set word order for sentences in Hungarian. Word order is much more flexible than in English and grammatical categories like cases and declensions carry the meaning. The order of words is used to convey emphasis, rather than actual meaning.
In other words – Hungarian is a difficult language to learn. But you don’t really have to do so if you want to know their culture better. Of course, it helps a lot!
Hungarian Culture: Let’s Talk About Food
All of this complexity is a little hard to swallow (pun absolutely intended). Let me tell you about food to clear the palate.
If I must describe it in three words, Hungarian cuisine = Goulash, paprika, and sour cream.
Dumplings and meat would be a close call (but I could only choose three).
A Brief History Of The World-Famous Goulash
Goulash is a paprika-flavoured meat stew. Although Goulash is originally from Medieval Hungary, today it is enjoyed all throughout Central and Eastern Europe.
Hungarian shepherds were the first to prepare goulash. They would cook and dry the meat to have it ready to carry in the field.
Out in the open, they only needed some water to boil it into a stew. The paprika is actually a much later addition.
Since peppers were not introduced in Europe until the Colombian Exchange in the 16th century, the original spices would have been more like pepper, cinnamon, ginger, and clove.
Outside of Hungary, goulash is enjoyed as a thick stew. You would be surprised that in Budapest goulash looks less like a stew but rather a meaty soup.
Other than paprika, very few spices are used. Ideally, you want to get fresh, high-quality paprika, as well as some freshly ground pepper, and that would be all the flavoring you need.
What other food is there, though?
We all know about Hungarian goulash. Sadly, this is as far as most people’s adventurous eating goes. It’s a shame, really. There are tons of other delicious Hungarian dishes.
Potatoe casseroles in all shapes and forms are served throughout Hungary. The classic recipe just calls for cheese and some sour cream (as you will discover, Hungarians love adding sour cream to absolutely everything).
You also have the Hungarian take on the quintessential Italian pasta. Turós Tejfölös Pasta involves a cottage cheese and sour cream based sauce over your pasta of choice.
Most people say fusilli would work well but anything you like, really. Turó is a Hungarian cottage cheese is crumbled over the pasta. Then, the sour cream is poured. Adding some green onions on top gives the dish the kick of freshness it absolutely needs.
Then, we have a simple yet amazing dish: the langosh (Lángos). This is a street food that I absolutely love. It’s basically a deep fried flatbread topped with… basically anything.
Traditionally, you’ll want it topped with sour cream (no surprise here) and minced garlic. Yummy!
Hungarian Culture: Drink Like A Hungarian
After all the delicious food, we can surely talk a bit about their beverages. There are options for everybody, no matter what kind of a drinker you are.
Hungarian wine and beer are world-famous, but there is also a Hungarian national liquor. Pálinka, for instance, is a fruit brandy that comes in a variety of flavors.
Each Hungarian has his favorite one but in general, apricot and plum pálinka are the most popular. Be careful, though, pálinka is quite strong and it’s usually consumed without a chaser.
You have to sip it, not chug or take it as a shot. Yes, it burns like hell, which only goes to show that Hungarian people are super hardcore.
SPA Culture And SPA Parties In Hungary
Hungarian culture would not be the same without SPA, since thermal water is readily available all throughout the country. Budapest is the capital with the richest supply of thermal water in the world.
SPA culture in Hungary incorporates elements of Turkish, Roman, and even Greek balneal therapy. This is clearly visible in most baths, whose architecture was influenced by all of these signs.
You can still see some Roman baths in Óbuda, while most of the old SPA centers in Budapest were built by the Turks. The Király Baths and Rudas Baths are a great example of that.
Today, there are thousands of bath houses in Hungary and popularity is always rising. The thermal water is used for both medicinal and recreational purposes.
There’s nothing quite like the SPA parties of Budapest, the only place you can get intoxicated and then detoxed by the healing waters at the same time.
The Hévíz Lake
If you have the time, consider visiting the Hévíz lake. This is the largest biologically active, natural thermal lake of the world. Basically, it’s like one huge natural SPA center.
The lake is fed by a spring rushing up at 38 m. The water sulphur, radium, and minerals making it unsuitable for drinking but rather awesome for bathing (some swear by its’ healing properties). You can buy medicinal Hévíz mud, which also has unique benefits.
The Music Of Hungary
In Hungarian, the first vowel of each word is always stressed. That’s why Hungarian folk music has a strong dactylic rhythm, meaning that the first of three syllables is always accented.
Although folk music is not as popular as it was once, locals still love it and consider it an important element of Hungarian culture.
But Hungarian music is more than the folk rhythms. World-famous composer Ferenc Liszt was also Hungarian, although he never spoke the language fluently. Liszt considered himself to be Hungarian and even founded the Academy of Music.
Hungarian Culture: Love And Dating Styles
Dating abroad is always tricky. Here are a few pointers for Hungarian-style seduction.
Hungarian girls may be some of the prettiest in Europe, but they can also be rather cold. While no Hungarian woman is truly a prude, they fully expect you to be on your best behavior.
There aren’t too many womanizers in Hungary and that’s exactly because those cheap tactics don’t work on Hungarian girls.
On the plus side, that also means that Hungarian girls make the best girlfriends. If they genuinely like you, they will be loyal, caring, and supportive.
They are still the old-fashioned type, the kind that loves more masculine men and loves to be feminine around him.
Your Hungarian girl would love to cook for you and dress up nice but also expects you to be the perfect gentleman in turn.
Local men have the masculine side but they also have alcohol-related issues quite often. This is your edge over them. There is a real, palpable need for high-value, sober, responsible men among Hungarian girls. Be one, and you would definitely be in demand.
Hungarian Culture: What More To Add?
I did start with “I can’t do Hungarian culture justice”, so now is your turn. Let us know what I missed in the comments below! I know that we barely scratched the surface so do tell what you know.