Cultural Differences in Hungary

After my last sappy blog post about saying goodbye, I thought it was time to lighten things up a bit! That said, here is my commentary on cultural differences in Hungary vs. America!

  1. Saying hello as goodbye. This is probably the one cultural difference that was hardest for me to adjust to because it’s an English word given a different meaning. Basically, when you walk out of a store or a Hungarian person says goodbye to you, sometimes they say “Hello!” and I almost always do a double take. I often forget to reply because I think they are talking to the person in line behind me. So here is my formal apology to all the people I never responded to.
  2. Szia, szia, see ya. The word “szia” is pretty awesome. Not only does it mean hey or hi but it also can be used as an informal goodbye. Which makes perfect sense and explains why Hungarians use the word “hello” as both hello and goodbye. Which begs the question, why do we English-speakers make things complicated by having two words when we could have only one? Maybe I’ll just start saying “hey” to people when we depart from now on. “Szia” is also awesome because it sounds exactly like the English phrase “see ya!” So whenever I found myself instinctively saying “see ya” to a Hungarian, they probably thought I was saying “szia” and appreciated my effort at speaking their language. Or at least I like to think that’s what they thought.
  3. Laundry. Dryers don’t exist. Well, they do but they aren’t common. So prepare to hang dry your clothes and for your clothes to be wrinkly and your towels crunchy. Also I’m not sure if this was just our misfortune or if this is a nationwide thing, but the washing machines took an ungodly two hours for each load. Want something clean in a day? Well you’re SOL cause laundry is a multi-day adventure.
  4. Girls don’t wear backpacks. At colleges in the US, it is common to see some girls wearing backpacks and some with tote bags to carry their notebooks and laptops. Well you will be hard-pressed to find a European girl wearing a backpack anytime soon. Most carry fashionable purses that make me wonder how they can fit anything in there or how their arm doesn’t get tired if they do manage to fit notebooks and a laptop in there. I didn’t bring one and I wasn’t about to spend money on one, so I kept wearing my comfortable backpack although it basically spelled “AMERICAN” on my forehead. And can we talk about the whole wearing heels to class thing? Some girls show up to class looking like they just stepped off the runway. What possesses them to want to wear stilettos all day baffles me but hey, props to them for looking good.
  5. Cheek kissing to say hello and goodbye. This isn’t specific to Hungary because it happens in several other European countries such as Spain, but it’s important to note. Hungarians greet each other with a kiss on each cheek, starting with the right then the left and also do this when saying goodbye. It’s common with male-female and female-female greetings, and less common with male-male greetings. I wish the US would do this more because it eliminates that awkward moment we often run into when we don’t know if we should hug someone or shake their hand. And I could definitely use a little less awkward in my life.
  6. Coffee. This also is less specific to Hungary, and applies to most of Europe in general, however coffee is a large part of my life and the differences need to be addressed. Coffee in Europe is much smaller. Most coffeeshops only have one size and it’s smaller than a “tall” at Starbucks. Yes, there are some Starbucks and more “Americanized” coffeeshops around that offer various sizes and something of the pumpkin spice variety in the fall, however the best and most abundant coffeeshops are the local ones. Don’t expect to walk into one of these and order a half-calf skinny vanilla soy latte. Speaking of soy, very few coffeeshops offer alternative milks. Sorry my lactose-intolerant friends, you’ll either have to order an Americano or feel like crap all day. And unless you go to Starbucks or one of the wannabe-Starbucks I mentioned earlier, you can’t get plain-ol’ coffee to-go. Filter coffee is made to order in a Chemex, french press, pour-over, or drip brew thingamajig that requires patience and sitting in. While some of these differences may have annoyed me at first, I learned to suck it up and order an Americano when I wanted regular coffee and I grew to appreciate (*gasp* maybe even PREFER) the smaller sizes. Since being home in Minnesota I’ve only gotten a latte from Caribou once and truthfully, it sucked. Sorry Caribou. So thank you Europe, you have officially made me an even bigger coffee-snob.
  7. Paying for bathrooms. Think peeing freely is a basic human right? Think again. Make sure you use the bathroom before you go anywhere because many places charge you to use the bathroom. This includes the Central Market, Margaret Island, and several bars and clubs, to name a few. Sometimes the bathroom is free but you gotta pay for TP… that decision is up to you.
  8. Dorm condoned drinking. My dorm in Budapest had a bar in the basement. Yeah, a bar. This is quite the difference coming from the US where you can get in big trouble for smuggling a bottle of wine into your dorm room. Obviously this is because of the lower drinking age, but it’s still pretty funny that a school-owned building is basically saying, “C’mon in and have a drink!”
  9. Parties in the school. Another funny event due to the lower drinking age: huge parties thrown in school buildings where you have classes complete with multiple stages and bars. Funnily enough, most were thrown on Wednesday nights. That’s just inviting students to show up to class hungover the next morning.
  10. Drinking in public is legal. Walk around with your bottle of vodka in the middle of the day if you want. People may judge you, but no one can stop you.
  11. PDA. I can’t even count the amount of times I’ve almost run right into a couple who decided it was a good idea to stop abruptly in the middle of the sidewalk and start making out. People are not shy when it comes to showing their affection around Budapest, ass-grabs and all.
  12. Dogs. Most Hungarian residents seem to choose small dogs over large ones. I think it’s both a preference thing and has to do with living in smaller houses and apartments. The dogs are also so well trained; they often walk without leashes next to their owners and wait for them outside of shops. New life goal: get a dog and train it to do that.
  13. Water. I think everyone in Hungary must be dehydrated because I rarely notice people drinking water. If you want water at a restaurant you need to specifically ask for tap water, which sometimes they refuse to give you. If you just ask for water, you’re gonna end up paying for bottled still or sparkling water and it’s usually a tiny bottle. You’re better off ordering a beer if you like a lot of liquid with your meal. The good news is that the tap water in Budapest is safe to drink so you can get nice and hydrated later!
  14. Customer service at restaurants. Waiters and waitresses actually get paid a normal salary and it’s not customary to tip very much in Hungary, so they don’t need to work for tips. Which means you may get a snarky eye-rolling waitress once in a while. That doesn’t mean they are all like that though! I’ve had many very kind waiters and waitresses before. But don’t expect anyone to ask you how the food is every five minutes or bring you the check without you asking for it. The nice thing is that no one will ever rush you out of a restaurant because they want to flip the table. Moral of the story: never, ever equate a sit-down meal with “grabbing a quick bite to eat”.
  15. National pride. Hungarians aren’t very prideful people. Actually, they are quite self-deprecating, which I don’t understand because I think they’re great. But I can’t even tell you the amount of times a Hungarian asked me, “why are you here?” Uhhh because Budapest is awesome, duh.

I’ll probably think of more things later and wish I could go back and add them to this post, but for now this is what my brain can come up with. The thing about traveling is that you get it all: the good, the bad, and the ugly. There were things I loved and things I found slightly bothersome, but most of all these differences were what made the experience just that: different. After being home for almost two weeks, I would ditch my clothes dryer and free water in heartbeat just to go back right now. Unfortunately I don’t have any future travel plans on my calendar just yet, so for now I’ll just enjoy actually having a solid routine in my life and detoxing my liver since I can’t legally drink anymore. Oh and my name being spelled correctly as Cece instead of Sissi.

And I know I keep saying this so much that I’m beginning to sound like the Terminator, but… Hungary – I’ll be back.

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