Hungarian Culture

Culture: A culture is a group of people with shared beliefs and values. They share common traditions, histories and practices.


Values and Norms: In Hungary, family is placed at the center of the social structure. Oftentimes, generations of extended family live together, and the grandparents play a large role in the raising of the grandchildren. Families support eachother emotionally and financially. Hungary also has an extensive history of music, composition, and literature, of which the Hungarians are very proud. Hungary also has a rich history of horsemanship, and horses are highly revered. Inviting a guest to go horseback riding is very common, and horses play an integral part in the lives of most Hungarians.

Traditions, Beliefs and Attitudes: The tradition of swaddling newborns has passed. Infants and toddlers are placed in separate spaces for sleep and play. Children are to be obedient, mindful, diligent, respectful, industrious, quiet and good students. Child education is formal and the literacy rate is 98% between the ages of 6 and 16. Traditionally, a high school diploma was considered to be the end of education. Now, there is more and more value being placed on college education. A common attitude among Hungarians is their sense of hospitality. Exceeding efforts are made to feed and care for guests. Guests come first.

Religion: 72% Roman Catholic, 21% Calvinist Reformed, 4% Lutheran, 1% Jewish. After Russia, Hungary has the largest Jewish population in its region. The majority of Hungarians do not regularly practice religion, but ceremonies such as baptisms, weddings and funerals tie them to the church. Most of their annual holidays and celebrations consist of folk festivals and celebrations that include feasts. For weddings, the bride’s dress is colorful and elaborate and usually includes a headdress. In order for the marriage to be legal, there must be a civil and a holy ceremony.

Sense of Self and Space: When greeting each other, those in close relationships greet with a small kiss on each cheek. When conversing, eye contact is expected and courteous. Even staring at strangers is not considered inappropriate to Hungarians. A personal space of 15-25 inches is typical. Physical touch is common during conversations, but only between close friends. Touching someone’s back, shoulders or arms in a non-intimate relationship is considered offensive and uncomfortable.

Communication Style and Language: The majority of Hungarians speak Hungarian, or Magyar. A small percentage speak German or Romanian.  Humor and sarcasm are often woven into the vernacular of Hungarian language to convey a message during speech. In the United States, very few Hungarians still speak Hungarian. Most speak English.

Dress and Appearance: Modern Hungarians have adopted a “western” style or modern clothing like jeans and t-shirts. Pants suits are worn by men and women for formal and casual event. Traditional Hungarian clothing evolved from Scythian, Persian, and Hun culture, and is very colorful and decorated. Clothing is embroidered featuring lace, boots, sashes or embroidered shoes. Women wore puffed sleeves and men wore vests with long sleeves. The tradition of embroidery in Hungary can be seen as far back as the Middle Ages. A families wealth could be gauged based on the amount of embroidered clothes they had, so daughters were taught to embroider at a young age. Besides decorated folk clothing, embroidery can be seen on tablecloths, napkins and bed covers. Traditionally, women could also be seen wearing flowing pants made with fine material.

Food and Feeding Habits: Hungarian foods are often based on fowl or fish. Goulash is a well-known Hungarian soup, usually made with meat and potatoes. Many Hungarians dishes are seasoned with paprika (a spice that the Hungarians created) or softened with Hungarian sour cream. Desserts are usually pastries, and are often made with fruit. Breakfast is usually served between 8:00 and 9:00, lunch time is 1:00 to 2:00, and dinner is around 7:00 to 8:00. During the meal, if wine is served, only the man should pour any wine. While eating, both hands should remain above the table, but elbows should not be placed on the table. When finished eating, Hungarians place their silverware side by side on the same side of their plate. If they are just pausing, the silverware gets criss-crossed across the plate. Any sort of sniffling or coughing is considered rude at the table, as is using a toothpick. Taking home leftovers is only appropriate after an informal meal.

Time Consciousness: Time consciousness is considered very important in the business context. Business people are on time or early for meetings, and never keep visitors waiting. This behavior is expected of the visitors, also. The public systems and commerce (such as buses, trains, schools, stores, offices) are all expected to run on time and open and close on time. In the social setting, such as dinner dates, timeliness is also important. To be late indicates that the person doesn’t value the occasion or the other person. If, however, you have been invited to someone’s home for a meal, it is polite to be a few minutes late.

Relationships and Social Organization: Typically, men walk on the left side of their wives, and enter establishments first. Relationships are held in higher regard than the individuals. Likewise, the group as a whole is more important than the individuals within it. In the business setting, women are gaining equal footing, although older men may still treat them with Old-World charm and gallantry, such as kissing their hand. When first introduced to anyone, Hungarians will speak to each other using the more distant, formal word, “On.” When addressing family, friends or close colleagues, the casual “Te” is used. Hungary is traditional in the sense that men are expected to work whereas the women raises children and performs the bulk of the house work. In Hungary relationships between family members and relatives involves honor and are strongly valued. It’s common practice for family and friends to greet and depart from one another by kissing on both the left and right cheeks.

Education and Learning: Education in Hungary is very important for the economy; the school system employs about 9% of the labor force. School for Hungarian children usually starts around age 6 with a 98% enrollment rate; there is no kindergarten. The school year lasts from September through May in two semesters. From ages 6-14 Hungarian children attend a secondary school dedicated to academics or vocational studies. At age 16 students are allowed to leave school, but most choose to attend until age 18. Less than 20% of all students go on to a college or university. Technology training on computers can start around age 11-12, but there is a lack of instructional technology. The primary language of instruction is Hungarian (Magyar) but students in some areas are taught German and English, sometimes Italian, starting at age 10. Tests at the end of the school year determine advancement to the next grade. Tests set by the state are given at the end of secondary school to determine entrance into a university. Higher education is usually taught in the English or German Language.

Work Habits and Practices: When communism collapsed in Hungary, business became an important part of the culture. In Hungarian business culture, value is placed in punctuality, schedules and deadlines. Quality is more valuable than quantity, a mentality which has a large influence on time management and business goal setting. If a potential business partner is late to a meeting it gives the idea that the other person is not important. To Hungarians, relationships are the focus and they are indirect in verbal communication, yet very expressive in both verbal and non verbal behavior. Business interactions are formal and constructed hierarchically. Integral business transactions should be discussed one on one with the people involved because a Hungarian might not do business with you if they feel they do not know enough about you. Touching coworkers in the workplace is not acceptable.

Hungarians in the U.S.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, there are around 1.4 million Hungarians living in the United States. The states with the largest populations are, in order, Ohio, New York, California, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Michigan and Florida. The Hungarian population in most states is declining, with the exception of Florida. It is speculated that the Hungarian population there is increasing due to its popularity as a retirement haven. Most Hungarians in the United States now are fourth- or fifth-generation, and have very little connection to Hungary or its culture. From 1980 to 1990, 11% fewer people identified themselves as Hungarian or partly Hungarian on the U.S. Census. The number of Hungarian institutions, churches, organizations and fraternities has declined considerably. Historically, there were a few individual Hungarians who reached the shores of America, perhaps as early as A.D. 1000, on an expedition with Eric the Red. The first historically documented Hungarian to reach the Americas was the scholar, Stephen Parmenius in 1583. Following a couple of centuries of individual immigration, the first group immigration was in 1849-1850. These Hungarians emigrated to avoid retribution by Austrian officials after losing the Hungarian revolution in 1848. Most of these several thousand immigrants were educated men, who had a difficult time adjusting to the frontier lifestyle that was present in America at that time. Many of these men ended up joining the Union army during the Civil War, but some ended up returning to Hungary. The next wave of immigrants came around 1900 and included 1.7 million Hungarian citizens, of which 650,000-700,000 were real Hungarians/ Magyars. They migrated for economic reasons and were extremely poor. Over the next five decades, the rate of Hungarian immigration was restricted, but some still immigrated, either as intellectual refugees, those who were fleeing the Nazi regime, or “displaced persons.” After the failed Hungarian revolution of 1956, another 40,000 Hungarians emigrated to the United States.

Hungarian Culture and Healthcare: Because most Hungarians in the U.S. today are fourth- or fifth-generation Hungarians, they are almost entirely assimilated into the American culture. Most speak little or no Hungarian and know very little about Hungarian traditions or customs. As a result, there isn’t much discrimination against them in the U.S. However, within Hungary the Roma sector of the population experiences discrimination due to their statistically lower socioeconomic status in society. For example, this sector of the population has an overall life expectancy of ten years less than other Hungarians. There are quite a few differences between traditional Hungarian culture and American culture, such as the relationship dynamic among families and the role and behavior of children, but much of that is not evident in Hungarian-Americans. Common health risks among Hungarians are poor dental hygiene, a link between socio-economic status and health choices, ischemic heart disease and high suicide risk, although that risk seems to be linked to just Hungarians in Hungary, and not be significant in Hungarian Americans.

As a nurse, it would be important to recognize

1) The importance of timeliness – because of the value that Hungarians place on timeliness, the Hungarian patient might feel like the medical team considers them unimportant if they are not on time or prompt in their treatment.

2) How to treat and educate regarding dental hygiene – due to their generally poor dental hygeine, it would be important as the nurse to ensure that they are getting exceptional oral care while they are in the hospital. It would be appropriate to do some patient teaching so that their oral hygiene would improve once they are discharged.

3) The difference between appropriate and inappropriate touch – touch is common between close friends, but considered inappropriate with strangers, particularly on the back, shoulders or arms. The nurse needs to limit touch to that which is necessary for treatment and refrain from conversational contact.

4) How to educate regarding health choices related to socioeconomic status – adolescents in lower-income homes or with troubled home life tend to use cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana more often. Education regarding smart choices and the long-term risks associated with poor choices is necessary.

5) The risk for self-inflicted harm or suicide, and any treatment or education that may be related – because Hungary has the highest suicide rate in the world, it might be necessary to monitor Hungarian patients more closely for signs of mental disturbance, depression or risk for self-harm. Educating the patient on effective coping mechanisms is necessary.


Advameg, Inc.  (2010). Countrys and their culture. Retrieved from

– Gaál, P., Rekassy, B., and Healy, J. Health Care Systems in Transition: Hungary. Copenhagen: European Observatory on Healthcare Systems, 1999.

Nemeth, T., Mate, O., Nemeth, M., Pozsgai, G., Kives, Z., & Suto, B.(2009).   Hungarian Health Care Through the Eyes of International Students. EMUNI Higher Education and Research.

Piko, B., Fitzpatrick, K. (2007). Socioeconomic Status, Psychosocial Health and Health Behaviors among Hungarian Adolescents. European Journal of Public Health.

Huseby-Darvas, E.V., Countries and Their Cultures. (2009). Kubilius, K. (n.d.).

Hungarian Traditional Costume – Folk Dress of Hungary. Eastern Europe Travel. Hungarian Business Culture. (n.d.).

Hungarian People – Hungarian Social & Business Culture – Budapest. Hungary –

Educational System—overview . (n.d.). Education Encyclopedia –


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