Friday, 24 February 2012

Doing Business in Hungary

With a strong economy in luxury car production, renewable energy and IT industries, Hungary is a growing business centre. Couple that with its emergence as a fashionable destination for high end tourism - no doubt due to its lovely climate, natural beauty and hospitable people- and you can see why Hungary is attractive place to do business. Our guide, compiled by one of our expert Hungarian interpreters, can help you get the most out of any venture to this historic land.

The Hungarian Language

Originating in Asia, the Hungarian language belongs to the Finn-Ugric family of languages (which also spreads, in different forms, to Finland and Estonia). The morphemes of Hungarian are joined together, which results in one long passage of speech which is quite difficult to understand. Nevertheless, you might find some basic greetings useful in breaking the ice and in increasing your chances of holding a successful meeting. So do not forget to greet your Hungarian colleagues with:
Jó reggelt! [yo reget] “Good Morning!”
Jó napot! [yo nu pot] “Good day!”
Jó estét! [yo esh tate] “Good Evening!”
Viszontlátásra!  [vece ont latt ash ra] “Goodbye!”
Jó éjszakát! [yo ace a cat] “Good Night!”

And of course remember the three magic phrases:
Köszönöm [kus u nume] “Thank you”
Kérem [key rem] “Please”
Elnézést kérek [l neigh zesh t] “Excuse me”

If you really want to impress your business partners, you might want to quote one of the longest words in their language: Töredezettségmentesítõtleníttethetetlenségtelenítőtlenkedhetnétek – literally, “you [plural] could constantly mention the lack [of a thing] that makes it impossible to make someone make something defragmenter-free” - unlikely to be relevant, I know, but impressive nonetheless. 

Hungarian is very descriptive; expect your business partners to express themselves in a few, highly complex, sentences, though it might take a few introductory sentences to get to the point of the conversation. The wonderful rhythm of Hungarian means that speech begins expansively, before narrowing to the key point by the end- a rhythm you may have to use in your own speech.  

Business etiquette


Hungarian dress generally avoids bright colours, and it's advisable not to wear red clothing during meetings or negations as it is traditionally seen as provocative. Suits, like almost everywhere else, are de rigueur for everyday business and this applies to both sexes. However, since the temperatures in summer are quite high, short sleeve shirts are often worn, though often covered by a blazer or jacket. 

For men there is one cardinal sin in the business attire: white socks! We do not advise you to wear them at any occasion, apart maybe from an invitation for a morning jog on Margit Island with your business partner.

Body Language

National body language is much the same as British; an aversion to the constant eye contact used by Europeans, but looking at other business partners whilst talking signifies your respect towards them. When listening to a presentation or a lecture try to keep eye-contact to show your interest. Making notes might not only be helpful but is also seen as a sign of interest and seriousness, even if you are not going to ask questions afterwards.

Although shaking hands is used in business life, in every-day life it is usually used only during the first introduction. Wearing a hat obligates you to take it off whenever you meet a new business partner, eat or sit at the table. Wearing gloves also obligates you to take them off every time you shake hands. In winter this obligation is lessened for women, but if you do remove your gloves shaking another's hand you show great respect and deserve a compliment for doing so.

Meeting Etiquette

A number of rules of business conduct are observed during all types of meetings.
Firstly, Hungarians are punctual businessmen; one is expected to arrive at a meeting on time, though this rule is not always followed by Hungarians themselves. Being late for meetings has become so common that even managers do not excuse themselves for lateness. Of course, being on time should be your paramount concern.

Secondly, once you arrive to the meeting you should not seat yourself. An appointed person or the manager would show you to your chair. The official distance between negotiating parties in Hungary is 1.50 meters. If offered a drink during the meeting, try to sample the local mineral water (it's superb quality) or if you are feeling more adventurous, try coffee. Drinking coffee is almost a national ritual; make sure to put sugar in your cup with the spoon provided and to stir the coffee in a slow and elegant way. You might have to ask for milk separately, since Hungarians usually take their coffee and tea black.

Thirdly, as elsewhere, using mobile phones during a meeting is considered extremely rude. In practice, however, it does happen very often. You might also notice the manager asking to turn the mobiles to “silent” mode, while forgetting to do the same himself and even answering his phone. 


Business gifts are rare in Hungarian business life, although it is advisable to bring presents in your role as a guest. Items such as sweets and flowers are suitable for women, and bottles of good (Hungarian) wine are appropriate presents for men. Give your gifts at the end of the meeting.


Hungarians are largely open and proud of their culture. Feel free to ask about something you find strange or surprising – Hungarians will happily explain it with additional historical and social background. One tale often told explains why men enter restaurants before their female companions. It is not, as it might seem to those brought up on the 'Ladies first' tradition, chauvinistic. Instead it dates back to the Middle Ages, when eateries were less peaceful and cultural, men would enter first and check if the atmosphere is proper for their lady companion. A chivalric (tall?) tale, and one proudly told.

Eating Customs

One could write an entire book on Hungarian eating customs, and no doubt someone has, and it's easy to get lost amongst the cuisines, customs and streets of Hungary wondering what and where to eat. So... be brave! Rely on your Hungarian business partner, or even someone sitting at a nearby table, to be your culinary guide; they will be delighted to instruct you. 

You might expect to be invited by your Hungarian colleagues for a traditional Hungarian meal in a traditional Hungarian restaurant, so feel free to ask about the decoration, the music (quite often folk Gipsy music) and the dishes served. You can expect heavy, very filling food, so avoid eating too much before the meeting. Hungarian food is also full of onions, garlic and peppers. It might be spicy, so your Hungarian colleagues should ask you first if you like spicy food and advise you on ordering a suitable meal. Do not be surprised if you have to look for salads and fresh vegetables – green leaves and dressings are not the most favourite of dishes in Hungary. Desserts are a specialty; most of those served today in Budapest were once ordered from Hungary by the Austrian court, so you might expect an imperial treat!

What even the most uninitiated gourmand can quickly grasp, though, is the strong culture of drinking wine. Hungary is a wine country, so if invited for a dinner, try to taste some of their national specialties. It is a custom to discuss the type, origin and taste of the wine while tasting it- just try not to taste too much!

 This post has, hopefully, taught you something about the intricacies of Hungarian business culture. There is, however, a lot more to learn: a professional life time's worth. At TJC Global, our interpreters are experts in Hungarian practices as much as they are experts in the language. To find out how our services can assist you on your next business trip to Hungary, visit TJC Oxford or contact us.

No comments:

Post a Comment