Read about local Hungarian customs that help you avoid the classic tourist traps, dangerous areas and prepare for a unique social climate.
Identifying the underlying political stance of Hungarian locals finds complexity in separating the opinion of the State and the people. While both are, generally, highly influenced by Christianity, the actions of Hungary’s government seldom reflect the views of the people. After my article regarding safe LGBTQIA+ venues to visit in Hungary, a country where progressive subjects as such struggles for universality, it became clear that I did not devote enough time to describing the country’s political and social climate. While it is always challenging to orientate yourself in a foreign country, accidentally offending a local can make your experience far less enjoyable (especially since no matter how much Hungarian you learn in advance, it will never be enough, trust me.)
You may or may not have heard, but Hungary’s government has garnered much attention from the European Union about its discriminatory legislature. Regardless, it can certainly be shocking to some when first learning of it or be unaware of it entirely when visiting. I have heard many of my friends return from Hungary, shocked at the normality of derogatory slurs in Hungarian conversation (especially those aimed at POC and LGBTQIA+.) If you find yourself in a situation where a Hungarian is using offensive language around you, respectfully ask them to stop using that term. In most situations, Hungarians are innately courteous, and will apologize for offending anyone. If you find yourself the target of continued abuse, however, it is best to ask for help from staff at recognizable, secure, and big brand locations such as Starbucks, banks (main ones are OTP, Raiffaisen and ERSTE), or one of the main malls (West End and Mammut are the biggest), as they will always have private security on duty during regular hours. At night, try to remain in groups, and have a Hungarian speaker with you if possible.
Crime and Tourist Exploitation
Generally, Districts 1 through 7 of Budapest are the safest and most progressive due to the high density of international residents and tourists since they contribute to one of Hungary’s largest economies. You should try to avoid the outskirts of these districts, however, as well as poorly lit streets and tunnels at night. Generally, the farther you get from the National Parliament, the higher crime is. You can find a detailed guide of safety to keep in mind here.
It is also not rare to become the target of tourist exploitation. Venues popular with tourists, such as around the Parliament or Castle District, charge exorbitant rates. Suppose you are looking for a cheaper alternative. In that case, I can highly recommend trying the local Turkish cuisine, found in quaint locations such as this, offering affordable and hearty meals, sometimes through the night! Or, if you are looking to experience more local, authentic, and reasonably priced cuisine, then I urge you to visit one of my favorite restaurants called the Hatarcsarda. It can be found in Szentendre, just 1 hour from the center of town by public transport!
One of the biggest shocks for me, when I moved from Hungary to the United States was how talkative Americans are with strangers. In general, Hungarians do not like to be approached randomly in public, especially at night. While I cannot claim to understand the psychology of this entirely, I’ve learned that this facet largely stems from crime, as well as the history of authoritarianism that threw irreparable distrust between the people and government, meaning many locals have an innate disposition to interacting openly with those they do not know. The audacity of some can be especially jarring, as most Hungarians are unashamed to tell you exactly what they think. Do not be offended if a local calls you out, rather apologize if it is a genuine mistake, or excuse yourself if the confrontation is unavoidable and leave. If there is anything a Hungarian may hate more than strangers speaking to them, it’s pursuing an argument with one.
Many Hungarians speak English because of the high number of migratory workers traveling to and from neighboring countries. This does not, however, mean they can fully understand you. Conversational intonations (such as sarcasm, irony, proverbs, etc.) can be taken very literally due to the cultural gap, and you may find yourself agreeing to something you did not mean to agree to.
While this article certainly sounds negative, I would still like to remind our readers that these issues do not reflect everyone in Hungary. You are far more likely to meet kind, friendly, and accepting people in most of your interactions because Hungarians are also some of the most hospitable people in the world. It will become apparent, however, that malicious interactions, as described before, would ruin your trip and your image of Hungary in general. One should always be cautious of local customs. For that matter, being aware of the worst of one country is just as important as being aware of the best.