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Lesson Transcript

Michael: What topics are taboo in Hungarian?
Krisztina: And what are some things I should avoid doing?
Michael: At HungarianPod101.com, we hear these questions often. Imagine the following situation: Karen Lee and Karola Kocsis are chatting in a good atmosphere while drinking a coffee. Everything changes when Karen asks the forbidden question. "Who is your favorite politician?"
Karen Lee: Ki a kedvenc politikusod?
Karen Lee: Ki a kedvenc politikusod?
Kocsis Karola: Inkább beszéljünk valami másról.
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Karen Lee: Ki a kedvenc politikusod?
Michael: "Who is your favorite politician?"
Kocsis Karola: Inkább beszéljünk valami másról.
Michael: "Let's talk about something else instead."

Lesson focus

Michael: In this lesson, we will be learning about Hungarian taboos, or
Krisztina: magyar tabuk
Michael: and what to avoid doing or saying in certain situations. Hungarians are typically known to be very straightforward, especially when they are unhappy about something. Yet, it would not be wise to bring up certain topics. They are also known for their food and hospitality. So, if you are invited for a meal in Hungary, this lesson will prepare you and hopefully prevent you from saying or doing the wrong thing.
As you learned from the dialogue, you should definitely avoid discussing the usual sensitive topics such as religion
Krisztina: vallás
Michael: and politics.
Krisztina: politika.
Michael: These subjects can cause conflict even between close family members because of how divisive they are. It is better to talk about something else. You could say,
Krisztina: Inkább beszéljünk valami másról.
Michael: "Let's talk about something else instead."
Just don't let that something else be salaries or living costs. In some countries, these topics could be part of a casual conversation, but Hungary's economy has had turbulent times and it is not seen as polite to talk about income.
Let's move on from what to avoid talking about, to what to avoid doing! For instance, never refuse a shot of
Krisztina: pálinka
Michael: no matter how many you have already had. It is a fruit brandy that is only made in Hungary and in a very specific way. Always say "yes"
Krisztina: igen
Michael: to this Hungarian specialty, even if you don't like it and it is homemade. The same rule applies if your host offers you homemade wine. It might very well be delicious, but always say "Cheers!"
Krisztina: Egészségére!
Michael: Now you wouldn't want to attend empty-handed. Present the female host with flowers and the male host with a bottle of wine to make a good impression. Take note that the flowers should be of an odd number, but not the unlucky number thirteen. Isn't that interesting? And if you are introduced to an older woman, it is respectful to say
Krisztina: Kezét csókolom.
Michael: which translates to "I kiss your hand." Don't literally kiss her on the hand though, this could be seen as odd.
Speaking of odd — if, in Hungary, you might notice that when people are drinking wine, or
Krisztina: pálinka,
Michael: they make a toast by clinking their glasses together and saying "Cheers!"
But you won't see them clinking their glasses when drinking beer. This is because a failed Hungarian revolution took place in the late 1840s, and after having executed the 13 revolutionary generals and the Hungarian Prime Minister, the Austrians toasted and clinked their beer glasses to celebrate. It is said that Hungarians swore that for one hundred and fifty years they would never toast with their beer. This vow is still being upheld, even though the hundred and fifty years have passed.
When you toast with wine or brandy, always remember to make eye contact. Hungarians will make a special effort to ensure that you know that they are making eye contact with you. Their exaggerated efforts may even seem dramatic.
After drinks and food, if you do enjoy some Hungarian hospitality, do not bother trying to refuse a takeaway of dinner! Enjoy it.
Here is how you say "thank you very much for having me" in Hungarian.
Krisztina: Nagyon köszönöm, hogy vendégül láttak!
[Recall 1]
Michael: Let's take a closer look at the dialogue.
Do you remember how Karen Lee says "Who is your favorite politician?"
(pause 4 seconds)
Jennifer as Karen Lee: Ki a kedvenc politikusod?
[Recall 2]
Michael: Now, let's take a look at our second sentence.
Do you remember how Karola says "Let's talk about something else instead?"
(pause 4 seconds)
Jennifer as Karola Kocsis: Inkább beszéljünk valami másról.
Michael: You can hear that Karola is uncomfortable and does not want to talk about politics. As we already mentioned, politics is a topic that many Hungarians feel uncomfortable talking about. It is just easier to avoid, thereby avoiding any possible disagreements.
Perhaps, if you find yourself in this situation, you can suggest changing the topic to "food" or
Krisztina: étel.
Michael: You could ask, "What is your favorite food?"
Krisztina: Mi a kedvenc ételed?
Michael: In this lesson, we looked at taboos in Hungary, what to avoid saying and what to avoid doing. Never bring up politics or religion. Enjoy Hungarian hospitality with a smile, remember to take flowers and wine, and always say yes to
Krisztina: pálinka.
Michael: Something to remember about Hungarian hospitality is to always, or as much as possible, leave room for dessert!
Also, you have to manage this without leaving food on your plate as that would be seen as insulting. To show that you are done with your meal, you can put your knife and fork parallel on your plate. If your glass is empty, your host will fill it. So if you do not want to drink anymore, leave your glass half empty.
Hungarians are known for their cuisine and the food will keep coming. It will be the focus of the evening. Another possible event for the evening could be an old grandfather telling tales of long ago. You may hear of any number of battles that had been fought, or of famous people who have Hungarian heritage.
Though it probably won't be brought up, a topic of particular sensitivity is "The Treaty of Trianon." This was a treaty between the Kingdom of Hungary and the majority of the Allies of World War 1, which concluded the first world war. It pertained to the borders of Hungary which are still the same today, and it ceded almost 70 percent of Hungary to foreign countries, and left 30 percent of ethnic Hungarians outside of their homeland. This is still something that causes tension and possibly heated debate. One should avoid any and all conversations about World Wars and the Cold War to be safe.
Cultural Insight/Expansion
Michael: Now, the topic of sport isn't quite as serious but could possibly develop into a similarly heated debate. Hungarians can be very passionate about their sports teams and speaking about sport should also be avoided unless you are sure which soccer team the company you are in supports. Otherwise, the heated arguments about which is better are bound to ensue.
A less obvious topic to avoid is that of America's influence on Hungary's economy. In Hungary, many people have reservations about the influence of other countries and even more so when it comes to American influence.
Let's finish off with a little more about
Krisztina: pálinka.
Michael: This fruit brandy is to Hungary as champagne is to France. Just as only sparkling wine from the Champagne wine region of France can be legally labeled "champagne," fruit brandy can only be legally labeled
Krisztina: pálinka
Micael: if it was distilled and bottled in Hungary. And it is only sold by certain Hungarian labels. This has been a law since 2008, called the "Hungarian Pálinka Law."


Michael: Do you have any more questions? We're here to answer them!
Krisztina: Viszontlátásra!
Michael: See you soon!