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Hungary History, Language and Culture

History of Hungary

Hungary was first colonised by nomadic Magyars from southern Russia in the ninth century, but had previously been occupied by Celts, Romans, Slavs and Avars. The Magyars created a unified kingdom under their ruler Árpád that would last almost a thousand years until a brutal Mongol invasion devastated the kingdom at the end of the 13th century.

The Kingdom of Hungary slowly re-established itself as a leading European power and when the Mongols abandoned Europe a new threat came in the shape of Ottoman Turks who were defeated at the end of the 15th century by Matthias Corvinus, a powerful military leader and a patron of the arts. His successor was less successful, and Hungary fell under Ottoman rule during the 16th century and was not able to re-establish its independence until 1718, forming an alliance with Austria as part of the Habsburg Empire ruled by a Magyar aristocracy.

Despite several uprisings in the mid-19th century, the country remained essentially a feudal state until the end of World War 1 when, in 1918, it finally dissolved its union with Austria. Hungary sided with Nazi Germany during World War 2 until 1944 when German troops occupied the country. Following the Russian invasion in January 1945, Hungary became a short-lived republic before joining the Warsaw Pact as a Soviet-style socialist state in 1949.

Declining living conditions and widespread political purges eventually led to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 under Prime Minister Imre Nagy, in which Hungary attempted withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact. The uprising was soon quashed with the support of Soviet army units, leaving an estimated 20,000 dead and nearly a quarter of a million Hungarians exiled. Despite this brutal suppression of freedom, Hungary was considered one of the most liberal countries in the Eastern Bloc particularly after 1968 and the introduction of the New Economic Mechanism, allowing a significant role to be taken by private enterprise.

During the 1980s the political situation relaxed still further, and with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 Hungary was free to begin the transition to a pluralistic political system. The first free elections were held in the spring of 1990. Hungary joined NATO in 1999 and became a full European Union member in 2004. The political landscape is dominated by the conservative Hungarian Civic Union, Fidesz, which holds a near supermajority in the National Assembly.

Did you know?

• Hungary has a rich heritage of folk dance that date back at least as far as the Middle Ages.

• The Romans brought the spa to Hungary, a land of thermal water.

• Unicum, a liquor made from a blend of 40 herbs, is traditionally drunk before or after a meal.

Hungary Culture

Religion in Hungary

Christianity: 52% Roman Catholic, 16% Calvinist, 3% Lutheran, 2.6% Greek Catholic and a small number of other Christian, Eastern Orthodox and Jewish minorities.

Social Conventions in Hungary

When meeting a Hungarian, handshaking is customary and both first name and surname should be used. At a meal, toasts are usually made and should be returned. Gifts such as flowers, chocolates, or a bottle of good quality wine are acceptable for hosts as a token of thanks – particularly when invited for a meal. Smoking, although popular in Hungary, is prohibited on public transport in towns and public buildings. English is quite widely spoken in tourist areas, but some knowledge of German can also prove useful.

Language in Hungary

Hungarian (Magyar) is the official language. German and English are widely spoken by both the older and younger generations. Some French is also spoken, mainly in western Hungary.


  • Beer = Sör
  • Closed = Zárva
  • Danger = Veszély
  • Do you speak English? = Beszél angolul?
  • Doctor = Orvos
  • Eight = Nyolc
  • Eighty = Nyolcvan
  • Entrance = Bejárat
  • Exit = Kijárat
  • Fifty = Ötven
  • Five = Öt
  • Forty = Negyven
  • Four = Négy
  • Friday = Péntek
  • Goodbye = Viszontlátásra
  • Hello = Szervusz (to one person), Szervusztok (to more than one)
  • Hotel = Szálloda
  • How are you? = Hogy van?
  • How much does it cost? = Mennyibe kerül?
  • I'm very well = Jól vagyok
  • I don't understand = Nem értem
  • I feel ill = Rosszul vagyok
  • Menu = Étlap
  • Monday = Hétfö
  • My name is … = Az én nevem …
  • Nine = Kilenc
  • Ninety = Kilencven
  • No = Nem
  • One = Egy
  • One Hundred = Száz
  • One Thousand = Ezer
  • Open = Nyitva
  • Please = Kérem
  • Restaurant = Étterem
  • Saturday = Szombat
  • Seven = Hét
  • Seventy = Hetven
  • Six = Hat
  • Sixty = Hatvan
  • Sunday = Vasárnap
  • Ten = Tíz
  • Thank you = Köszönöm
  • Thirty = Harminc
  • Three = Három
  • Thursday = Csütörtök
  • Today = Ma
  • Toilets = wécé (WC), toalett
  • Tomorrow = Holnap
  • Tuesday = Kedd
  • Twenty = Húsz
  • Two = Ketto / Két
  • Wednesday = Szerda
  • Where is …? = Hol van …?
  • Wine = Bor
  • Yes = Igen


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