When greeting, men give each other a firm handshake. For women, however, it should be a little less firm. The shake is accompanied by a kiss on the hand. Hungarian women like to be treated like ladies, for instance by opening the door for them or inviting them to enter first.
In the world of business, Hungarians value relationships greatly. That’s why a conversation about personal topics like family is absolutely essential during business matters. A good and solid business relationship features repeated visits and telephone calls. Building up a trusting relationship normally takes quite a bit of time, though. A good, social working atmosphere plays a major role for Hungarians. When they feel like a part of an inspiring project, they display passion, originality and diligence.
In business situations, Hungarians tend to be formal and stick to hierarchical organizational structures. Important decisions are generally made by the top management, which can sometimes slow down discussions. Nonetheless, Hungarians are expressive. Typical negotiations take place in open dialogue. They gladly provide evidence to support their words. That is why facts and figures are of great importance in presentations. If they cannot reach an agreement, they tend to explain the reason for it and can suggest new discussions. Indirect expressions like “Yes, I’ll try” or “Yes, if nothing else comes up” usually mean “No.”
At the beginning of a business discussion, Hungarians don’t start right in with the main topic of the meeting, but rather make small talk. During that time, topics like sports, the economy, culture, horses, sightseeing, wine, Hungarian food and family can be brought up. Sensitive topics like religion, politics, minorities, salaries, cost of living and crime rate should be avoided. In addition, Hungarians consider their country to be part of Central Europe, not Eastern Europe. The expression Central Eastern Europe can also be considered appropriate.
At business events, business partners dress formally. Men are expected to wear classic suits. Women wear a business suit, often with a skirt.
If you are invited to dinner, you should bring a small gift, like a nice (alcoholic) beverage or promotional items from your company.
Unlike the younger generation, older Hungarians don’t speak German or English and don’t actively take part in the discussion. However, they are usually the executives and rank high in the company hierarchy. For this reason, you should also focus on them. In addition, the Hungarian language is an insurmountable obstacle for foreigners. You can, of course learn the meaning and correct pronunciation of words like “Jó napot kívánok” (hello) or “viszontlátásra” (goodbye).
The word “No” and criticism
Do not offer direct criticism and avoid the word “No.” Instead combine a positive statement with an indirectly negative comment so that your business partner can save face.
You’ll notice that people don’t toast or raise their glasses in Hungary. The reason for that lies in their history. After the Austrians quashed the Hungarian Revolution in 1848, they celebrated their success extensively by toasting a lot. That is why this custom is looked down on in Hungary to this day.