The Hungarians Do It Differently
Everything changes when you alter how you address others
One of the best places my travels has taken me to is Budapest. It is easy to place it among the 10 best cities I have visited so far.
Indeed, the Hungarian capital is one of the world’s most beautiful of cities, and deserves to be a must visit place in a traveler’s bucket list. That being said, I have always made it a point to venture beyond Budapest. To Debrecen, Pecs, Eger… Places that help to explore the country in a real sense, beyond the touristy façade.
Over the years, I have not only learnt how to make goulash — and make better use of the paprika, but also have bettered it with every subsequent attempt. A native Hungarian may still not appreciate my culinary skills as regards the country’s national dish, but I have no doubt others will find it edible.
I also attempted to learn a few words in Hungarian before giving up completely. Hungarian is a difficult language as far as I am concerned. That being said, I keep track of the happenings in the landlocked European country, more importantly, their performances (and achievements) in sports.
Tamás Darnyi, Krisztina Egerszegi, Norbert Rózsa, Dániel Gyurta and Katinka Hosszú may not be household names for most, but they all happen to champion swimmers, with Olympics and World Championships gold medals in their resume.
And who hasn’t read, or attempted to learn more, about the Magical Magyars. So dominant was the Hungarian national football team that between 1950 and 1956, the team played 69 games and won 58 of those suffering just defeat — in the 1954 FIFA World Cup final, a match better known as the Miracle of Bern.
It is among the countries that have always fascinated me. A landlocked, less crowded country with scenic landscapes, wonderful people, great architecture and good food, Hungary redefines small is beautiful. It is one country that always kept me rather keeps me interested.
Ignorance is anything but bliss
Keeping track of recent developments and going back in time for references as and when required, I know considerably about this country. Or so I thought. Till I was made to understand that there are still many aspects I am ignorant about, and quite a few things that I am yet to know rather need to know.
Most importantly, despite of my obvious interest, there was something familiar about Hungary and Hungarians that I wasn’t neither aware of nor ever told.
It is the fact that Hungarians use/write the surname first, and their first names thereafter. In other words, their name is used/written in reverse order. There’s nothing to be ashamed about more than addressing someone in a wrong manner and I had made the mistake, on multiple occasions, at that.
I had never realized this during my trips to the country and had been ignorant for all these years. I had actually addressed the people I came in contact with in a wrong way, and they hadn’t corrected me either. Not even one of them had bothered to tell me as regards my oft-repeated goof ups.
Maybe it didn’t matter to them. Maybe they didn’t care. Maybe they were too nice. Maybe they were having a joke or two at my expense. Yet none of the Hungarians I have ever met has made me feel embarrassed. Till now that is.
There’s nothing to be ashamed about more than addressing someone in the wrong manner. The fact that I have traveled to Hungary only on vacations has ensured I have mostly skimmed the surface, without exactly delving deep into each and every aspect. Now that I know more about one, I am unequivocally apologizing to any Hungarian I may address to in the wrong manner.
It was during a recent informal interaction with an acquaintance that I got to know things as they are. He’s actually the first one to point out my mistake, one I had been committing on every occasion I interacted with a Hungarian. He’s the one who made me feel a little embarrassed, and rightly so!
That being said, I am also grateful to him for having provided the necessary details. He explained it to me that the surname(family name) comes first in Hungary, and that the only way they write is in the reverse order — first the surname, then the name. He further told me other aspects like dates and addresses follow a similar pattern.
While I was initially ashamed at the basic mistake I had hitherto indulged in, I was curious and the next question was palpable on expected lines. Why is it so? I was told that it is the case because the family name happens to be an adjective. According to Hungarian grammatical rules, an adjective must precede the noun it modifies.
There’s also the historical antecedent that I was made aware of. The Hungarians rather the Magyars — the country is referred to as Magyarország in Hungarian — are believed to be the successors of Huns and originally came from the regions around the Ural Mountains in Asia, and the Hungarian language is a Uralic language. As such, it has a grammatical word order that is different from the various Indo-European languages.
The naming convention used by the Hungarians is the East Asia name order that is primarily used in Asian countries like China, Japan and Korea. On the other hand, almost all European countries use the Western name order. This is the reason as to why Hungarians’ names are written in a different style than that of other European nations.
Every interaction is a learning experience and a gateway to something novel and enriching. In the span of a few minutes, a Hungarian had made me realize and rectify a mistake I had been committing for years. Thanks to him, I am now aware that Tamás Darnyi, for instance, is actually Darnyi Tamás, and likewise. Get the drift…
The next time I write a mail to a Hungarian I know exactly what order to follow. In the bargain, I have also ended up learning a bit more about Hungarian history and culture, things that will no doubt be useful during future interactions with the country’s wonderful people. But before that I need to learn to avoid embarrassing myself again, as I did so on this occasion. Thanks but no thanks to my Hungarian faux pas.