Photo: Melinda Nagy/Shutterstock

7 Things We're Guessing You Didn't Know About Hungary

by Colm FitzGerald Mar 3, 2015

1. Last names come first.

In Hungary, when people write their names or introduce themselves, their last name comes first. They say “Nagy Gábor vagyok” or “I’m Nagy Gábor.” This doesn’t mean people call each other by their last name; it’s simply the formal way of introducing yourself or presenting a name publicly. If I were Gábor’s friend I would just call him Gábor. It’s worth mentioning that other than Hungarians, worldwide only some Asian people present their names in this fashion.

2. Take my name, all of it.

Sticking with the topic of names, when a Hungarian woman gets married her entire name changes. So if Eva marries Nagy Gábor, she publicly becomes Nagy Gáborné or Mrs.Nagy Gabor/ wife of Nagy Gábor. Again, her friends and family will still call her Eva, but if she was interviewed on TV her name would appear as Nagy Gaborné. It’s important to note that this tradition isn’t as common nowadays, and married women can do as they please name-wise. So my wife Anita (if she chooses) can now be FitzGerald Colmné!

3. Hungarians are not Slavic.

Aside from Austria and Romania, Hungary is surrounded by Slavic nations. So it comes as a surprise to many that Hungarians aren’t Slavic as well. The origins of Hungarians, or Magyars as they call themselves, is a topic of heated debate and fantastical theories abound. Most experts agree that the Magyar tribes originated somewhere between the Volga River and the Ural Mountains in present day Russia. Others schools of thought suggest that Hungarians have a Sumerian/Iranian origin.

Others still promote the idea of a far-east connection with Attila and his marauding Huns, as evidenced by ancient Magyar horsemanship and archery skills. There is also evidence that prior to settling in the Carpathian Basin (where Hungary is now) that the Magyars traded and aligned with Turks and Bulgars.

There certainly is a lot of controversy and some people take the Magyar origin topic VERY seriously. One thing I think we can all agree on: Hungarians are undoubtedly unique!

4. This is wine country.

One might be led to think that Hungarians have a deep history of beer swilling like the Germans and Czechs. One also might surmise that Hungarians are habitual vodka shooters like their northern neighbors. Now don’t get me wrong, Magyars love their beer and liquor, but historically this IS wine country.

There are 22 distinct wine regions and eight indigenous grape varieties in Hungary. Evidence of viticulture dates back to at least the 5th-century AD and only three European languages have words for wine that are not of Latin origin: Greek, Turkish and you guessed it, Hungarian.

The Tokaj wine region of northeastern Hungary, famous for its sweet Aszú and dry Furmint white wines, is the most well known. In 1737, Tokaj was delimited as a national wine area by King Karoly, making it the world’s first official wine region, almost 120 years before France’s Bordeaux.

Following WWII Hungary fell into the hands of the Soviets. And in similar fashion to everything else they did, the Communists chose quantity over quality and more or less ruined Hungary’s reputation as a producer of fine wine.

But many small-time winemakers kept their time-honored traditions alive during those dark times. And today, passionate vintners are reviving Hungary’s love for good wine and in turn foreigner’s love for Hungarian wine.

5. Hungarians love hot water.

Many are aware of Budapest’s famous Gellért and Széchenyi thermal baths, but not everyone knows that Hungary is actually overflowing with hot springs. The country boasts around 1,500 spas, 450 of which are public. Lake Hévíz , in western Hungary, is the 2ndlargest thermal lake in the world and is located near Lake Balaton ( not thermal, but the largest lake in Central Europe). In addition, the Miskolc-Tapolca Cave Bath in northern Hungary is one of only two natural thermal cave baths in the world.

6. Hungarians boast brains and brawn.

Relative to its population size of around 10 million, Hungary is a damn talented nation. It’s no secret that Hungarians have contributed greatly to modern science with a stunning number of inventions and breakthroughs, including the helicopter, the ballpoint pen, and the Rubik’s cube. Some say that the Hungarian language’s structure is so unique that it allows for a completely different train of thought, and this is why Hungarians have been so scientifically influential; their minds work unlike the rest of ours.

Hungary isn’t just full of nerds and mad scientists though, with 476 Summer Olympic medals, this little country also has its fair share of athletic freaks. The nation has the most medals of any country that hasn’t hosted the games and the Hungarian soccer team is the winningest in Olympic history. If we go by population size, Hungary is second only to Finland in most gold medals won!

7. Naming your kids requires government approval.

Back to the name game: In Hungary, you are required to name your child from a pre-approved list of names. The list is extensive and continuously growing. But if you are dead set on a name for junior that isn’t listed, you must submit your application to the Research Institute for Linguistics of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and hope it gets approved.

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