Ibolya Gorog has worked as the chief of protocol int he Prime Minister’s Office for 12 years, is the author of several successful books, while also teaching at a university and providing help in protocol related issues upon written request to her company, as well as providing instant advice on issues of individual behavior and etiquette problems.
Currently she leads her own enterprise, with her main areas of expertise being adult education and counseling in Hungarian, in Russian and in English. She is also an accredited lecturer of the Hungarian Institute for Economics, a teacher of the Corvinus University, a titular professor at the University of Szeged and the Eszterhazy College.
In the life we are often faced with situations which can be properly handled only if we know the appropriate rules of behaviour: who greets whom, and in what order? How to shake hands? Table manners, etc. The guestions are underlined specially when a businessman steps to the international scene.
Observing the rules of convention in what distinguishes a cultured man from an unculterd one. Good manners, proper behaviour are the properties of good education, accomplishment and intelligent communication. Historically, European manners constitute the basis of world-wide diplomatic protocol. For people working in an international business environment, it is advisable to acquaint themselves with the various rules and codes of behaviour prevalent in the different parts and countries of the world.
These protocol training courses help participants handle situations like those with ease. We also highlight some of the typical „mistakes” and traps that one might fall into.
TRAINING ON EUROPEAN BEHAVOUR AND PROTOCOLE IN BUSINESS
- European codes of behaviour, their role in communication, traditions and manners
- Message we issue in a communicative situation, verbal and non-verbal communication, body-language, how to convince people?
- Dress codes and the message they convey
- Problem issues (coughing, sneezing, smoking, etc.)
- Forms of address in speech and in writing (in Hungarian)
- Introductions, hand shakes, kissing the hand. Problems and solutions
- The protocole of telephoning (phones, cellular phones, answering machines)
- About the business card
- Invitation cards; how to dress to a party
- Business meetings, seating arrangements, table decorations and services
- Receptions and official/gala dinners
- How to appear in public? Lectures, leading a workshop/seminar, reading a speech. How to deal with the media?
European Behaviour – Authenticity – Protocole
In Hospitality (for the hotels and restaurants’ banquet managers)
1. European codes of behaviour, their role in communicaton, traditions and manners
2. Message we issue in a comunicative situations, veral and non-verbal communication, body-language, how to convince people
3. Problem issues (coughing, sneezing, smoking etc)
4. Introductions, hand shakes, kissing the hand.
5. The protocole of telephoning
6. Meetings, seating arrangements, table decorations and services
7. How to appear in public? Lectures, leading a workshop/seminar, readidng a speech
8. Some guestions on the diplomatic protocole
(Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961
Governing etiquette (empire, kingdom..)
Deviations within the EU
The Protocol Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
9. Question on rankings in diplomacy (the term doyen and Papal nuncio)
10. Ranking in the EU
11. Question on using the national symbols
12. Invitation and the required attire („dress-codes”)
13. Presidency. Sitting order. How to greet the VIPs?
14. Visit of a delegation, the program and the „function sheet”
15. Protocole gifts and souvenirs
16. Official ceremonies: signing a state document, awards and decorations, ribbon-cutting etc.)
17, Receptions and official/gala dinners (seating arrangements, the ranking
of spouses etc.)
A Chapter on Hungarian Behaviour and Protocol
Europeanism, American influences, and Hungarian traditions
1. European behaviour and Hungarians. The interpretation of law – morals - and convention.
Human relationships are influenced by three sets of norms. The first is the relevant law, which is the strongest influence of the three all over the world, and has been ever since Hammurabi. The second of these are moral standards, which, if not adhered to, lead to having a bad conscience. Obviously, these, at the root, are based upon religion, meaning they are basically the same in Western Jewish-Christian cultures. The third norm is made up of behaviour and conventions. In daily communications, these are the most obvious, and it is based on these that we remark that someone is as “reserved as an Englishman,” “elegant as a Frenchman,” “passionate as an Italian,” etc.
We can safely consider European behavioural norms as “setting the standard” worldwide, as business men and politicians entering the international public realm from various cultures endeavour to conform to this set of rules. The only codified collection of common courtesies, the diplomatic protocol (Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961), is based upon these European norms.
Hungarians, living in the heart of Europe, have Europeanism in their blood just as much as Germans, Frenchmen, or anyone else on the continent. Differences in culture may manifest themselves as a result of the fact that the decades of socialism, followed by more than ten years of struggling to make a living in a fast paced world centred around finance in the capitalist world, has resulted in an approach of “it’s good enough for me” and “I’m in a hurry,” resulting in an oppression of the basic courtesy inherent in Hungarians.
2. Similarities and differences in nonverbal communication
Commonplace Hungarians barely differ from any British or French pedestrian – as long as they are viewed with the proper amount of tolerance. Differences invariably can occur. Brits living in Hungary have noted that the rule of “keeping to the right” is valid among pedestrians, as well. The pace of walking is faster than in European countries to the west (perhaps only businessmen arriving from big cities in the USA do not feel that speed on the sidewalks is fast). People generally pass on the left and generally tend to inevitably avoid walking between any conversing pairs. However, it does happen, especially on the crowded streets of Budapest, that someone bumps into you and forgets to apologize.
Hungarians apply nonverbal communication more intensely than do Brits but are more restrained than Latin cultures. If two people stop to talk, they generally keep a distance of 60-70 centimetres between them, according to the general European fashion. They seldom touch each other while talking unless they happen to be close friends. They do, however, always look at each other while talking. Friends are more likely to place an arm around the other’s shoulder; these gestures are very similar to those used by the French. For example, it is totally evident that hands are only held by reaching across the top of a table in a relationship charged with emotion.
To a Brit, it might seem strange that men automatically begin a conversation by shaking hands, even if they hardly know one another. This is so deeply embedded in Hungarians that if two men meet three others, they refrain from starting up a conversation until everybody has shaken hands with everybody else. Business meetings can be very disrupted by any latecomers, who are under obligation to walk around the room and extend a hand to all those present. Unlike the Germans and the British, Hungarians often shake hands across a table. Perhaps this is not as strange for a Frenchmen, where even shop owners often reach over the counter to greet a customer.
Handshakes between men are often strong, but the other hand is very rarely used to cover the linked hands. Women customarily do not shake hands. When introduced to each other, women naturally do shake hands with each other, but they refrain from doing so when parting or meeting for the second time. Dynamic, young, often “single” business women do tend to stress their independence by shaking hands with women as well, according to the German fashion. Instead of shaking hands, women often kiss each other on the cheeks. Men exchange similar kisses as well on rare occasions, but this is generally true only for close friends and relatives. When exchanging kisses, Hungarians tilt their heads to the right, thus the first kiss is received on the left cheek and the second is placed on the right cheek.
Shaking hands at a right angle across a desk should be avoided, as it can be understood as being demeaning and suggestive of a strong sense of superiority. If a Hungarian leading businessman were to great a guest in this manner, he or she should strive to stand next to the desk to reduce the right angle. If someone shakes your hand for a long time, do not lose eye contact and maintain your grip with your thumb while extending the other fingers.
The order of shaking hands: the man offers his greeting, then woman extends her hand and answers. It might seem slightly unusual for businessmen from North America that the receiving host extends a hand first regardless of whether either party is man or woman. The grasped hand should be shaken twice and the other hand should not be used to touch the business partner (this is especially true for businessmen arriving from Italy and other Latin countries).
If you are waiting for the other party to extend a hand, avert your eyes from the eye contact and glance quickly at your partner’s hands, then resume eye contact. This eye contact is generally effective for signifying that you are waiting to shake hands. If not, extend your hand.
A hand extended for a shake must be accepted; rejecting it is as offensive as anywhere else on Earth.
Kissing a woman’s hand has not totally gone out of fashion in Hungary. This custom originates from the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, when it was quite widespread. Today it is not considered at all to be mandatory, and women in the business sector generally do not know how to react or what to do with such a gesture. We suggest that even Polish or Austrian gentlemen should refrain from greeting women by kissing her hand – try to avoid it! However, elderly women and wives of prominent personalities “deserve” a kiss on the hand. It is important to note that if a woman has been greeted by a hand kiss in a closed circle, then all who greet her should follow suit. Women generally extend their hand to shake hands. If a woman’s hand is extended to a man, the hand should not be lifted too high; the hand should rather be lifted only lightly, and the man should bow over it. A kiss made with a smacking sound should be avoided. However, the gentleman should definitely avert his gaze downwards for that second (as this gesture is a sign of respect in Europe). We would like to reassure our British guests that Hungarian women do not expect their hands to be kissed! It could bring foreign women living in Hungary into an uncomfortable situation as well, since many Hungarian men feel that he is expected to kiss his partner’s hand. If he were to lift the woman’s hand or arm too high, we suggest that the woman avoid eye contact and look at him for those few moments.
Gestures made with the hands are generally international. The sign made by forming an O with the thumb and index finger, which has a different meaning in various countries, means “prima” or “very good” in Hungary. Hungarians are perhaps the only nation in the world to count by starting off number one on the thumb of the right hand by extending the finger respective of the number from a perpendicularly raised fist. Thus, number 1 is represented by extending a thumb from a fist, number 2 is shown by extending a thumb and index finger, and the number 7 is represented by extending all the fingers on the right hand and the thumb and index finger on the left hand. The number 2 is sometimes shown by the English “V” sign (raising the index and middle finger with the palm facing outwards). Hungarians do not attribute meaning to the sign made by extending the index and middle finger with the palm facing inwards and which is so offensive to Italians, as it means to make a cuckold of the person you are showing it to. So do not be offended if your Hungarian partner is merely making the sign for the number 2.
It should be noted that extending the middle finger from an enclosed fist is considered to be obscene just as in other countries.
Moving a hand horizontally with the palm facing downwards means “end” or “enough.” If Hungarians wish to call somebody over (for example, a waiter), they beckon by extending and bending the index finger from a closed fist, with the palm facing upwards, which has a different, obscene meaning among many nations, such as North America, France, etc.
As a result of American influence, Hungarians who are not dressed in a suit or dress pants sit with their legs wide apart and with arms spread wide. In European cultures, this is considered conspicuous and distasteful. Some young Hungarian women (or women young at heart) have a tendency to shake the leg crossed over the other leg and move their foot in up and down motions. As an international nonverbal sign, this signifies that she is at home in her role of playing the “woman” and would like to conquer her gentleman parner. If you are given this sign, gentlemen, start wooing, but hold back with the serious conclusion of business, and under no conditions use long words.
Regarding fashion, Hungarians follow current trends. Expensive and high quality suits, dresses, and accessories have become available for the newly developed economic and business elite.
3. Similarities and differences in verbal communication
Holding meetings in a foreign language is not such a great difficulty, but a surprisingly small number of people you meet on the street speak either English or German. It is not even worthwhile attempting other languages. If you wish to learn a few words or sentences out of courteousness, make sure you use the formal you (“maga”). The use of the informal address is a sign of directness and can only be offered to be used by the older party in the case of relations of the same gender and only by the woman in a mixed gender relationship. As everywhere else in the world, Hungarians highly value if a foreigner attempts to learn some words or a sentence or two in their own language. Unfortunately, less classy circles are "cute" enough to teach sentences to unsuspecting and sincere foreigners that can easily be mistaken for a vulgarity if a long vowel is not given adequate stress.
German visitors should be especially careful regarding the form of address, as in Hungary everybody is to be given the title of rank + sir (úr) or rank + madam (asszony), and the rank of Excellency is only to be applied to ambassadors or the proper dignities of the Church. Strangers should be addressed with the titles of Sir (“uram”), Madam (“asszonyom”), or Miss (“kisasszony”). As opposed to many other languages, women can be addressed by their first names, but the formal you must be used. To address a man by his first name, the informal form of address has to be merited and it signifies a close, friendly relationship. This is why some pompous Hungarian businessmen sometimes refer to certain famous politicians and celebrities by their first names, but do not let this fool you!
When introducing themselves, Hungarians say their last name first and their given name second, as that is the order in the Hungarian language. However, when meeting foreign guests, Hungarian businessmen with a good routine do sometimes place their last name first. The pronounced and the written version are very similar, meaning that repeating the name or spelling it are only very rarely necessary. We would like to call the attention of those speaking English that spelling should be done slowly, because the names of the letters are different in the Hungarian ABC. If you meet a woman, she often introduces herself with her husband’s name and by attaching the “–né” suffix. In such cases, it is not considered to be impolite to immediately ask her how she wishes to be called, since the form that is often used in other languages as “Frau Schmidt” or “Mrs. Jones” is “Kovácsné” in Hungarian, which is indelicate and condescending.
When introducing ourselves, we should exchange business cards, which makes the use of names a lot easier. As opposed to the custom in North America, we look at the business card and may even ask about the details of certain information and place the card down afterwards. At the first meeting, we can use the business cards we have just received to aid the addressing of the other parties, but it is not courteous to refer to the cards at the second meeting. A doctoral title can be received in Hungary for many universities and not only for having received a law or medical degree, therefore the title of “Dr.” (“dr.”) is often placed before the individual’s name. We would especially like to call the attention of Italians to the fact that this does not necessarily mean that the person should be referred to by the title of “Doctor.” “Doctor” in Hungary is used to refer only to those of the medical profession and sometimes lawyers. However, if someone has included the title of “Prof.” in front of their name, he or she should always be referred to as Professor. Some people have taken to the custom of taking notes on the back of business cards they have just received for reasons of economy, environmental protection, or even negligence or because they are in a rush. This counts as a serious offence, you should much rather use one of your own business cards for such purposes.
It should be take into account when making telephone calls that the majority of secretaries do not speak foreign languages very well, so take care to talk slow. European propriety demands that a ringing telephone must be picked up by the end of the third ring. When picking up the phone, the receiver introduces him or herself. If the person at the other end answers with a “Hallo,” it is considered to be acceptable to ask whether you have reached the telephone of the person you were trying to reach. If you know that the person who has answered is the one you have called, you should offer greetings and introduce yourself.
The obsession of power brought on by the old bureaucratic Prussian system is still alive in Hungarians, therefore gestures that fail to take this into account can be offensive. For example, if you are sitting with someone at their place, and his telephone rings and he answers it, you should leave the room or at least start to rise. If he indicates that it is all right to stay, you should still refrain from looking at him.
One of the worst experiences beginner businessmen generally have concerning Hungarian companies is that the secretary promises that the call will be returned, but it never is. What can we suggest? If someone offers to call you back, leave your number, ask them to repeat the number, and add for example, that “if possible, you would like to be called back by two this afternoon.” If the other party accepts, then we can start enquiring at five minutes past two.
Handling mobile phones is no better than anywhere else in the world. We can agree that truly important and prominent figures do not have phones. They have secretaries. Many Hungarian businessmen leave their phones turned on during meetings and are liable to answer it in the middle of your sentence, leaving you hanging. This can obviously be offensive, so if this occurrence is repeated two or three times, simply ask whether it would be opportune to continue the meeting at some other time. As a meta training, you can even prominently turn your own telephone off when the meeting starts. If you are expecting a very important call, request permission beforehand to leave the telephone on and, if you do receive the call, leave the room or at least turn away while speaking on the phone. But if the Hungarian partner fails to do so, do not be surprised. The use of a headset is compulsory while driving. Although we do occasionally see telephones placed on the table in restaurants while eating, this is not some sort of national custom that should be followed…
Hungarians love talking over the phone and even initiate business over the phone. In order to avoid any arising misunderstandings, it is always best to confirm any details that have been discussed orally by writing them down.
Hungarians, similarly to all other nations, are happy to hear foreign business partners who have attempted to say a word or two in Hungarian. We therefore recommend learning some phrases: “I wish you a good day” (“jónapot kívánok”) is the greeting, “until we meet again (“viszontlátásra”) is the parting greeting, “Thank you” (“köszönöm”), “You are welcome” (“szívesen”), and “excuse me” (“elnézést”).
4. More advice for the protocol of business partners
The majority of Hungarian business meetings take place in the office. Many companies have a separate meeting room set up when they open offices. An invitation to have lunch does not always mean that the host will be paying. Meetings can be long and drawn out; decades of socialism have resulted in a custom of making important things seem long. When agreeing upon the time, it should not be forgotten that the majority of Hungarians generally expect precision. Being late is unacceptable, therefore if anything comes up that hinders you from being on time, make a telephone call to inform your partner as soon as possible before the meeting. This can be difficult especially for those originating from Latin countries. If Hungarians are late, they always blame having too much work to do and having to rush. In contrast to the custom of the Germans, French, and generally the whole European Union, Hungarians fail to stipulate the very useful information of how long the meeting is expected to last when they agree on the time of the meeting. The European method of agreeing on a “from and to” time is spreading, but as yet this is only true for high level political and diplomatic meetings.
Unfortunately, it can happen that you are kept waiting. If you must wait, then do so. Hungarians would be flabbergasted if you were to call and, requesting a new appointment, were to leave.
When discussing the meeting, do not forget to include what language the meeting will be held in, as it is not evident that all the employees of the company will be able to speak any certain world language. The guest may be required to bring the interpreter, so it might be worthwhile to become acquainted with a few interpreters and translators through the embassies when arriving to Hungary. If you are going to a company for the first time, you should find out whether they have parking spaces available, otherwise you will need to run down to the parking machines to pay the parking fees every hour and a half by throwing coins in. If the company cannot provide a parking space, it is easier to take a taxi.
The suggested attire for business meetings is a suit, shirt, and necktie for men, and an outfit for women or a women’s suit with pants if it is cold. Dressing sporty should be avoided – slacks should be kept for occasions that include sports. Business meetings held in a “relaxed” environment are becoming more frequent, but these are not held with an aim at sporting. A coat no tie attire should be worn for such occasions (meaning not sporty and not a sweater or pullover, but a suit jacket, pants, and shirt without a tie, a polo or turtleneck, etc.).
The first question at meetings held in the office is what they can offer the guest. Always ask for something, even if only a glass of mineral water. If the guest does not consume anything, the host will also decline to ask for anything. Hungarians frequently drink coffee, which is a type of strong espresso. Italians and South Americans will enjoy this drink, but it is daunting to all other nationalities. The “long coffee” (“hosszú kávé”), or regular drip coffee, can be requested in some places, but not everywhere.
Always ask for something from among what is being offered. The host will feel discomforted if he has to say no. It is not uncommon for the secretary to run in a panic to the store across the street to shop for some request. Tea is the kind filtered by bags and used internationally. Brits working in Europe know that there is no use asking for milk with the tea, since it is by nature weak and generally lukewarm. Neither coffee nor tea is to be slurped. Do not be surprised if the secretary places an unopened bottle of mineral water with an opener and a glass on the table accompanying the seating arrangements and you are required to open it. North Americans have to get used to the fact that only certain drinks are served with ice, but even those are in quantities different than what they are used to.
Sandwiches or snacks can be offered even during important meetings, but most people are aware that these should only be consumed in bulk during the intermissions of the meeting.
If you were to be offered an alcoholic drink, you can decline it without fear of causing a stir, or simply refer to some stomach troubles or the fact that you are driving. The owners of Ukrainian, Russian, Georgian, and other companies where the consumption of alcohol is taken more lightly should refrain from offering their guests strong liquors, as they might be put into very uncomfortable situations.
Smoking has become quite widespread, but not smoking is becoming a sign of elegance. A law has been passed in Hungary concerning the restriction of smoking in public areas, so only smoke in areas where you see an ashtray. You should ask permission before smoking a cigar in even these places.
If an ashtray has been placed on the table, the host is most likely a smoker. If you are not, sit away from the ashtray or gently push it away from yourself as you sit down. The places designated for smoking by companies are generally unfriendly places, such as the corners of courtyard hallways or stairways, but often smokers must indulge themselves in front of the building. Therefore Hungarian businessmen who smoke would prefer to hold meetings in a café or restaurant.
Business correspondence with Hungarian companies can take place in a foreign language, especially if the company is partially or totally in foreign ownership. Nevertheless, we suggest attaching a Hungarian copy in the case of correspondence with state or other institutions for the sake of courtesy. Special attention must be paid in the letter to providing the correct address and addressing the individual properly. As a result of the old Prussian bureaucracy mentioned above, Hungarians respond very gingerly if their names or titles are misspelled. The general formula recommended for the letter:
Dr. Family Name Given Name “úrnak” (“asszonynak” in the case of women),
The position held at the company
Address: Dear Title “Úr” (Tisztelt Rang Úr) (or “Asszony”)!
The closing: Sincerely, (Üdvözlettel,)
We recommend avoiding the use of extensive and fancy addresses characteristic of Latin languages (“greatly honoured” (“mélyen tisztelt”), “revered” (“nagyrabecsült”), “with the most profound respect” (“legalázatosabb tisztelettel”), etc.).
Special importance is still attributed to seals or stamps; we recommend their use in the case of official letters.
Foreigners expecting to encounter the accepted European Union norms rarely come across the impossible wall that letters are not answered or are only replied to after a long period of time. This can be experienced quite frequently in the case of state owned companies. Letters sent by fax generally should also be mailed in the original. Hungarian legal practice does not always accept photocopied seals and signatures. When corresponding by email, we suggest that you take into account the bureaucratic traditions and attach the letter to the email and only include a sentence in the body of the email stating that you are the sender.
It might seem strange for British, French, German, etc. companies with a serious business background that many Hungarian companies adorn their business paper with the company logo, sometimes even to a degree of making the text illegible. Don’t even take notice.
When you arrive at a meeting held at the office of a Hungarian company, always take off your coat and maybe your jacket. This is true for women, as well. You do not have to shake hands with the secretary, but greet him or her with a very friendly expression – North Americans are the best at this. After the host has extended his hand to shake, he offers you a place to sit. Always wait to see where you will be seated. Never sit on the chair facing the door, as that is the place of the host. If the place you are assigned is part of a couch set, gentlemen should not attempt to spread their arms and rest them on the armrests of the couch and should not put a crossed leg over their knees. This North American “success orientated” position expresses that “I have come to conquer” and can evoke serious antipathy. Women especially should take up a position next to the armrest of the sofa and, supporting your waist, keep your back straight while putting one arm on the armrest. Keeping your back straight is the sign of paying attention all over the world, even if cool and elegant Frenchmen feel they can pay attention while half lying down. If we are offered a position in the chair opposite the host, do not lean forward to seem as if you were trying to talk him into something. Sit calmly in one place and use meta-communication that rather causes the host to lean forward – from this point on, your case has won. These small intricacies are effective in Hungary because meta-communication is not thoroughly discussed in university training, making Hungarians unable to consciously defend themselves against these.
Businesswomen should by all means avoid sitting with legs crossed, which means that sitting on couches is not really comfortable for women.
The most effective venue for a meeting is around a table. Despite the fact that Hungarian businessmen tend to cram the table full of status symbols such as mobile phones, laptops, quality brand suitcases, etc., we should refrain from doing the same. A good effect can be reached with a leather bound notepad and a good pen. I would especially like to call the attention of businesswomen to the fact that it is not polite to place any bags on the table, either during a meeting or in a restaurant.
Hungary has a tradition of offering business gifts. Such occasions can take place in the middle of the year, if the guest is only staying for a short period of time or is just leaving. At the end of the year, in the month of December, you must prepare for the great deluge of giving presents, since Hungarian companies expect to receive gifts in return. This should never be a personal gift such as jewellery or clothing. Of these categories, watches and accessories such as ties, scarves, or shawls are acceptable. A good present would be a leather suitcase, portfolio, desktop set, or even a quality pen, an electronic organiser, or other electronic apparatus used in the office (technological gadgets coupled with a desk clock). Never forget about the secretary of your permanent partners, either (quality brand chocolates, liquor, desktop calendar, silk shawl, umbrella, etc.). The gift does not have to be characteristic of your nationality, since you are staying in Hungary. Gifts of a national nature should be entrusted to your boss, who is only coming to visit for a few days. If the gift is an alcoholic drink, it should be in a gift box.
Before you send a gift to a Hungarian manager working for the state, enquire whether they are allowed to receive gifts in the given institution or not. There is no law governing the presenting of business gifts (whether it is allowed or not, value limits, etc.), but many leaders of Ministries and institutions pass their own rules. The best way to present the gift is to send it. A business card should be attached to the greeting card and the letters p.f.n.a. should be written on it (p.f.n.a. – pour féliciter la nouvelle année= Happy New Year). If you hand over the gift personally, this should take place at the end of a meeting after having stood up from the table. It is not courteous to reach over the table to hand it over. Official gifts do not have to be opened. It is courteous but not compulsory to give a gift in return for received gifts; they do, however, always have to be thanked either verbally or in writing.
Flowers should only be given to the secretary if you wish to thank her for something. A Hungarian businesswoman should only be given flowers on her name day, otherwise she would misinterpret the gesture. Hungarian businesswomen are very keen on being considered people and not women. However, they do expect certain gesture at the bottom of their hearts…
5. Meeting with state leaders
If the approval of the state (local government, ministry, etc.) is inevitably necessary, the meeting should be organized in due time. It is important to become acquainted with a secretary, administrator, or even head administrator. If you meet a minister and he or she promises a meeting, you can only be sure that the meeting will take place if the minister’s employee approaches you to write down the details and asks for a business card. The embassies can be of the greatest help in finding a way to state leaders. Before the meeting takes place, it should be clarified whether you will need to bring an interpreter with you, although the host generally provides for such necessities. Never take too many people, one person taken to accompany you is adequate. Try to find out beforehand how much time you will have and never exceed this time limit. You can come to the point after 2-3 minutes even in such high level meetings. Do not take gifts. If the state official was able to provide assistance, surprise him or her with a thoughtful gift at the end of the year. Never forget to invite any state officials you have met or dealt with to the events you organize. Following changes in government, it is worthwhile finding out whether the man of the previous government should be invited to spend time with his political adversary who is currently filling his post. Once again, we recommend the embassies for ascertaining the nature of political relations.
6. Similarities and differences in formal meals
Although Hungarians have a reputation for hedonistically feasting, businessmen and women are learning to strive toward building connections at formal events linked with meals. Of course it would not be Hungary if the host would not spend days assembling the menu. Although you might fail to be full by the end of the meal, you are sure to find something to your liking whether you are a connoisseur Frenchman or a vegetarian.
The invitation is generally received in time, there is nothing amiss there. The request for replying has to be taken very seriously and it is considered to be discourteous if you fail to notify your host of your intention of participating in time. There is not always an indication as to dress included on the invitation. A general principle is to dress in an official suit or dress for events starting before 7 pm, unless you are invited to a ceremony. A dark suit must be worn to ceremonies and events that commence after 7 pm. There is no need to remind Frenchmen and Germans that the point of wearing a dark suit is the long sleeved white shirt and a tie. Gray, black, or any other colour shirts should not be worn for such occasions. Women do not have to wear long evening gowns for evening events unless specifically requested to do so by the organizers. We would like to call the attention of Israelis to the fact that there are places, ceremonies, and evening events for which participants must dress up and a pullover, cardigan, canvas pants, or chequered blazer are just not enough. At some events, especially large formal occasions, a formal dress can be requested, such as a black tie event (meaning a black dinner jacket, but which does not necessarily have to be accompanied by a waistcoat, cummerbund, or dress shirt; however, the black bowtie is compulsory. At black tie events, women have to wear a long evening gown or a black women’s suit). The terms casual or smart casual mean an elegant official suit or dress.
For those originating from Latin countries, it is worthy of note that at these occasions (except for formal dinners), it is allowed to be a little late, but it might not be worth it. The toast is generally made 15-30 minutes after the commencement of the festivities, and its contents could be important.
There is no true opportunity afforded for long conversations at these dining events and are more suitable for making acquaintances and maintaining relations. The events themselves are generally not overly long: a glass of champagne – 15 - 30 minutes; cocktails – one hour (but at least 20 minutes); standing reception – one and a half to two hours (but at least 40 minutes); formal meal – two and a half to three hours (which must be sat through). Buffet dinners vary in length according to the means of the occasion. For example, if the host holds it in conjunction with a ball, it could last until morning.
Except for dining occasions, guests can take French leave, meaning there is no need to take leave of the host with any great ceremonies. The entrance and exit are located in different places at many receptions precisely for this purpose. Formal lunches and dinners are concluded in the European fashion of the host finishing off by wishing the guests’ health. At this time, guests are required to stand up and leave the table. Hungarians have not really accepted this custom, as welcoming guests means that the guests should be the ones to bid farewell, and it is courteous to ask them to stay once as well. Do not give in, if you have decided to leave, then do so. When leaving, always wait for the coffee to be served. However, this also means that if coffee is served at such receptions, the guests have to leave following it.
From among the standing receptions, cocktails are designed for guests to consume only those snacks that are carried by the waiters, and those are to be taken one by one. The time should rather be spent by making new acquaintances, rekindling old relationships, and building connections. Snacks that are held together with a toothpick should be picked up off the tray by grasping their bottom and the toothpick should be returned to an empty corner of the tray, unless the waiter is also carrying a separate plate especially for such purposes. You should join two people conversing with each other if they not only greet you, but also move their feet to face you and open towards you. People of the Latin nationalities should also refrain from suddenly walking over to their business partner who is engrossed in a conversation and should refrain from making wide gestures with the arms, patting him on the back, or putting an arm around his shoulders.
At standing receptions, you should always wait for the toast before walking over to the buffet table. However, after the toast is finished, there is no need to wait for anybody to personally lead you over. Foreigners living too fast and too ceremoniously can also learn from these two sentences. If there is one, it is courteous to stand at the end of the line at the buffet table in Hungary as well. Guests at standing receptions should endeavour to eat everything with a fork while standing, even if the silverware is placed on the buffet table in pairs. Dirty plates and glasses should not be placed on the buffet table laden with food but on the service tables located around the perimeters of the room. These too have tablecloths, as well as vases with flowers or napkins. Nevertheless, they should not be made use of by standing next to them and attempting to eat at waist level with a fork and knife. Many Hungarians do not know this, but we should not follow their suit. If you are having trouble with what to do with your plate after you have finished eating, look for a waiter, but do not leave it on a radiator or the edge of a window – even Hungarians do not consider this to be European.
At buffet dinners, you should walk over to your table with your welcome drink and introduce yourself to those already seated. Only people familiar with each other eat at the same table. This good Hungarian, Austrian, southern German custom is known in many regions, but not globally. For any introverted types, it might seem strange to have to sit with people strangers to himself; in this case, try to relax and make use of the occasion to strengthen business relationships. At buffet dinners, food should be taken from the buffet table following the message block (talks, programme, etc.) according to prominence. The main course should be consumed after returning to your seat, but afterwards you are free to take a seat at other tables and this is when dancing generally starts at balls, etc.
Invitations to formal lunches and dinners are always given verbally over the phone, since, once you have given your word, you have to show up at such occasions. The place reserved for you with your name cannot be left empty. You must indicate during the call whether you have any dining preferences (vegetarian, kosher, etc.). If you forget to do so, you cannot request anything else in the restaurant except for what has been included in the menu compiled by the host. It is not courteous to be late from a lunch or dinner, since the guests have to wait for each other and can only sit down to the table together. This time, called the aperitif, should be made use for communication since after being seated at your table, you will only be able to converse with your immediate neighbours or, if the table does not happen to be too wide, with those sitting across from you. We have to stress for those Americans who live here that the aperitif is not a separate reception, but is an integral part of the meal and takes place in the same place. The two cannot be handled separately in Hungary. For those of Prussian decent living in Hungary, we recommend doing away with the custom of only speaking with those sitting to the right of you at the table.
You take your seat at the table when invited to do so by your host, and when sitting down, cloth napkins are to be placed in your lap if they are provided. Italians living in Hungary have come to know that cloth napkins do not have to be tucked into the collar, as spaghetti and other foods that would leave a tomato stain on your clothing are not part of Hungarian gastronomy – at least not at formal meals. For those who do not consume alcohol at all, it is important to note that waiters serve everyone the first glass of white wine at formal meals; this has to be lifted after the toast and then placed on the table .In such cases, if you fail to even taste it, the waiter will only offer you mineral water, soft drinks, and juices. To ease the minds of those who follow kosher regulations, it is possible to request kosher meals in non-kosher restaurants all over Budapest, but the request has to be made known to the host in time. Restaurants that care about their image and aim at providing quality services will have a kosher meal brought from a restaurant meeting the kosher regulations (Hotel King).
Receptions and dinners are very seldom held in private homes in Hungarian business circles. If however you are invited to such, then the wife of the host should be sent flowers a couple hours before the start of the programme along with a business card labelled a.c. (avec compliment – with compliments). Whoever receives such flowers is to place them in a vase in a conspicuous place, the business card is to be placed on the bouquet, and gratitude has to be expressed when the respective guest arrives. This might seem odd to women with an Anglo Saxon background, but this gesture should be made, as Hungarians are happy to give, but liked being thanked for it.
You should always be prepared in both mind and spirit for lunches or dinners held in a private home. There you will have a chance to encounter traditional Hungarian hospitality, especially in the countryside. The wife of the host should always be presented with flowers, the children should be given chocolate, and a bottle of an alcoholic drink should await the host. Meals are long and, to speak lightly, can hardly be considered light. The woman of the house will be sure to offer seconds. You have to have seconds at least once, otherwise the woman of the house will be chagrined that her cooking was inedible.
Hungarian cuisine is tasty and spicy. Luckily fat is no longer as generally used in cooking and the pepper is not as hot. If you wish, rings of strong peppers can be had from a separate small plate. Be careful with the pepper that is creamy, as it is also very spicy and hot. It is generally courteous to leave 2 hours at latest after the lunch or dinner held in the home of the host.
Sándor Márai: About the forms
And one must adhere to forms until the very last moment. While eating and while conversing. In bed and at the table. And when human coexistence is getting gradually deprived of all forms, you should adhere to the established, ultimate and crystallised form of greeting, bowing, shaking hands, expressing feelings and forming opinions. In an age when everyone demands that you put on a uniform you just be consistent in wearing a jacket and if you happen to be invited to a good company for the evening, you go wearing black. Not for the sake of clothing, but for the sake of form. Education will not only be saved by books. Education will be rescued by small everyday reflexes. When an era approaches you with fists held high, you should politely return the greeting, calmly, with manner, lifting your hat.
You cannot do otherwise.
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