Doing Business in Hungary: Cultural Background

Although this is not a comprehensive guide to doing business in Hungary the below cross cultural knowledge can help you to understand how business gets done in Hungary.

Although Hungarians are transactional and do not require long-standing personal relationships in order to conduct business, being introduced by someone they know and trust can often help. Prior to doing business in Hungary you will need the help of a local representative. This individual can help approach businesses, make appointments, act as an interpreter and be a decent source of cross cultural knowledge.

Once you have built some contacts you need to invest time in strengthening relationships. Socializing is an important part of the relationship building process. Hungarians prefer face-to-face meetings rather than more impersonal vehicles of communication such as letters. Hungarians are emotive speakers who say what they think and expect you to do the same. Hungarians often use stories, anecdotes, and jokes to prove their points.

Appointments are necessary and should be made in advance in writing. It is often difficult to schedule meetings on Friday afternoon or from mid July to mid August. Also avoid scheduling meetings from mid December to mid January. Punctuality for all social situations is taken seriously. If you expect to be delayed, telephone immediately and offer an explanation. It is considered extremely rude to cancel a meeting at the last minute and could ruin your business relationship.

Hungarians like to consider every aspect of a deal and will therefore spend more time negotiating and reviewing things before making a decision.  Details are vital so Hungarians will often require substantial amounts of information before arriving at a conclusion.  In negotiations, Hungarians do not hesitate to interrupt, argue or criticise if they feel it is needed. Arguments and debates are generally considered constructive ways of bringing about new ideas.

Most Hungarians conduct business in either German or English.  Foreigners are not expected to speak the local language as Hungarian is considered one of the most difficult languages to learn.  Avoid confrontational behaviour or high-pressure sales tactics. Bring plenty of business cards and present them to all you meet.

Traditional working hours are 9:00 am to 5.00 pm, Monday to Friday.  However, Hungarians will usually work overtime and often without a lunch break. Deadlines are an important part of Hungarian business culture.  Hungarians are expected to work overtime to meet a deadline and expect their business partners to do the same.

Hungarians prefer to keep their private and professional life separate. Despite initially being quite reserved, once Hungarians develop business relationships these are usually genuine and last forever.

If invited to a Hungarian’s home for a meal, bring a box of good chocolates, flowers or Western liquor. Do not bring wine as the Hungarians are proud of the wines they produce. An empty glass is immediately refilled so if you do not want more to drink, leave your glass ½ full. Hungarians never clink beer glasses, a tradition dating to the 1849 execution of Hungarian patriots when Habsburg officers clinked their glasses at each gunshot. If invited to a party or other large gathering, arrive no more than 30 minutes later than invited.

Author: Tamás Bajor, Vienna Consult Kft., www.viennaconsult.hu