Hungary: How to say “Hello”

Photo by Gabó
Photo by Gabó

Saying hello and goodbye is not an easy business to learn in Hungary. Doing so in a way that will be judged a cultural success depends on how well you know the person you’re greeting, how old they are, and their gender!

In families, among work colleagues and friends, and with children, use szia (sounds like see ya.) With everyone else, use jó napot kivánok (translation: I wish you a good day.)

If you are a man you will be safe using csókolom (chokolom), which means literally “I kiss your hand” with any woman you don’t know over the age of 17. Before the Second World War you would actually kiss her hand, and even click your heels too. Women can only use csókolom with rather doddering old people. Ladies, be careful!

When saying goodbye you can bizarrely re-use szia and csókolom, or– even more strange– say hello (to friends only). On the telephone, however, hallo means hello. A formal goodbye in person is viszontlátásra (which means “until I see you again”), but on the telephone you use viszonthallásra (“until I hear you again.”)

Finally, get the number, direction, and recipient of your kisses right. Women kiss women and men kiss women upon greeting and when saying goodbye. Plant two kisses gently on the cheeks, moving from left to right.

About the author

Melanie lives in Budapest with her Hungarian husband and two daughters, Rose and Thea. She teaches English and Psychology in an International School in the city and is studying for a Masters Degree in Children's Literature.
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