BUDAPESTI GAZDASÁGI FŐISKOLA
KÜLKERESKEDELMI FŐISKOLAI KAR
GAZDASÁGDIPLOMÁCIA ÉS NEMZETKÖZI MENEDZSMENT
TOLMÁCS ÉS SZAKFORDÍTÓ szakirány
COMMON NATIONAL STEREOTYPES
AND THEIR IMPACT ON HUNGARY’S
Készítette: Várnai Zsanett
The Existence of Stereotypes
(or Reading a Book by the Cover)
1. The Birth of Stereotypes
2. Influence of Social Groups on Individual Attitudes
3. Persistence of Stereotypes (Classification)
Common National Stereotypes
5. The Responsibility of the Media
in Forming Public Opinion
The Impact of National Stereotypes
1. Self-Stereotypes of the Hungarians
2. Cultural Differences in Hungary
The Situation of the Jews in Hungary
The Roma or Gipsy Communities in Hungary
3. Hungarians with the Eyes of Foreigners
(Evaluation of Personal Survey)
III. The Pros and Cons of Stereotypes
in the Business Encounter and Trade
Relations of Hungary
Everybody knows something about stereotypes, since it has become a rather popular
and often used term for the past decades. We know that a stereotype is a kind of
classification, born in our minds to “help” us make distinctions. We are aware that they
should not and also cannot be used to refer to each and every person included in a
certain group of people in question. We even have the tendency to believe that we
ourselves are different and restrain from generalizations. However – and unfortunately we do apply them because stereotypes somehow provide us with „the easy guideline” to
follow when having to make a distinctions.
Think of the evergreen Hungarian jokes labelling blonde women naive and not too
intellectual, and actually the very same preconceptions refer to policemen in Hungary in
terms of joking. And most of the times we do laugh at these because we find them
funny without hardly ever considering them being harmful, or even destructive. In
everyday life we do not seem to pay much attention as long as it is not us who are
labelled in a negative way,.
This phenomenon is a lot more dangerous at an international level. National stereotypes
are very hard, if not impossible, to overcome in the cross-cultural encounter. They seem
to label a much wider range of people according to where they come from. It is certain
that many people have found themselves judged in a negative (or more rarely positive)
way because of their nationalities. The question is if anything can be done to stop
In my thesis I am going to reveal several reasons why and how stereotypes (either
positive or negative) work psychologically and in practice. How they emerge and if they
have any truth or are completely false, and also how they can be eliminated, if at all. I
am going to describe the main characteristics and significance of stereotypes from
To understand the impact of preconceptions and generalizations I will also look into the
problem of the two most significant minorities in Hungary, namely the situation of the
Jews, and also that of the Roma and Gipsy communities, as ethnic minorities. I am also
going to examine the resonsibility of the media in this issue.
Furthermore, I am going to show through examples how stereotypes concerning us,
Hungarians can effect the way we are regarded in general or at an international level,
the way they can influence our cross-cultural relations and business partnerships, and
will give examples to illustrate how we ourselves may be responsible for being judged
the way we are.
In the last chapter I am going to examine what impacts preconceptions and stereotypes
have on Hungarian trade relations with foreigners. These personal observations will
mainly be based on the experience gained at my place of training at a domestic
I made a small survey among foreign business partners and personal
acquaintances who willingly took part in the poll. After evaluating the replies received
in the survey, the results revealed many hidden preconceptions about us, that we may
not have been aware of earlier. Finally, I am going to show the details of the research
and draw the consequences.
THE EXISTENCE OF STEREOTYPES
(OR READING A BOOK BY THE COVER)
"A stereotype is a preconceived and oversimplified idea of the characteristics which
typify a person, situation, etc.; an attitude based on such a preconception. Also, a
person who appears to conform closely to the idea of a type."1
The expression „stereotype” has become quite an often-used term in the past decades.
When we think that a statement is being a cliché, and want to argue our adverse point,
we usually say that ”Oh, that’s just a common stereotype, you know”. However, we
may not be completely aware where these stereotypes come from and how backward,
persistent and therefore harmful they are.
In this chapter I would like to put the emphasis on the development of stereotypes: what
factors there are to influence their evolution, how long they can stay afloat and into
what dangerous dimensions they can accelerate when seeded in a receptively fertile soil.
1. The Birth of Stereotypes
The term “stereotype” originally referred to a stamp used in the printing industry to
make multiple copies from one single block. The first one to adopt this notion, to
describe the way society categorized people, was social psychologist Walter Lippmann
in 1922, in his book on media and democracy, Public Opinion. He described the term as
“the picture (of the world) that a person has in his/her head”2. He was convinced that as
a picture it is definite, and reduces the world to simple characteristics which are
represented as permanent by nature.
from the Oxford English Dictionary
Walter Lippmann: Public Opinion
Gordon Allport3, another social psychologist, illustrates stereotype as a conviction that
is associated with a category. This means that a stereotype is a function to justify our
actions in relation to a specific category, i.e. stereotypes become inner representations
of the world around us.
A stereotype, by another definition4, is a tool we use to complete or recreate our
memories. It is a set of assumptions characterising a group of people created on the
grounds of an individual’s personality or distinctive physical features. Everybody has a
picture of the typical German (who is intelligent, extremely meticulous and sober) or
the typical Italian (who on the other hand has great artistic skills, is very carefree and
Experiments5 proved that stereotypes can have an adversely related effect on human
When we listen to somebody giving a somewhat neutral description of a person, and
later get to know that the person in question belongs to a certain group, we are likely to
increase the adaptation of characteristics of the group’s stereotype on the person and
reduce the importance of the description of the individual we were given previously.
Stereotypes are “patterns” providing a mental representation of groups and classes of
people (see the example of the typical German or Italian described above), objects
(what a table has to look like), events (for example an illustrous and highly secured
coronation ceremony) or situations (how to drive a car). These patterns actually serve as
an easy guideline to follow for the human brain.
Thinking and perceiving in patterns allow us to filter, arrange and
economically the huge amount of information we are liable to day by day. Instead of
perceiving and remembering every small detail of a new person or event, we only tend
to recall it just like another pattern we are already familiar with, and besides we may
record those features which are different from the pattern. On one hand “economical
cognition” comes at a price: namely, our assumptions of persons, objects and events
Gordon W. Allport: Az előítélet
Szabó István: Bevezetés a szociálpszichológiába
Snyder and Uranowitz, 1978; Belezza and Bower, 1981
may become distorted in case they do not fit perfectly into that certain framework of
patterns we have created in our minds.
On the other hand, stereotyping is such a natural and common human function that
occasionally it functions in a useful way. For one thing, it is sometimes worthwile to
create classifications of individuals.
The term "freshman" on college or university campuses brings a well-known image of a
newcomer to our mind who is not familiar with the overall life of the campus.
(Obviously many newcomers do not fit this image). Knowing this, professors and
administrators pay more attention to these students in order to facilitate their adatptation
on the campus.
Preconceptions and stereotypes are not only created by groups or categories. They
themselves can create social categories, for example: what is normal and what is
abnormal, who we are and who they are, and who the others are in relation to us. Such
generalizations reduce, naturalize and tighten discrepancies, they block alternative ways
to think about a conception or a category.
The term "the others" basically refers to anyone who is regarded as different from the
person we are, which means that the term “the others” has an impact on the
development of a person’s identity. By limiting ourselves towards other people, a
feeling of what is normal and where one belongs in the world is being created.
We have seen how easy it is to generalize and create stereotypes and preconceptions.
Nevertheless we do not generate them deliberately and by ourselves, we are given a
“helping hand” by our families and the wider community we are raised in. That is what
I am going to explain in the following section.
2. The Influence of Social Groups on Individual Attitudes
"It seems likely that” .....”if you dont even know what the people you live among are
like, it isnt likely that your stereotypes [of other groups] are going to be correct"
The social constructs of national stereotypes emerge from the historical experiences of
people, their mythology, literature, policy, and social values of their communities.
Unfortunately the community is often regarded to carry a fundamental law of nature and
Human behaviour is the interaction of personal features and environment. An
individual’s behaviour and attitude is continuously formed and changed by real or
imaginary impressions of other persons or group of people. In social psychology this
phenomenon is called conformity. Most people actually believe that - opposed to
others - they do make endeavours to see people the way they are, while everybody else
(but them) has the tendency to be motivated in order to win other persons’ good-will
A research7 has shown that the more private and colloquial the atmosphere is within a
group the less strong conformity is. This means that individuals feel more free to speak
their minds in front of people they know well, believe to know well or if they know that
at least most of the members within that group would share their personal opinions. On
the other hand within a group of people they do not know at all or that they think would
disagree, conformity is very strong. People do not bother to explain a different point of
view of theirs even if they do not agree with other members of the group, because – as
described above – they are likely to join the majority.
Problems occur when people cannot make their own decisions because they do not
know about the thing in question, and thus decide to agree with other members of the
group. That is again another way stereotypes may emerge: people start to believe what
“the others” (naturally in an aspirational group) tell them to think, even though they do
Elliot Aronson: A társas lény
Solomon Asch: Opinions and Social Pressure (Scientific American, 1955/5)
not have the faintest idea. When someone is pressed to act according to other people’s
patterns in a situation he or she has not found himself or herself before, this person will
probably copy this pattern of behaviour in similar situations in the future, even if the
original pattern or framework is not represented by other members of the group. This
can only happen, though, until a highly respected person describes him or her an
opposite point of view.
As I already referred to it in the previous chapter, delimitations emerge between "we"
and "them" or “the others” in most areas of our lives: there is limitation between our
own family and other families, the own football team and others, the own profession
and others, and so on.. People can socially relate a lot more to those people who share
the same values, interest, education, background, who are more or less from the same
class, but they are more likely to share the views of people or groups they aspire to be
part of. These persons or groups can become a very important source of information,
and people might even show conformity to this person or group when describing their
own feelings, i.e. giving out the most personal and most intimate emotions. Briefly
stating, the influence of other persons or groups – whether they be deliberate or
unintentional – can produce a significant effect on individuals’ behaviour, and thereby
may have undesirable consequences on the whole society.
There are three stages of social influence to distinguish8:
Submission is the very first level. This may not require much attention regarding
stereotypes, because in this case an individual only submits his or her pattern of
behaviour to the other person’s or group’s framework when being threatened or being
remunerated by something. Submission therefore can only be perceived while the
potential sanction or reward is in sight.
Identification is the next stage, where the individual acts according to the patterns of
another group because he or she aspires to be like them, or to be a member of the group
in question. It is somewhat similar to submission in a way that the individual’s given
pattern of behaviour does not arise from an intrinsic pursuit or need. On the contrary,
Elliot Aronson: A társas lény
he or she behaves that way in order to create a relation with the aspirational group or
person in which his or her self definition is ultimately positive. However, the individual
in this case cannot be considered submitted. The explanation to this is that he or she is
likely to believe in the attitude and values of other persons or groups he or she desires to
become alike - even though not for a prolonged period of time – and not because he or
she is subject to any kind of threat or remuneration, opposed to the case of submission.
Internalization, as a reaction to a group’s influence is the most persistent stage of
impact, roots in the individual’s general pursuit for the truth. At this level adopting the
other’s framework of attitude and behaviour means automatic self-remuneration for the
individual. If we judge somebody reliable, competent and trustworthy, we will accept
his or her views and adopt them as our own views and values.
The main component of internalization is therefore trustworthiness. If we read
something from a trustworthy – and most probably competent – person, we are likely to
give way to his/her influence, because we fully believe it. Once we have adopted these
views, they become ultimately independent from their source(s) and develop to be
extremely persistent against potential changes.
When it comes to an individual changing his/her mind, power is considered to be the
most important factor in case of submission. On the other, hand the identification-based
influence can be terminated instinctively by the individual’s aim or desire for the truth.
If someone has adopted a view during the period of identification, and afterwards
happens to meet a person who is thought to be relaible and competent by the individual
and wants to persuade him/her about a different point of view, he or she may change
his/her mind because this person may have greater ifluence on the individual.
The most important feature of identification is therefore the magnetism of the
aspirational person or group. By identifying himself with the aspirational person, he
unconsciously assimilates the views and values of the model. Nevertheless, we are
likely to refuse the views and values of those who we do not like and are excluded from
our aspirational group.
3. The Persistence of Stereotypes
“...to think that something such as national stereotypes, that have endured for so long,
will somehow be washed away”...”is wishful thinking. They draw from a deep well of
tribalism, nationalism and community.”
The most obvious aspects in formulating categories are physical features (like physique,
colour of skin, genders), the more complex aspects are the schemes of values and
attitude represented by a group which are difficult to define.
Stereotypes on groups, classes, nations were examined by many researchers (Brown,
1965; Campbell, 1967; Peabody, 1985). They all found that groups of people may have
some features in common, but at the same time idividuals are different. Stereotypes
about a group occur because experience accumulated from the past are stored in the
collective memory. This collective knowledge has an effect on the views a group has
about another. Stereotypes are therefore parts of the cultural heritage transmitted by the
Psychology states that a five-year-old can be aware of being part of a group (i.e. in the
family, nursery, etc.) Children at the age of five can sense ethnic identity, though they
do not understand it. They only become aware of it at the age of 9-10. This means that
the first 10 years are of crucial importance in the formulation of a young person’s
scheme of values which are normally seen and learnt from the parents. According to
social psychologist Julian Rotter, attitude is formed in children by the way they are
brought up. It is a pattern learnt in the course of socialization.
In society the lack of knowledge of other cultures can also cause an individual to rely on
stereotypes when dealing with, or formulating opinions about other races. This can
accelerate into discriminatory behaviour when the individual finds himself/herself in a
situation where he or she has to rely on stereotypes. There are several possible reasons
why national stereotypes are not trustworthy. One is that some stereotypes might have
been accurate once, but are outdated. A second possibility is that stereotypes are born
out of conflicts, with the victors imposing stereotypes. Yet another possibility is that
national stereotypes have some truth — like how much people gesture or how closely
they stand to speak to each other — but do not extend to individual personalities.
Hunyady György: Sztereotípiák a változó közgondolkodásban.
A great deal of psychological researches have shown that people tend to set aside
information that doesnt fit with what they expect. For the most part, when we encounter
people who contradict a stereotype, we have the tendency to perceive them as unique
individuals rather than representatives of their national or cultural group.
Stereotypes can cause a great deal of harm. Different groups can use negative
stereotypes to discriminate against one another. Even though stereotypes mainly refer to
social groups and roles, they are also used for judging people. Historical events and
social changes are very determining for prejudices. For instance, between 1945 and
1948 Hungarian people were asked in a survey10 if saw any chance for the restoration
of democracy in Germany. Because of the strong prejudice about the Germans, the
majority replied that it was impossible for them to imagine. Both history and current
events are full of examples in which unfavorable stereotypes contribute to prejudice,
discrimination, persecution or even genocide.
History is filled with tragic examples of this, such as the Holocaust and the roundup of
Japanese-Americans during World War II. For example, in postcolonial racial
ideologies the term "the others" legitimated the colonial powers’ right to occupy land,
turn people into slaves and steal from the inhabitants. By creating an image of the others
as barbarians and uncivilized animals - as a contrast to the civilized and highly
developed Europeans - the native people of the colonized areas were used as slaves,
were suppressed and killed.
This phenomenon can be psychologically explained by the fact that in this case native
people were deprived of their human characteristics, i.e. dehumanized by those who
considered their own culture being superior to theirs, or actually, that of anyone else.
National sentiment may blossom unexpectedly and powerfully in connection with
particular rituals or particular moments in history, only to vanish from view when the
initial impulse vanishes.
National stereotypes can be damaging for another reason. Wherever we get these
stereotypes from, once we have them we are biased in the way we evaluate our
experiences. Canadians, for instance, are stereotyped to be ambiguous, and actually they
also perceive themselves as not being assertive. So if you meet a very assertive
Magyar Közvéleménykutató Szolgálat, 1945-1948
Canadian, you say Oh, hes an exception, and you simply ignore any information that
contradicts that stereotype. Stereotypes do not only have an impact on our perceptions
and conclusions, but also influence our social behaviour and interactions. This fact also
contributes to their persistence, because stereotypes somehow force us to show an
attitude that fulfills our expectations towards stereotyped people. Our stereotypes can
therefore be regarded self-supporting and self-fulfilling11.
All significant cultural beliefs and values - characteristics reflected in public opinion are expressed through the use of stereotypes. There are negative stereotypes and also
positive ones, so-called countertypes in our culture and they reflect the way society
thinks about different people. A negative stereotype is obviously damaging, but
countertypes can be disadvantageous as well, because we might overestimate the merits
of a person who is being positively stereotyped (countertyped), and this relationship
then may end in our disappointment.
However, negative stereotypes are more frequently present about many people in
todays society. Most of the stereotypes are not correct and do not give a complete view
of a specific group. Americans are assertive, Italians are very passionate, and Germans
are the picture of efficiency. There are popular negative stereotypes about the Irish,
Muslims, Asians African-American and homosexuals.
The following categories are the most persistent ones when classifying stereotypes:
Age: ‘all teenagers love to watch fiction movies, they play truant instead of going to
school, wear leather jackets and love rock n’ roll.’Generalizations regarding age may
have a slice of truth, because some characteristics of age are more or less the same in
every society (e.g. elderly people’s memories are faded).
Sex: ‘females are sensitive and men are aggressive’. There are different stereotypes
commonly found for both genders, male and female, such as women are weak and more
sensitive than men and men are more aggressive and independent. This gender
stereotype is also found in parent comparison. A negative stereotype about fathers is
that they are not close to their children and treat them harshly and strictly and a
Gordon W. Allport: Az előítélet
common stereotype about mothers is that they are generous to their children and have
more understanding of their children.
There are similarly a lot of stereotypes for homosexuals. Gays and lesbians are mostly
avoided by many around the world. A stereotype about homosexuals is that they use
drugs and most of them have AIDS and HIV.
Race: ‘all Asian people are trained in karate and hand fights’. This is a common
stereotype transmitted about slanted-eyed people by the media – since we do not happen
to get in contact with a lot of Asian people. I am going to explain this in details when
describing the responsibility of media in Section 5.
Religion: ‘all Muslims are terrorists’. These days there are various negative stereotypes
about Muslims. Out of a population of 1,2 billion worldwide there are a few hundred
terrorists who declare themselves Muslim. We should be aware that this does not mean
that Islam promotes terrorism. Therefore mixing religion with terrorism produces a
negative stereotype, and no doubt, prejudices play a major role in making these kinds of
Many western movies also show a negative stereotype of Muslims in different villain
characters. Muslim women are not living a life which is perceived only positively in
most of the western world. A very popular stereotype these days about Muslim women
is that they have no voice, no freedom, no life. They are seen as suppressed women
who are physically threatened by their husbands.
However it is strange that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world today, and
the biggest number of converts is made up of Western women, but this issue is never
highlighted. Certainly Western women do not choose Islam because they find it
oppressive but in fact, they are attracted to Islam for the respect and dignity that Islam
demands for women.
Country / Ethnic Groups: ‘the Irish drink and fight a lot’. Well, this is something that
the Irish themselves might as well admit. They tend to believe that they are „the world’s
best at it, and proud of it, too.”12 However, according to statistics, Ireland ranked as
Gerry McGovern: National stereotypes (22nd March, 1999)
having one of the lowest rate of alcohol consumers in Europe, well below that of the
Netherlands, Spain and the UK for example. I may not need to explain that noone has
the “drinking kind of” stereotype of these latter nations. The Irish are also considered to
be a bit simple, but again Ireland is a country which was widely known as the ’Land Of
Saints And Scholars’, producing half of Europe’s books.
Financial Status: ‘all rich are proud, mean and self centered’. This preconception about
the rich is very common, because a social group with poor financial status is likely to
feel suppressed by a welthier class, and their pejorative sentiments will be perpetuated
in the formulation of stereotypes and prejudice13. One could say that the rich people
tend to raise money and donations for charity purposes, but of course the answer would
still be that it is only pittens, a very tiny part of their wealth, because they are mean to
keep the rest for themselves.
Marital status: married people are more responsible than bachelors or singles. The
same preconceptions go with those who are divorced. In a sense this group of people are
labelled at a subliminal, unconsciuos level being unsuccessful. It is a sad fact that
perceiving these assumptions, divorced people themselves are likely to believe that if
they couldn’t make their marriage work, they must be unable to organize their own lives
Profession: ‘businessmen are pushy, assertive and don’t seem to care about anything
but profit’. It is interesting that people tend to create national stereotypes matched with
typical professions. For example we tend to associate the image of a typical American
with that of a businessman or businesswoman in a striped suit or fancy costume.
However capitalism and business life is similarly dominating in the United Kingdom, its
just that there may be some discrepancies when we are to extrapolate this image on
Hunyady György: Sztereotípiák a változó közgondolkodásban
4. Common National Stereotypes
“Heaven is where the police are English, the
cooks are French, the mechanics are German, the
lovers are Italian and everything is organized by
Hell is where the police are German, the cooks
are English, the mechanics are French, the lovers
are Swiss, and everything is organized by the
This funny phrase above might as well seem a good joke to pop up in casual encounter.
Communities, cultures and nations have the unfortunate habit of thinking marvellously
about themselves, and attributing strange things to other communities and cultures.
National and cultural stereotypes play an important role in how people perceive
themselves and others. We could say that it’s all right and we can get on well with it, as
long as they do not become unfairly discriminative. And when they do can we only see
how harmful and backward they are. One may question is if there is a slice of truth in
Already Montesquieu – back in 1748 – believed that northerners, who live in cold
climates, were shy, reserved and morose people, while he thought that southerners on
the other hand were fun-loving, easy-going masters of passionate dances.
As described, people are likely to refer automatically and unconsciously to their own
thought framework, which is tied to national culture14. According to Taylor’s definition,
“A culture is a complex and interrelated set of elements, comprising knowledge, beliefs
and values, arts, law, manners and moral and all kinds of skills and habits acquired by a
human being as a member of a particular society.”
Polyák Ildikó: Cross-Cultural Communication, p. 8, 9.
Generalizations about cultures or nationalities can therefore be a source of identity and
also that of bad jokes, like this one:
“How do you get three Canadians out of a swimming pool? The answer: You ask them. "
- meaning that Canadians are stereotyped being altruistic and they will do what they are
told. Jokes like this may sound provoking, but there is one important point to emphasize:
we must not consider one culture or nation (most preferably ours) superior to any other
and we cannot establish a hierarchy of cultures. This tendency – referred to as cultural
relativism - states that cultures must always be evaluated according to their own values
and not in terms of the values of other cultures or nations. As for the French
anthropologist Claude-Lévi Strauss “Cultural relativism affirms that one culture has no
absolute criteria for judging the activities of another culture as “low” or “noble”.
However, every culture can and should apply such judgment to its own activities,
because its members are actors as well as observers.” 15
A one-year-old study16 compares “typical” personalities of many cultures with the
personalities of real individuals. Researchers gathered nationality information on 3,989
people from 49 cultures using a specially designed survey in which people were asked
to describe traits of their own cultures. It used five criteria that psychologists consider to
be appropriate measures of an individuals personality:
1. extroversion (how outgoing someone is),
2. agreeableness (measuring a person’s cooperativeness and altruism),
3. conscientiousness (whether an individual is disciplined and structured),
neuroticism (how often someone experiences negative emotions like anxiety or
5. open-mindedness (how open they are to new ideas and experiences).The scores
showed - what one otherwise would have expected - that when applied to
individuals within cultures national stereotypes have no scientific validity.
Definition by Claued-Lévi Strauss
Terracciano, A. Science, Oct. 7, 2005; vol 310: pp 96-100. News release, National Institute on Aging.
The study has also shown that most of the times the stereotypes one group has about
another agree with the stereotypes people within that group harbor about themselves.
For example, Germans think of themselves in ways that are similar to what the Italian,
French and British think of Germans. Let’s have a look at some European national
stereotypes a bit more closely in the eyes of Hungarians.
The Germans are in general thought to be somewhat arrogant, dominant and hardworking people especially in the fields of
mechanic industry and finance.17 We
appreciate their smart preciseness. In private life, the people think that all Germans need
is ‘Bier’ and ‘Wurst’, that is beer and sausage, and of course another German with
whom they can dicscuss political issues. There are many negative stereotypes about the
Germans arising from ou history. Unfortunately there are a lot of people in Hungary
who are averse from them. To these people Germans’ behaviour strictly goes without
any manner of restraint, they tend to regard Germans with a great deal of suspicion and
hatred which they are eager to cover. They think that a German is only good when he is
as far as can be. Fortunately most Hungarians have no problems with them in particular,
they rather admire their ability to arrange everything without having to corrupt the redtape.
is a sentimental society which is often misunderstood. They are thought
to play fast and loose because of not speaking their minds. But this is not hypocracy,
the Brits only remain silent because they are so well-mannered that they would do
anything to stay away from hurting others’ feelings. Even when a policeman makes you
stop your car, he would say ‘Sir, I’m afraid, you have exceeded the speed limit.’ We can
admit that this would be very uncommon to expect in Hungary. Also a German
policeman would probably not start beating about the bush, but rather shout at you for
breaking the law. However this politeness of the Brits is not always shown in their
attitude to foreigners. If a foreigner asks for directions, in the worst case he or she may
get told off by an elderly British person for the inappropriate pronounciation or bad
intonation, and might be given a grammar lesson but directions. On the other hand, the
Brits are extremely well-mannered and they are more likely to help willingly.
Stefan Zeidenitz: Miért nem bírjuk a németeket?
Descriptions of national characteristics are from the book of Richard Hill: Mi, európaiak
The French are curious individualists. The most common stereotype about the French
in Hungary is that they are extremely nationalistic. This is probably because once a
Hungarian person had the chance to visit France, he or she most probably tried to
communicate with the French in either English or German, since these are the two
foreign languages that are tought nationwide. Well, the average experience of the
Hungarians was that the French were not very keen on answering in any of the two
languages, but in their own, if at all.
With Paris, the city of love,lights and cuisine, also being one of the most important
centres in the world of fashion, Hungarians have the image that in France every person
is a well-dressed lover or chef. Of course, they are a lot more than that. The typical
French is straight and speaks his mind, his words lack all the hesitation and roundabouts
of the typical English. They are self-confident and have the ability to make their point
very convincingly. After all it was the French to ‘invent’ value added tax, and
afterwards sold their idea to the other members of the European Union. The French are
very thoughtful not to present their feelings too soon, not to take risks or make any
mistakes. French people are great analysts themselves. They usually say ‘All right. This
seems to work in practice. I wonder if it works in theory, as well.’ No miracle that
Woody Allen is popular in France. As E. Russell Eggers said, “had William
Shakespeare been a French man, he probably would have added this one more sentence
to his Hamlet monologue: “Être ou ne pas être. C’est la question. Mais la question est
mal posée.” 19”
The Spanish are equality-supporting egocentrics. They are thought to have a consistent
and uncompromising temper by the Hungarians. The Spanish can be dinamic and
inventive, but usually Hungarians have an image of them having siesta in the shade with
a big sombrero-like hat on their head. This is an exaggeration of course. Now and then
they were described in many untrue ways in the past few centuries mainly by some
well-intentioned French, that’s why Carmen, Don Juan, Don Quijote were given more
or less the same image. The Spanish people are in general very down-to-earth, respect
their roots to a surprising extent, but they are not too sentimental. Women figures are
traditionally strong and energetic.
The Italians are real born aesthetes. They love to live a good life with much love and
imagination, and are satisfied with what they are like. They are sometimes associated
„To be or not to be. That is the question. But the question is badly posed.”
with laziness, but they are by far not so easy as Hungarians would think. They can work
hard, and people should not care much if they claim to be the best lovers ever. After all
it was them to establish the most creative and most democratic culture in WesternEurope. Italians have already proved their talent for arts back in the Renaissance. This
may also contribute to the fact that everywhere else in the world but in Italy the main
point, the most important is the person itself and other things like appearance are
regarded secondary. In Italy the image – paying increased attention to appearence - and
the show surrounding the person is primary to everything else. (It’s not very surprising,
since Milan is also a highly famous city of fashion.) The Italians are therefore really
theatrical, cheekily straightaway and are likely to change their mood and personality
from one minute to the other. However they are not so good at politics, and sometimes
find it hard to identify with their national interests.
The Swiss are down-to-earth pacifists. What most Hungarians know about Switzerland
is that it is famous for the alpine horn, the cuckoo-clock, and for the past few decades
for its pharmaceutical industry, cheese and chocolate. (Although the cuckoo-clock
industry’s base by now has relocated in Germany, the Swiss switched to Swatch.) They
are, if this can be stated, the most envied nation in Europe. They are famous for their
preciseness and pursuit of perfection in every small detail. When Hungarian tourist
groups visit Switzerland, and back in Hungary they give an account to their friends and
families on what they saw there, most probably they will remeber that everything was
extremely clean, neat and tidy, and that they saw the garbage placed next to the fences
for collection only in black plastic bags.
The Swiss have governed their country so effectively and profitably that they can hardly
be found in history books. They believe in pragmatism, comfort and security which they
are willing to share with foreigners – of course it costs, which means that they also have
good business skills. Once a friend of mine, when being asked where he would like to
live, said that he would mostly want to be a Jew in Switzerland. No doubt, it is a good
In Switzerland everything is perfectly organized, the Swiss do not tolerate
untrustworthiness, such as being half a minute late. Their constant efforts for safety
ended up in an everlasting suspicion and mistrust.
The Norse are stubborn outsiders. Being the most Northern nation of Europe,
Norwegians are considered to be extremely obstinate, morose and isolated by the
Hungarians. The Norse don’t like to be in the centre of attention or to show off. The
lack of theatrical skills is matched with innate politeness and soundness. Hungarians are
likely to face the image of them as robust viking conquerours. (One may not be aware
though, that vikings used to have three branches: the Swedes, the Norwegians and the
Danes, no Finnish. However Norwegians claim to have been the original vikings). In
most Europeans Scandinavians seem to have a unified image, but these nations are not
only different, but also demand to be distinguished and tend to discriminate against each
other. They seem to have stereotyped one another: the Swedes believe that Norwegians
are utterly backward and simple, while the Norse say that the Swedish are opportunists
and see others as inferior nations. The Finnish somehow tend to remain in the
background and try to restrain from ‘image-fights’.
The Danes are extroverted venturesome people. The Danes have proved that in the
northern societies everyone is equal. Allegedly when Paris was besieged, the French
commander could hardly come to an agreement with the Danes because he could not
find out the hierarchy among them and therefore could not begin the negotiations. They
were all free men, so according to the French’s hierarchist and elitist perception they
had no leader. They are still considered to be extremely independent human beings.
By their northern neighbours the Danes were characterised as “the Italians of the
North”, and southerners call them “the Jews of the North”, both are quite pejorative. As
I mentioned the four Scandinavian countries tend to have a strange relationship between
one another. The Danes usually deal more with the Norwegians than the Swedes. It is
because during the 400 years of Danish conquest, they got to know them much better.
It is said that if a Norwegian is treated badly in Denmark, it is probably because he is
thought to be a Swede.
Hungarians think that the Danish people are quite happy and cheerful in general. They
adore to have fun and can even laugh at themselves which means that they have an
extremely good sense of humour. If they are reserved in any way, it might be put down
to the lack of confidence originating from the features of their country to be quite a
small one, and because Denmark has a glorious past which is believed to have faded by
now. Their customs, the so-called “hygge” is a cultural phenomenon which is
impossible to export or copy in any way. Homeboys come together and share their
sadness and happiness with each other creating a very special atmosphere around them.
The Danes are respected by the Hungarians in the business field, because they are really
enterprising. Many managers in high positions cease to work for a company after some
time and start their own businesses. Some Europeans believe that the Danes are far too
enterprising, because they are believed to be rather unfair in business. One thing is for
sure, the Danes are famous for not being too keen on paying taxes.
The Greeks are intelligent ad-libbers. Greece is an extremely popular holiday resort for
the Hungarians, most probably because they are always welcomed there. The
Hungarians love Greek people in general. The Greeks are often envied for their good
sense of business, they were the most successful merchants of the ancient
Mediterrenean, their deals used to bring huge profit for them. This has not changed
much since then. From another point of view the Greeks are regarded as often cynical
polihistors with a great deal of charme and generosity and an undeniable talent for
improvising in tricky situations.
This controversy can also be visible for those who visit Greece for their holidays. From
about 11 –12 am. until 6-7 pm. nothing happens, because the locals are having a siesta,
so we may think that they are lazy and calm people. Once we are there we might also
witness their driving protocol, which is even worse than the Hungarian one. If you are
the first car standing at the traffic lights, you can bet on your last euro that not more
than one second after the lights have changed to green, someone itchy behind you shall
start sounding the horn. The personality of an average Greek seems to be very
complicated and sometimes controversial. According to Françoise Huart, “If we wanted
to describe the characteristics of a ‘typical’ Greek, we would have to make a mixture
which includes the opposites of every individual and collective feauture: democracy and
dictatorship, ancient heritage and modern metropilitan chaos, insistent ritualism and
rebelliousness, love and cruelty, suspicion and disinterest, honesty and revenge, egoism
and sense of duty”, “hospitality and xenophobia, the gift of happiness and tragedy”.
Françoise Huart: La vie en Grece Paris, 1978, Solar
5. The Responsibility of the Media in Forming Public Opinion
Stereotypes are created by a lot of things: by which morals we were raised by our
parents and the cultural and social values of our country. But beside all this, it is the
news media that has an undisputable part in creating stereotypes. Literature, the press,
electronic media all have an undisputable role in forming ‘modern’ stereotypes. They
have an enormous power in froming public opinion, this is the reason why I chose to
dedicate a whole section to the impact of the media.
The representatives of the Media, as such, are journalists. They are not only creators of
stereotypes, but are stereotyped themselves as well. The journalist in our minds, when
not chasing tough stories through city streets, smokes one cigarette after another and
drinks coffee as if his life depends on it, writing his article while at the same time
following the news on the television screen. This is , again, a generalization, because
journalists who are the so-called “watchdogs of democracy” are also just humans raised
in a society which is full of stereotypes. And naturally they transmit those images in
All journalists have a "cultural framework", just like all the other people, and as such, it
inevitably predetermines their reports written on "the others". In an ideal case they write
completely objective articles, but the disappointing fact is that the objective article
does not seem to exist. Personal opinion of the author can always be revealed in the
story we read, the political opinion is always noticeable in the angle the journalist
chooses. Journalists are therefore the biggest image-makers: willingly or not, by writing
articles they present "the others" in one certain way.
Not only when dealing with other countries do journalists and editors create stereotypes.
Journalists and the media use popular perceptions of national stereotypes and
journalistic storyboards for relating news from countries other than their own. Also in
their own county, articles can create, often negative, images of people, mostly
foreigners. Hence, it is very often the media that reflects our racial, ethnic, gender and
But the media is more than a recording device. It is also a powerful, unavoidable agent
for change. The media creates and sustains the majoritys accepted social stereotypes of
minority groups. Depending on the groups place in the society, the media presentation
will be positive or negative. The media also plays an important role in the portrayal of a
stereotype, however it doesnt cover the whole phenomenon and shows only a limited
part. It is also typical of human behaviour that people choose to watch only those
television channels or listen to the kind of radio programmes that presents the news in a
way which is similar or acceptable to their tastes. Almost every channel has got a
different audience, especially when it comes to broadcasting political programmes or
Evidence for substantial features of national identities is often presented anecdotally.
One may have have heard something through the grapewine, but the sad fact is that we
are more likely to believe what we see and hear in the media, because we accept those
assumptions without hardly ever questioning them. Most people tend to need the world
summarized for them by those who are well-informed.
According to the book Public Opinion, by Walter Lippmann21 , who was the first –as I
referred to it in the previous chapter- to use the term stereotype in a broader perspective
- 20th century inprovements in the technology of "the manufacturing of consent" lead to
"a revolution" in "the practice of democracy" because they allow elites to control public
opinion about the world and about public interests in that world. Lippmann - who used
to include much of the political elite within the set of those incapable of properly
understanding by themselves the complex "unseen environment" - proposed to have
professionals to collect and analyze data and present the conclusions to the decision
makers. Then decision makers can make their decisions and use the "art of persuasion"
to inform the public about the decisions and the circumstances surrounding them.
There is no doubt that the control of public opinion has always been a powerful tool.
But what happens if those, who are incapable of understanding the world by themselves,
are provided unreliable information. Very often misinformation by the media results in
misinterpretation by the general public. The media is one of the primary translators of
society experiences. And people often look to the media in order to find out what to fear
Walter Lippmann: Public Opinion, 1922
of and what to look forward to. As a result of the media influence we make judgments,
it influences our attitude and the way we interact with people on a daily basis. Images
and portrayals get into people’s minds, and many start believing all of the stereotypes
that they are seeing.
As media “consumers” we are continuously bombarded with images that link poverty
and crime to the minorities for instance, but rarely are we shown representatives of the
majority in the same situation. This built-in bias creates a row of problems as we try to
solve our national welfare and crime. Media stereotypes distort the truth and make it
difficult for the public to figure out how to deal with these important issues.
Researchers22 found that national stereotypes, popularized and perpetuated by the
media, hearsay, history, and jokes, did not accurately reflect the personalities of the
people living in the country, although many people in the nation in question actually
believed them to be true. In the next sections I am going to analyze several examples of
racial and cultural stereotypes in the media.
The increased deregulation of electronic media has resulted in an increased market
orientation of radio and TV. More people watch the same programmes on TV, therefore
they are bombarded with the same stereotypes. The same gameshows are popular in all
countries, especially within a continent. The same soap operas get a high number of
viewers everywhere. This unification seems to have strengthened rather than weakened
national stereotypes. The development of a mass market for TV has trivialised a lot of
Unfortunately the most common stereotypes in the media are unfairly created on
children, genders, and certain ethnic minorities like the Afro-American or Asian
people.The group classified as White can still considered to be lucky. They are one of
the most diverse groups in the world. Whites come from a variety of socio-economic
classes, ancestral ethnic groups, and religious backgrounds. Yet despite this diversity,
whites are in this sense very lucky for being frequently portrayed on television as the
happy and content majority who, along with their families, have achieved or are
supposed to make for the "American dream."
Terracciano, A. Science, Oct. 7, 2005; vol 310: pp 96-100. News release, National Institute on Aging.
But what about other social or ethnic groups and minorities (even though these
minorities may consist of hundreds of thousands or millions of people) mentioned
above? Herewith I would like to refer to stereotypes shown in mainly films and movies.
The Portrayal of Children and Genders
A research23 by an English youth group which supports more positive reporting on
children, showed that articles frequently present kids in a negative way. Based on more
than 400 newspaper cuttings, they found that nearly one third of them portrayed
children as victims. The other image categories were: cute little kids who sell
newspapers (27%), tiny devils (11%), kid geniouses (10%), kids as accessories (8%),
modern kids (7.5%) and brave little angels (5%). According to the study half of the
stereotyping was judged negative.
In the media (films, publicity, TV commercials, advertisements) we are likely to come
across parental stereotypes, too. For instance a negative stereotype about fathers (which
says they are not close to their children and treat them harshly and strictly) and a
common stereotype about mothers (that they are generous to and have more
understanding of their children) is very often shown in movies and dramas.
Gender stereotypes are also shown in cartoons for children. For example a doctor is
usually shown as a male and a nurse as a female. Some 30-40 years ago male cartoon
characters outnumbered female cartoon characters by a rate of almost four to one and
actually, they still do. Male characters are still portrayed as dominating, powerful and
aggressive. Female characters tend not to have any character at all.
A recent research24 has found little change in the gender stereotypes portrayed in
cartoons. Young “minds” spend two to four hours a day watching television
programmes. Researchers videotaped and categorized 118 cartoon characters from a
single episode of each of the following Saturday morning cartoons: The Bugs Bunny &
Tweety Show, Aladdin, Ninja Turtles, The Mask, Spiderman. They found that
characters were rated on sex, prominence, gender stereotyping, aggressive behaviors
and occupational roles.
source: Jack O’Sullivan: Media stereotypes of young people (22nd April, 1998)
Cynthia Spicher, B.A. and Mary Hudak, Ph.D., from Allegheny College
And even though this question is not supposed to be asked here, one may take the fact
into consideration that provided our children are exposed to such agressive behaviour
and serious gender stereotyping in cartoons, which are specially said to be produced for
the young and should carry and introduce basic social values, is it worth to let our sons
and daughters watch them?
Lesbian, gay and bisexual presentation on TV and film is minimal, and often
stereotypical. Lesbians, gays and bisexuals are stereotypically seen as the deserving
victims and spreading agents of AIDS. Representing homosexual relationship in the
media is also usually stereotypical.
The visibility of lesbian, gay and bisexual people from all racial and class backgrounds
needs to be addressed on TV. “Positive" presentations encompass having to prove the
abilities of lesbians, gays and bisexuals. This mainstream exposure is given a white,
middle class gay male tilt. What needs to be more visible is the presentation of more
gay people of color, directing a more ethnically and class diverse "reality”.
The Portrayal of Afro-Americans
African-American characters on television often used to degrade themselves and their
race to play their parts. To get a sense of how some of negative stereotypes got started
in films and television, it is important to go back fifty years, to the birth of the industry.
At that time Blacks were portrayed as nothing more then housekeepers, gardeners, or
farmers. Black women were always portrayed as either maids, or singers. The men were
always portrayed less than intelligent, and just around to be the subject of a joke. In
these early years the way for the future treatment was paved for the African-Americans
in movies and television. The majority of black roles used to be stereotyped killers,
prostitutes, singers, pimps, drug-dealers, baby sitters and clowns. African-Americans
starred in disproportionately more television comedies than dramas. And when they
appeared in dramas they were usually pimps, drug dealers, ghetto dwellers or other
These old stereotypes, such as felons, criminals or cooks, do not seem to exist anymore,
they have changed with time. We can see new ones in some modern movies . Now it
seems that a black man is either a homeboy, 40-ounce drinking, rapper, with funny socalled pimp sticks and way too much jewelry on, or they are portrayed in the role of
someone intelligent and hard-working who fights against black discrimination and
stereotypes. As an other possibility, in some modern movies about the Blacks,, they are
either with single parents, or perhaps out of work plumbers. But typically, TV and film
industry reiterated racially stereotyped images of the Blacks. The media has recognized
that the stereotypical roles it portrayed the Black people in caused a lot of harm for this
minority. Now the media is very much keen on portraying the Blacks in roles of
educated people who are very much dedicated to work.
The first crime series to conquer Europe, and especially Hungary was Miami Vice with
two handsome detectives, Sonny Crockett and Rico Tubbs, played by the American star
of the 1980’s Don Johnson and a previously unknown Afro-American actor Philip
Michael Thomas. In this television series the Black actor is a well-educated and
intelligent detective in a suit and a tie, chasing criminals in the streets of the sunny
Miami. Now this image may seem slightly funny, but this can be regarded as a big step
towards changing the stereotypes about the Blacks. From that time on Afro-Americans
appeared in more and more roles as cops or other office workers.
There used to be a lack of people of color, not only Blacks, in decision-making roles
which resulted directly in the lack of "empowering images" in film and television.
Therefore when people, especially children watched movies or television shows, they
were strongly influenced by racial stereotypes. Although Afro-Americans appeared
more frequently on television than they once did, they were still not shown in roles that
required more intelligence.
Today there are more and more responsible adult Black males portrayed on television
shows. The first television series that had a big impact in Hungary was Emergency
Room (‘Vészhelyzet’) in the 1990’s. These factors had a powerful effect on Black
children. When Black people appear frequently on television, Black children feel that
individuals of their own race are important to the society. Also, Black children can
easily find role models of their own culture and ethnic group. This could have a positive
effect on the self-esteem of children in Black minorities .
The Portrayal of Asians:
Representation of Asians on TV and in films has focused on such narrow stereotypes as
the fabled small, slanted eye. Instead of featuring Asians as a multifaced race, the media
has limited Asians into one stereotyped group: small eyes, tiny bodies, wimpy guys,
submissive girls. That is the conventional way of representing Asians in the simple
manner in which the media operates, and we stereotype easily to feel comfortable with
dealing with the Asian race. Asia has always been portrayed in the media as a strange,
mysterious land populated by weird, superstitious people who are good at martial arts.
For 30 years in American movies Asians usually were represented as personalities of
evil and cunning men, very often with the diabolical desire to take over the world. The
limo driver, master of karate, with his fight against crime shows the other category of
Asian stereotype in the media, which became to appear in the 60’s. Since that time
Asians could be seen as something more than only evil figure, yet the Kung Fu cult
brought with it a new stereotype with a new cliché.
In Hungary there are hardly any stereotypes about Asian people perpetuated by the
media. Asians are not in the news, they do not appear in soap operas or other television
programmes. They are a minority we can only meet in the city streets. The largest Asian
minority in Hungary is the Chinese, but Hungarians do not know much about them, but
that they are extremely har-working people, running their own shops and businesses.
The most commonly known ones are the cheap clothes shops and buffets which can be
found on almost every street corner.
Let’s look at some other examples of what harm the can media do to public opinion.
News items, mostly when it is something bad, tend to spike in the beginning and drop
down really quick after the first panic is over.
The way newspaper editors select the articles creates an image in the minds of the
readers. If reports about attacks on women appear in the papers continuously, people are
going to believe that the amount of assaults has increased. This does not necessarily
have to be like that. A good example is the reporting about the BSE (Bovine
Spongiform Encephalopathy) epidemic (a disease that infects cows for example) in
Europe in 2001. Every case was reported thoroughly. In no time the whole country was
sure they would never be able to eat meat again. They didnt trust the farmers or the
butcher’s on the corner any more. After a while the topic just didnt show up in the news
anymore. Probably because there was nothing more to tell about the subject, but the
peace restored itself among the population and everybody started to buy meat again as if
nothing had happened.
This example in itself was pretty harmless since there was no ethnical group involved. –
apart from the fact that it caused a huge fall in profits for the Hungarian farmers, since
their live stock could not be sold. Yet it shows how easy it is to create an image in
peoples minds. And images are quickly shaped to stereotypes.
In the next chapter I am going to reveal some stereotypes about Hungary and Hungarian
people. I am going to evaluate what cultural differences there are within Hungary, what
Hungarians think about themselves and how Hungarians are seen in the eyes of
THE IMPACT OF
NATIONAL STEREOTYPES IN HUNGARY
1. Self-Stereotypes of the Hungarians
When speaking about stereotypes, experts and laymen have both been thinking in terms
of national and ethnic concepts (how one nation is regarded by another). But it is just as
much important, what a nation thinks about itself. Self-stereotypes are generalized
features of a group which is a product of the collective culture and plays an important
role in cohesion and solidarity within a group of people.
The way people regard themselves or other groups can be put down to different
political, social, economic and emotional motivations, and some of these preconceptions
can change quickly according to social and economic events.
Hungary has been down a unique road of history: Hungarians used to be the major and
predominant nation in the Carpathian for a millenium. At the beginning of the 19th
century the nation was not predominant anymore, not even did Hungary have its
sovereignity except for in domestic political decisions.The threat of assimilation
actually brought the people together and strengthened cultural cohesion, however it
seriously wounded the nation’s self-awareness. Stereotypes that emerged from this
suppression are still vividly effecting Hungarians’ attitudes.
At the end of the 19th century Hungary’s international image and appreciation
improved: the Revolution of 1948, the struggles for independence, the capital of
Budapest becoming a metropolis, and the celebration of the Millenium all contributed to
the recovery of Hungary’s self-awareness, patriotism, and as such, to the development
of new self-stereotypes.
In the 20th century after the Treaty of Trianon, then World War II Hungary’s
international image decreased again. This was reflected in its self-stereotypes which did
not show a truly positive picture.
The first Hungarian study in this issue, called ‘Self-Awareness’ (‘Jellemisme’), was
made by Benedictian monk and tutor Jácint Rónay in the middle of the 19th century. He
was the first one to examine the overall opinion of the general public in connection with
other nations and cultures. This is a comprehensive study which summed up all the
accumulated knowledge up to the mid 19th century, categorizing the general image of
certain nations, like the British, the French, the Hungarian, the Italian, the German , the
Spanish and the Russian.
According to the author’s observations, Hungarians are emotional in nature, suggestible,
to a great extent patriotic, happy, friendly and hospital, making vivid gestures. On the
other hand Hungarians can get excited about something too easily, and despise
So what do people think about themselves in Hungary? What kind of image have
Hungarians got of themselves?
A survey25 which asked Hungarians to name their nation’s positive and negative
characteristics, resulted in the surprising findings that they thought that they had more
positive than negative features. Hungarians in general think that they are happy and
fun-loving people (meaning that they just love eating, drinking and having fun), also
kind-hearted (friendly and famous for their hospitality), like to work with great
diligence. As for the negative characteristics, Hungarians mentioned the lack of
cohesion, jealousy and egoism. Therefore they tend to describe themselves as
unthoughtfully devoted and emotional people. They are not fond of their sensual
capabilities either, although Hungary ‘produced’ a large number of scientists and artists
for the world. But they are very proud of being good homeboys and patriots, which is
ranked at a top level of characteristics.
Nationalism is an ideology to a great deal about borders and is deeply connected with
the modern state system. It homogenizes the people within the state around values for
how the society should be run. This is in itself a huge area and there is plenty to say
about in what ways common history, cultural symbols and other values have impacts on
a country’s educational-, military- and judicial system. National identity is an imaginary
feeling of bounds between people where they experience that they share the same
culture and values. But, at the same time they can feel distanced to their own neighbour
because of their different political opinion, their different education or their different
Hunyady György, 1973
2. Cultural Differences in Hungary
One country is not a society consisting of only one single culture. Hungary also has a
- meaning a society with many different cultures, religions,
languages and ethnicities - and is therefore a country with many cultural differences.
Those differences exist both within and between what is usually called "the
Hungarians", "the Romas and Gipsies", "the Jews" etc. Above all, it is the construction
of political and social system, and the frameworks of publicity that define the formation
of opinions, whether they are hidden or easily manifested. According to a utopic
definition a multicultural society can also be seen as ideal for a society which accepts all
different cultures and that lets the people of its multiple cultures live with equal rights
and the same permissions. One example for this difficulty seems to be the huge media
resistance towards certain social groups. One possible result of this resistance could be
that badly-behaving and socially excluded Roma and Gipsy communities might be
equally identified with members of the criminal gangs, or that all short haired men are
The main dilemma is whether a society should acknowledge its citizens as individuals
or by their collective identities. Let’s just recall that the backward situation of black
people in the USA preceding the 1950-1960’s. They were given the same rights as the
white only some 40 years ago. Knowing this, we may assume that there is still a long
hard way to get on top of the problems of stereotyping people by the look or by their
In cross-cultural relations , the way a country or nation treats its national or ethnic
minorities very much contributes to the internationally created overall picture of the
In Hungary there are two minorities that proved to mean the most problem in
discriminative issues. These are the Gipsies and the Jews. They are the groups that have
faced the most stereotypes, and what is more, prejudice in Hungary. Prejudice is much
more than a simple stereotype, it is a set of negative and strongly discriminative
stereotypes. These have endured for thousands of years against these two minorities
within this nation, opposed to any favourable experience.
The next sections reveal the situation of these minorities.
The Situation of the Jews in Hungary
From among all the other minorities it is the Jews who find themselves in the centre of
racial attention from time to time. A certain part of Hungary’s population – especially in
the cities and in higher education – has a Jewish cultural or family background, however
most of them are not extremely religious or do not practice their religion at all.
Officially the Jews are a religious minority, but they have to come across racial
preconceptions and prejudices regularly.
They do not wear a distinctive physical feature – unlike the Black or the Asian people,
however many of them are considered to have characteristic facial features, so as many
other nations who are still not thought to belong to any stereotyped race. People tend to
think about them as people with big noses, big beard with ringlets, wearing mostly dark
clothes and hats. Of course, that is what orthodox Jews mostly look like. But this feature
is by far not enough to be stereotyped as mean grabbers who privilege their own kind,
eat and drink only their own foods and drinks, go to their own special schools and
universities. In one word, they are stereotyped to be the community which tends to
exclude all the other ones and privilege its own kind. According to a purely anti-semite
view, the principle of the Jews solidarity to their own kind is based on their belief that
they are “the chosen people of God” which is a source of their pride and superior
existence26. One of the most common stereotypes about the Jews is that they are purely
urban people, they are never involved in agriculture, they do not cultivate land.They are
stereotyped to work in only a narrow range of professions: in trade, in the
administration and offices, transportation and forwarding, and in business, of course.
Their experience and expertise in trade and business is obviously enormous, business
and making deals is definitely in their blood. So aren’t we envious or rather jealous of
these characteristics? - Of course we are.
Envy is one of the most common characteristics of humankind which hinders
international and cross-cultural understanding. If a nation or group is more successful in
a certain field, the other begins to make jokes about them, start blaming them for their
own failures. These can accelerate and become stereotypes, prejudices or even
Gordon W. Allport: Az előítélet
genocide. This is exactly what happened in case of the Jews before and during the
Who are the Jews? Their history goes back thousands of years. Originally they were a
closed community of shepherds, with a uniform culture. If they have any distinctive
facial characteristics, it is because the territory, where these people are from, the native
inhabitants were Armenians, well before Christ.
However, many other people belong to this race, who are not Jews. For instance, the
early Christians were Jews, too, so they did not have different physical characteristics.
Jews have also had a common language, hebrew which was used by orthodox Jews until
the last century and it is still the language of religios services. However there are only a
few people who speak this language, it is seems to be destined to extinct.
The greatest tragedy of Jewish history was that they lost their country to call a home. A
state is obviously one of the key elements of having a national identity. Thus the Jews
are sometimes uncertain whether to identify themselves as an ethnic, religious or
During their history the Jews were often forced to live in segregation, in times of the
Renaissance for the first time, this is where the word ‘ghetto’ is from. These ghettos
were usually surrounded by walls, but within those walls the Jews could live a safe and,
what is more important, a more or less free life. It had the advantage that it lifted
conflicts and ceased atrocities against the Jews, and after they got used to being
surrounded and accepted it, they could more or less determine their lives themselves27.
Today there is basically no country in the world which does not have a Jewish minority,
but most of them live in Russia and the former states of the Soviet Union, in the United
States and now in Israel, which is their new state that they could establish with help
received from the United Nations after World War II.
Hungarians attitude to the Jews was rather aiming at their assimilation. After the
Trianon Treaty this attitude is said to have changed negatively. Hungary began
delimitations of the ‘alien’ elements, a xenophobia never seen before in Hungary. In
1920 the so-called‘numerus clausus’ act stipulated that the number of candidates from
Gordon W. Allport: Az előítélet
national, ethnic minorities to universities and academies must be limited, although many
young Jewish people were willing to apply to higher education.
Following these restrictions there were more to come. Jews were highly discriminated
against, deprived of the ability to perform on stage in theatres or to appear in front of
the public at all.
In 1938 there were attempts from the Vatican to prevent something terrible to come.
Pope Pius XI tried to raise attention of the Church and the believers on the issue of the
widespread Jewish discrimination and anti-semitism, claiming that these were highly
unfair and unacceptable. Unfortunately he failed to achieve any amelioration in the
situation, and the Jews had to suffer far the most in the history of humankind during the
years of the upcoming World War II.
Before the war approximately six hundred thousand Jewish people lived in Hungary.
After the war there were about 50-70 thousand. The shameful memory of the war could
not be wiped away by the politics and the media in the following decades. The strict
Rákosi era did not only have to face the burden of the situation and past of the Jews, but
many of its political leaders were Jewish themselves, except for Imre Nagy.
Today the Hungarian Jewish minority consists of about one hundred thousand souls,
most of them are elderly people. After all the suffering and genocide they had to take in
the war, this minority seems to recede. They have their human rights and have a free
will to practise their religion. However, discrimination against them is still not over in
Hungary. Even if they are not confronted from face to face, it is certain that the seeds of
anti-semitism are well buried in the hearts of some people in Hungary.
According to a recent survey28 conducted by András Kovács, among a significantly
large number of Hungarians only 29% of the people replied that they did not have antisemite views or did not discriminate against the Jews, and an amazing 25 percent said
they did. According to the results 32% of the Hungarian adults accept some of the longlasting economic stereotypes about the Jews without having any anti-semite views. On
the whole, a breath-taking rate of 25% - 33% of Hungary’s adult population can be
Kovács András: A látens antiszemitizmus mérése
Has got stereotypes
Research made among Hungarian adults in 1995 by András Kovács.
This is an enormous number compared to the results of surveys made in some previous
years: the rate of adults claiming to dislike the Jews in 1993 – ’94 ranged between 14%
- 15% . This was only 6% - 7% in 2002. These surveys also proved that the Hungarians
are under latent pressure by public opinion and do not feel free to express discriminative
attitudes towards the Jews.
thinks it is
thinks it is
does not know
/ no answer
1. ...I do not tell anyone what I
think about the Jews
2. ...I believe that many people
are afraid to tell what they
really think about the Jews.
3. ...If someone says something
bad about the Jews, he or she
shall be thought an antisemite.
These results were shown by the survey conducted by András Kovács in 2002.
The Jews in Hungary are thought to be hard-working and very ambitious people who
are really family-centered and show great solidarity to their own group. At the same
time the are considered to have ostentatious consuming habits and a love for
accumulating wealth. They are thought to be biased by money, meaning their business
protocol is purely unfair. They are judged for being too sensitive about every
It is unfairly controversial that in spite of all the discriminatory attitudes or negative
preconceptions against the Jews, we Hungarians are likely to be proud of those Nobel
prize winners who are also members of this minority, like many scientists, and of course
Imre Kertész, who was awarded for his novel, Faithlessness (‘Sorstalanság’ ).
The Roma or Gipsy Communities in Hungary
The situation of the Roma or Gipsy communities is a highly disputed issue in Hungary.
There are 13 officially registered and legally recognized nations in Hungary. Twelve of
them are national minorities and there is one ethnic minority: the Gipsies. Hugary is
ranked at the fourth place in providing a home for the most Gipsy and Roma people.
There are 2,2 – 2,5 million living in the neighbouring Romania, approximately 850
thousand in Bulgaria, almost the same number applies to Spain with 600 – 800 thousand
Gipsy inhabitants. Hungary has got an official Gipsy and Roma ethnic minority of
190 046 people30, but unofficially their number ranges somewhere between 500
thousand and one million according to sociologists. They are the fastest growing
population in Hungary.
The term ’Roma” refers to groups of people who do not share the same language and
culture and also differ from those of the native inhabitants in the ’host country’.
Sometimes they tend to isolate themselves deliberately in order to protect their own
cultural identity. However they are only thought to be one single ethnic group by other
natives, because with time they were likely to get adapted to the natives’ culture, and
began thinking about themselves as one single ethnic group. This means that the
differences seemed to have been somewhat washed away. Their ethnic groups are the
so-called ‘Olah Gipsies’, the ‘Carpathian Gipsies’(‘Romungró’s and ‘Szintó’s), the
‘Beások’, and of course the Romanian Gipsies.
Gordon W. Allport
The old Hungarian term ‘cigány’, that is Gipsy carries a negative tone within in many
countries, therefore is more and more ill-advised to use in public.
The first Hungarian king to give the wandering Gipsies the right to settle down in the
XIV. century was Sigismund of Luxemburg. Those caravans came from the East in
hope of a better life, but the past five centuries still have not brought it for them.
According to the data of the census in 1893, the number of Roma people, who had
settled down in Hungary, was 275 thousand. With the mass production of industrial
goods in the following century their traditional professions were not needed anymore,
not even in the small villages. Between the two wars they were even prohibited to move
from one city to the other. By losing their traditional customers, the majority of the
Gipsies had no work or any jobs which lead to social conflicts. All this was aggravated
by the fascist domination in 1944 when the Gipsies were exposed to the nazi genocide.
Approximately 30 – 70 thousand Roma people were deported from Transdanubia and
were killed in concentration camps.
After World War II unlike Hungarians, the Romas were not given any land. During the
soicialist era polititians considered that the situation of the Roma and Gipsy
communities were not an ethnic problem but rather a social one. This large body of
unskilled labour was offered jobs in distant industrial centres, many began to commute
between their homes and work. The so-called ‘Feketevonat’ term (Black train) referred
to the scheduled train taking the day-labourers to the capital, Budapest. Others had to
stay in workers’ hostels during the week. Most Roma men were browbeaten into work
that required no skilled labourforce.
At the end of 1960’s the state administration began to eliminate the run-down Gipsy
ghettos. They were granted public loans on preferential terms in order to buy their own
flats, and they were entitled to move into old, abandoned houses in villages.
Unsurprisingly in some places this attempt to settle these communities faced social
resistence. This way in certain places the value of real estate fell within a short time
which shortly entailed the migration of the locals to other cities. Today there are
villages in Hungary (especially in Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg County) where the rate of
Romas and Gipsies in the local population exceeds 90-95 %. This procedure of
segregation of these communities made their serious effects on Hungary’s social
The Romas have the same rights and at the same time are almost completely excluded
by the Hungarian society. Their children are raised within a closed, almost impenetrable
community where they fully lack the chance to learn how to socialize with the rest of
the society. Their living standards lag behind the average. Sociologists say that these
basic problems could only be eliminated partly by the Romas raising their own
intellectual white-collar class, and partly by consistent efforts and social reforms of the
The Western societies could never really accept the Romas, they are still regarded as
rather strangers. Their presence seems to bear xenophobia in native people because they
are thought to be a burden on the society. This latent discriminative attitude more and
more often appears in public, which entails more and more serious reactions and
reflections from the Roma and Gipsy people.
Hungarians seem to lack tolerance for them. Their feeling of abjection results in an
impulsive agression which may entail physical assault and is often regarded as self judgements. This years’ recent case in the small village of Olaszliszka, where a
Hungarian teacher was beaten to death shocked the people in Hungary. This, and
similarly agressive and brutal actions very much contributed to the general
discrimination, abjection and exclusion of the Roma minorities.
They are now regarded as shirkers who do not like to work and beg for aids and support
from the state. They are not likely to be employed willingly by Hungarian companies,
their unemployment means that they are left without a source of income and with much
freetime. Therefore these groups are drawn deeper and deeper into the black market and
crime. They are stereotyped as not only people who try to avoid work, but also as
criminals. It is completely false to identify the group of criminals with the Romas, this
is why these stereotypes are extremely discriminative.
Obviously not all of them are thieves and robbers. Let’s just think of the famous 100
membered Gipsy Orchestra (‘Száztagú Cigányzenekar’) and other popular musicians
who are also from this minority. Hungarians in general like their music, furthermore it
is often regarded as a so-called Hungarian speciality (’hungarikum’).
Fortunately after much effort by the government and different civil organizations, their
situation seems to have begun improving. A survey31 showed that shortly after the
change of regime, the number of Hungarian adults who claimed to be averse from the
Gipsies rated between 40 % - 42 % in 1993-1995. By 2001-2003 this rate has fallen to
36 % -38 %. The researchers found out that explicit prejudice has significantly
decreased against the Romas.
3. How Hungarians are seen with the Eyes of Foreigners
“Hungarians are as dedicated as the Americans, as romantic as the Slavic people, as
curious as Japanese, and as tricky as Arabians.” /Georg Kőváry/
The first thing a foreigner may notice is that Hungarians are present in almost every
country in the world. Especially in Europe32 the elderly Hungarians are thought to be
awkward kind of people, because they are still considered to wear folk clothes and even
men are thought to wear cavalry moustache. Many believe that family and roots are
extremely important for the Hungarians, who keep together.
From the results of the personally organized survey I found that the respondents seemed
to know quite a lot about Hungary, its famous attractions (its capital, Budapest), sites
(such as Lake Balaton) and specialities (cuisine). However many of the features they
mentioned appeared to be an image left behind by Hungary’s communist era.
The respondents were aware of Hungary’s best know specialities, such as the wine. One
Lithuanian replied that in Hungary wine is said to “run through the kitchen pipe”. They
know about the Captain of Tenkes (‘Tenkes kapitánya’) and of course Hungary’s
popular gipsy folk music. Surprisingly the Chinese respondents said they knew that
Hungary is a country with a long history, which they understandably respect having
their own history of more than four thousand years. The Chinese also replied that
Hungary was famous for its thermal baths and spas, and for its “mixed culture”, since it
still has got buildings built in “Roman or Turkish style”. However they also mentioned
that they had no perceptions about Hungarian people before they actually got in contact
research on latent discrimination by András Kovács
Richard Hill: Mi, európaiak
The British respondents were of course familiar with Hungary’s geographical features,
but mainly all they knew about Hungary was the wine, its cuisine and that it was a postcommunist country close to Russia. However the Hungarian Formula 1 Grand Prix
(‘Hungaroring’) seemed to be an important piece of Hungarian export for them, just like
for the Finnish people. The Scandinavians basically shared these views of the British,
they also said to have been been taught about Hungary’s history, but did not have
preconceptions about Hungarians before they visited Hungary or met some of its
people. However they thought that since Hungary formed a part of the former “Eastern
Block”, they tended to regard Hungarians as suppressed people, maybe to some extent
cold and not so sociable ‘like the Russians’. This impression was also created by the
media. The Brits answered that even though they usually did not hear much about
Hungary in the United Kingdom, but when they did, Hungarians seemed to be portrayed
as individuals who lived in poverty, surrounded by social difficulties. The Finnish
however added that they thought Hungarians and Finnish people must be somewhat
similar because they were said to be relative nations, which is probably a knowledge
learnt at school.
The Greeks did not seem to know much about Hungary before they visited the country,
even though they are quite close to each other. The said they hadn’t had any
preconceptions or perceptions about Hungarians, although they could guess that they
may not be too much different from them. They seemed to be more familiar with
Hungarian specialities, such as the wines and the ‘salami’
Another well-known feature of Hungarians seems to be that they are really inventive
and dedicated. If they clash into a wall, somehow, they always manage to get over it
from any possible direction. Based on the observations of Georg Kőváry, we are very
much like the Italians or the French. This is actually a feature that Hungarians
themselves seem to admit. We are proud of being smart and also of having a practical
view of life. Unfortunately Hungarians are still better known abroad for their folk
dances, wines and gulyás (or goulash as foreigners are familiar with it), which latter has
actually become the undercover Hungarian stew. Foreigners therefore do not even know
what they really eat when having a goulash.
Hungarians are strongly individualists, their culture is very relationship-oriented. They
are just as much intelligent, hard-working people as those of any other nation. However
some old studies presumed that education and literacy were not thought to be the most
definitive characteristics of Hungarians, but at least we are said to have a good sense of
humour in those surveys. On the other hand according to the survey I made among the
foreign partners of a Hungarian company, when being asked to name one positive
characteristic of the Hungarians, almost all of the respondents named intelligence as a
On the other hand Hungarians are extremely sensitive, subjective, empathic and proud
people, are also emotional and sometimes hysterical.
According to a survey33 made in 9 countries some 20 years ago during the communist
era, Hungrary and its people were ranked at a very pathetic position by its neighbours.
Interesting though, that Hungarians are not labelled for their language, nevertheless this
was a feature to define our isolation following the Middle Ages.
How are we regarded by our closest neighbours? A survey34 compared what Hungarians
and Romanians think about themselves and about one another.
Interested in politics
6. Fair and sound
9. Good sense of humour
Peabody, D.: National Characteristics, Cambridge (1985)
Hunyady György, 1997
The diagram above shows that surprisingly the Hungarians consider themselves in
general to be less intelligent and well-educated, than what the Romanians think about
themselves . Other main characteristics that are significantly rated are assertiveness and
patriotism which latter is obviously a common feature of the Hungarians, but they still
lag behind the Romanians’ self-perception of patriotism, but not in assertiveness.
Hungarians generally think they are fairer and more sound than the Romanians, but they
are thought to have less sense of humour than their neighbours. As for popularity and
friendliness the two countries seemed to rank themselves in more or less the same
----------- Hungarians about Romanians
Interested in politics
Romanians about Hungarians
6. Fair and sound
9. Good sense of humour
According to the diagram above, the Hungarians and the Romanians seem to have
similar perceptions of each other, but the distance betwen the curves shows clearly that
the Hungarians think less marvelously about the Romanians, than they do about their
There is one important thing to point out when having a thorough look at the diagrams.
If we compare them, we can see that Hungarians do not consider themselves as patriotic
as they are thought to be by the Romanians.
Hungarians are actually proud of their patriotism and dedication to their homeland, but
this is very often regarded as nationalism by the neighbouring countries. According to
my survey, all of the Serbians replied that Hungary’s nationalism seems to have gone to
extremes. One particular respondent even said that 90% - 95% of the Hungarians live
in some kind of a “pre-Trianon dream”. They said that nationalism in Hungary seemed
to have a rising tendency, its people are too obsessed with their national past and seem
to care too much about how they are perceived by ‘the others’. They think that for
disadvatageous for the business and trade relationships of Hungary.
At the same time the general image about Hungary seems to have changed for the past
15 years according to the Serbians. They said that some years ago the Serbian
stereotype about Hungarians was that they were double-faced and reserved people,
whom the Serbians used to dislike. Even though these stereotypes may not have been
washed away completely, but Hungary has gained a little bit more respect by the
Briefly stating, the general positive features of the Hungarians were said to be
trustworthiness and hospitality. The most worrying negative characteristic, besides
being a bit reserved, was the rising tendency of nationalism. Unfortunately the recent
events, such as the attack against the building of the Hungarian National Television, and
later the revolutionary fights with the police in the streets of Budapest have been
reported in details worldwide by many international channels. This of course did not
help to stop the rise of stereotypes about Hungarians as nationalists.
THE PROS AND CONS OF NATIONAL
STEREOTYPES IN THE BUSINESS ENCOUNTER
AND TRADE RELATIONS OF HUNGARY
The content of stereotypes is nurtured by collective experience and hearsay. There are
similarities between national stereotypes originating from the environment or history.
A research35, which was conducted back in the 1950’s, proved the uneconomical effects
of discrimination against different social groups. There are many companies which do
not wish to employ a candidate with the right qualification because of the colour of skin
or religion. Although this research was made in the United States, but it set a light on
how unprofitable it was to maintain separate schools and hospitals for the people of
colour (mainly in the southern states). It showed that the standard of living was
significantly higher in those states where racial prejudice and discrimination was less
In Hungary (and also in other countries) the labour market has other prejudices to offer
against women. A ‘gender gap’ exists, especially when it comes to communication.
Pretty strange but most of the high ranking managerial posts are filled by men and most
women face difficulties in work places due to male domination The problem occurs
when stereotypes are used to prejudge peoples abilities and competence, and develop
unfair and incorrect expectations. Stereotypes are not necessarily good job-performance
indicators, nor do they give accurate description of someones complete personality, as
every individual - whether a female or male - has a different personality and level of
Examination of national stereotypes is quite common. The first and most prominent
survey was conducted with the support of UNESCO in 1948-’49. Back then it showed
that UNESCO nations found the Americans the most popular nation with the most
Gordon W. Allport, 1954
desirable features, the Russians on the other hand were rated to be the less popular with
way too many negative characteristics. This means that it is not so much stereotypes
that influence intercultural relations, but more like the other way round, it is
international relationships, cooperations or conflicts, that have an impact on stereotypes.
After World War I and the Treaty of Trianon there were some stereotypes emerged in
connection with Hungary’s economic situation. Hungarians felt stigmatized and
considered to have been deprived of their important national values:
by rolling back our borders and cutting approximately two third off the country’s
territory Hungary lost its most important resources of raw materials and its most
Hungary ceased to own the Port of Fiume which was its only entry to the
Mediterrenean (and as such trade route of crucial importance for foreign trade),
the markets for Hungary’s agricultural products suddenly contracted
Hungary’s economic and financial independence was limited by the peace-treaty
German and Italian domination found a fertile soil in the mutilated country.
All these events lead to a very dark image forming in the minds of Hungarian people
about themselves. It wasn’t only harmful for our self-confidence, but also because that
was also the picture we showed about ourselves to the people of other nations.
Examination of stereotypes in Hungary began in 1970’s. Researches conducted by
György Hunyady in 1974 and 1981 ranked Hungarians somewhere in the middle among
other nations. In the 1970’s Hungary formed an economic and political union with the
former USSR, which looked very favourable in the eyes of certain social groups.
Hungary received top ratings by the western neighbours among all the other member
states of the Soviet Union. Between 1981 and 1991 this general picture began fading.
According to a new survey in 1994 Hungary’s image depreciated steadily following the
How are Hungarians seen by foreigners today? This is a really significant question.
While sitting in our office preparing for a business meeting with people from abroad we
usually take into consideration the most important elements of business protocol and
etiquette relevant to the culture of the country which our visitor is from. We obviously
want to make a good impression on our business partner, but in everyday life we tend to
forget that foreigners may have some preconceptions about us. It works vica versa, we
also have preconceptions or stereotypes about potential foreign partners we are
supposed to do business with.
At the company, where I spent my training period, I could experience the presence of
stereotypes in many cases against their foreign partners and stereotypes against the
Hungarians, too, even if the managers may not have admitted that. And I am not
necessarily speaking about negative preconceptions, even though I have seen more
examples for this than for positive ones. They only had one thing in common, that later
on they proved to be highly mistaken. As far as I understood in Hungary we tend to
think marvelously about Western partners.The stereotypes I faced at this company about
the British partners were extremely positive. It was based on a personal visit of the
Hungarian management to the United Kingdom where they took part in a professional
business symposium along with managers from many other companies of different
nations. The event was hosted by the British firm.
If I aimed to explain this from a psychological standpoint, I could say that these western
companies from Norway, Portugal, Switzerland, Denmark and the Netherlands formed
kind of an aspirational group in the eyes of the Hungarian participants. The British firm
organized this event in order to have access to the Eastern-European market for their
products. I must add that all of these companies are involved in the security business,
they are manufacturers and distributors of special manual security products, such as
security seals, tapes and labels. Eastern Europe is obviously an uncovered market for
the western countries (with many post-communist countries where everybody wants to
get rich as quickly as possible, meaning, cheating as much as possible. In the technical
language of this security line they would say ‘tamper evident technologies’). This is
why it obviously was in the hosts’ intention that the Hungarian delegates did not feel to
have been stereotyped in any way.
The two companies began a cooperation, they signed an agency agreement and the
products were introduced on the Hungarian market, with much success in the
beginning.Unfortunately a couple of months later this wonderful picture that the
Hungarian managers seemed to have created about their sound and trustworthy British
partners turned out to be rather misleading. It was very interesting and instructive to see
how the two companies settled the question of the first complaints received for the
products. First the British firm did not take the complaint seriously and rejected it
claiming that it was unjustified, and chose to blame the bad storing conditions and the
uncarefully chosen application process of the products for their malfunction. The
Hungarian distributors not having much experience with this very product put all their
trust in their foreign principal and represented this attitude toward the customer, who on
the other hand insisted that the goods were faulty. It took some time to convince the
British company to send a representative of theirs to Hungary to give this case a closer
attention and investigate it. After this visit they still seemed to hesitate to admit being at
fault, especially after they were made to understand that the customer was expecting
compensation for the bad products, or the exchange of the faulty goods. In the very end
the complaints proved to be justified after many tests had been made on the products.
What I would like to point out is not that the British business people are not trustworthy,
irresponsible or the goods they manufacture have got a bad quality. This is obviously
out of question. But the attitude of both companies can be to some extent put down to
having preconceptions or maybe stereotypes against each other.
The Hungarian distributor company refused to question the expertise of its principal and
made an enormous mistake by not taking the chance into consideration that the
complaint could be justified. As I mentioned, for the Hungarian management the British
businessmen were some kind of an aspirational group and carried on with this attitude
seen from them even in a situation they had not found themselves in before. After they
were shown all the nicely furnished offices and the fancy plant, their impressions
enlarged their stereotypes of the British as highly professional experts and wellmannered business people. The Hungarians seemed to care a lot more about building an
imaginary bridge between the cultural differences (etiquette, small talks, dining,
appearance) than the actual problems. Briefly, this exaggerated trust in their principal
was due to the positive preconceptions the Hungarians harboured about their English
partners. Sadly, it resulted in a considerable loss of profits, enormous amount of
administration, multiplied by the decrease in the Hungarian company’s reputation and
The British, on the other hand, had some negative stereotypes about the Hungarians. As
a former communist country, Hungary is considered to have become a place where
tricky businesses and speculation are blossoming. With reference to the results of the
questionnaires, some British seem to believe that Hungarians are rather like the
Russians in terms of business protocol, whose country is stereotyped against as the
melting pot of post-war Soviet corruption. Even though the British person who was
asked in the survey did not exactly write this, I believe it can mostly be put down to his
overflowing politeness. Although they think that Hungarians are famous for their
hospitality, - actually, the representative of the British company in question said that he
had never been treated as well and friendly as in Hungary – this market is still entirely
unknown for the British. This does explain their cautiousness after having been
informed that the Hungarian customer expected some kind of compensation for the
faulty goods. Unsurprisingly they opted for the exchange of the faulty goods, because in
the back of their minds they may have suspected that the Hungarian company expected
to share the compensation received with the customer who claimed for it.
After this very case the Hungarian company did not lose contact with the British
partner, but decided to look for a new supplier, who in the end turned out to be another
company from the United Kingdom.
In the previous case it was the Hungarians’ unfounded positive stereotypes that placed
obstacles in the way of ‘blossoming business cooperation’. In an other case which took
place more or less at the same time, I could see examples of negative stereotypes in the
business encounter. The Hungarian company seemed to slightly discriminate a new
Serbian agent of his. Despite many preliminary personal business meetings and crosschecks precedeing a set of negotiations by the agent in Serbia with a prominent public
financial institution, the Hungarian company turned down the request of his agent to
offer more favourable payment terms for the customer. The Hungarian company, the
principal in this case, was fully aware that this was the only way to achieve success in
that very business, since a public financial institution cannot be expected to accept to
pay in advance even in case of the trial order. Because of having preconceptions about
the Serbians being untrustworthy the Hungarians missed an approximately ten thousand
euro deal. Some time later after both the Serbian agent and the Hungarian principal got
to know each other better and the principal began to trust his agent, fortunately they
could make up for this loss and had the chance to submit a bid for this very customer in
Serbia in which the Hungarians agreed to offer even less tight payment terms. In this
case the company’s management understood that their preconceptions about the Serbs’
business protocol were not always founded. However they are still extremely cautious
and prudent when it comes to doing business on the Serbian market, but this is mainly
because the agent was willing to take no guarantee for cases of non-payment, and the
parties could not agree on a delcredere basis.
From the Serbians point of view, all of the company’s Serbian partners who were asked
in the survey claimed that they liked doing business with Hungarians, because they find
them extremely trustworthy and reliable. They say that their average experience with
Hungarian businesspeople is that they keep themselves to the gentlemen’s agreement,
but most of the times they seem to worry too much.
On the other hand some Serbian partners said that Hungarians were not really good
negotiators, because they lack true initiative and boldness. They think that Hungarians
are too pushy, and want to achieve success in a very short time, for which they are not
willing to do much. The reason for the Serbians’ answers can be that they are probably
into having more personal contact even in business than the Hungarians would afford.
For the Hungarians a business deal may begin with meeting the partner at the airport or
with a small talk and it is likely to finish with a dinner spent in a restaurant with their
foreign visitors, but it is less probable to end with a night spent in a bar drinking and
talking about anything colloquial but business. As if Hungarians couldn’t afford to
spend their time on something which is not pure business and is not within working
hours. The Serbians also mentioned that Hungarians are usually cooperative and willing
to help, but they have a lack of intimacy to achieve higher levels of cooperativeness and
teamwork.This is probably the reason why the Serbians basically think that Hungarians
are not bad business people, they are trustworthy and hospital, but briefly stating, they
think that Hungarians could do much better. Some respondents even mentioned that
Hungarians tend to pretend that they accept cultural differences, but Hungarians never
truly accepted these differences, they are more likely to sweep them under the carpet
when it comes to perceiving real differences. In general Hungarians are therefore
thought to be stubborn, and they are absolutely sure that their way is the right way.
Compared to the Serbians answers, the British mentioned other interesting features in
the business protocol of Hungarians. They said that according to their experience,
Hungarians seemed to have a bit more “protekció”, i.e. corruption (it was staggering
that one of the respondents used this term in Hungarian),than they would have
imagined, even though they do not consider it to be too serious. However they can only
imagine Hungarian market penetration via working with local agents, because the
market seems to be really risky and tricky for them. It means that for the Brits there is
too much corruption and red-tape to face in Hungary and they do not appreciate the way
it works, however they only seem to have this image about the state-controlled public
When it comes to evaluating their Hungarian partners, they said that they had excellent
experience with Hungarian companies: discussions were honest, trading terms were fair
and payments were received from them promptly.
According to the Danish , Norwegian and Finnish respondents Hungarians are good
business partners, however they interestingly added that they tend not to respect the
deadlines. As for these Scandinavians, a delay of one or two days is not something to
complain about, but Hungarians tend to be late by one or two weeks, which is
inacceptable with them.
On the other hand they said that Hungarians want everything on the spot, or within as a
short period of time in which nothing is possible to be comleted. I have to add that
according to my personal experience at the Hungarian company, the management had a
positive attitude to the Danes and Norwegians, but when they needed urgent and exact
information from them, for instance about the date of delivery of the goods on order,
they were hardly ever given any useful information. It is true that these Scandinavians
tend to get upset if something is in a delay, but they are not so keen on giving exact
dates. All the Hungarians could get informed about was usually the week or the part of
the month when the consignment was expected to arrive. This of course was a constant
source of disagreement between these companies, because in such cases the Hungarians
started to press their foreign partners to specify the date, while the Danes began beating
about the bush and were more into starting a personal chat with the Hungarian assistant
on the phone, then providing any exact information.
To put this in a nutshell, their image is more or less the same as that of the Serbians.
They both believe that Hungarians are too pushy business people, but they are
trustworthy and really hospital when it comes to personal visits.
Interesting though, that the Greeks think that Hungarian business protocol is not much
different from theirs, but they replied that the hospitality in Hungary has decreased for
the past couple of years.
Hungarians received the best ratings from the Chinese. These good results might be put
down to the fact that these two nations hardly ever have the opportunity to get in
personal contacts because their countries are geographically very far from each other.
Hungarians do not know much about the Chinese, and they hardly know anything about
the Hungarian people either. However, Chinese respondents said that they love doing
business with the Hungarians and that if they met, they would probably become friends,
too. It is interesting though, that despite all the language barriers, Hungarians usually
have a surprisingly good partnership with the Chinese. The Hungarian company I
worked for had many business partners in China. All of them were extremely helpful
not only in business but when I asked them to help me with the research work, they
were the first ones to reply and return the questionnaires filled, even though those were
the hardest to understand.
Having stereotypes is not a good thing. Creating stereotypes is even worse. Still it is
something that is inevitable. As I mentioned, all persons have stereotypes because
everybody grows up with them. It is impossible not to have them unless someone has
been raised on an uninhabited island.
In my thesis I tried to point out the significance of stereotypes from their birth to their
impacts in general, and especially in Hungary’s society and trade relations. I examined
those factors that could contribute to the stereotypes about Hungarians. By making a
single-handedly organized survey among foreign business partners of a Hungarian
company and with other foreigners, I aimed to describe how Hungarians are seen
generally by people abroad. With the help of the results I tried to reveal the existing
stereotypes about Hungarians. I also examined what foreigners think about Hungarian
people’s business protocol and what common stereotypes Hungarians harbour about
some foreign countries and their people. It has become clear that the image that
Hungarians have about themselves is not equal with the one that people from different
foreign countries have about Hungarians. Having stereotypes is very often harmful for
businesses in Hungary, and of course Hungary’s business partners, too. Entering a deal
because of favourable unfounded stereotypes of the partner or missing a deal for
untrustworthy reasons can both be disadvantegous and may result in a loss of profit, but
what is more, it can be the most harmful for a company’s good-will and reputation if
they are thought to have discriminatory attitude towards particular nations, races, etc.
The only thing we can do is try to overcome our stereotypes. We shouldn’t believe what
people tell us, we have to go and find out ourselves. If everybody does that maybe in the
future our children will grow up without stereotypes. And when they do, the news
media will also change. Maybe one day we will have objective news then. Evaluating
and understanding our own viewing and reading habits will help to create a more
accurate understanding of issues. We have to develop the ability to look critically at our
own cultural background and stereotypes. Not in order to discard them, but in order to
build on them and to transcend the confines of them.
PAGE 1 / 2
Dear Sir or Madam,
This short Questionnaire aims to find out what foreign people think about
Hungarians. It will serve with interesting pieces of information to my thesis on how
Hungary and Hungarian people in general are regarded internationally.
I would like to point out that this survey is anonym, your name or availabilities
shall not be indicated anywhere. Therefore you are kindly asked to write what you
really think or know about Hungary and its people.
Please, answer each question in max. 10 -15 sentences.
1. What do you think about Hungary and its people in general?
2. Did you have any impression of Hungarian people before you actually got in
contact with one?
3. If your answer is yes to the previous question, can you describe where those
perceptions were from? (family, friends, business partners, media, etc.)
PAGE 2 / 2
4. What do people in your country think about Hungary and especially about its
5. Can you name one positive and one negative characteristic that you think
describes Hungarian people the best. Please, explain your decision.
6. Have you got any bad impression in connection with Hungarian people?
7. What do you think about Hungarian business protocol? (attitude to cultural
differences, negotiations, trustworthiness, hospitality, cooperativeness)
8. Have you heard or read any reports in the media about Hungary or
Hungarians recently? What was it about? What picture did the report
suggest about Hungarians?
Thank you very much for answering these questions and helping
me with my research work.
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