Commentary

The Dark Side of Living in Hungary

“I think it’s the ideal place for someone in his/her first 20’s during an exchange program, especially in Budapest where you can find multicultural environment, crazy night life and lots of activities. I would not advice for those who want to settle down.” (Enrique, Sweden)

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Part 1 – Living in Hungary: People and practicalities

Part 2 – Living in Hungary: Wages, living standards and doing business

Part 3 – Expats about the dark side of living in Hungary. 

“Things work reasonably well in central and western Hungary, the rest of the country is pretty dire. Here in Western Hungary, there is basically no measurable unemployment (less than 2 percent, which is better than Singapore), but salaries are still abysmally low, so most people work abroad, in Austria mostly, but some also in Slovakia.” (Aaron, US)

Janelle (US) wrote her own list

  • “Language – Very few Hungarians speak English. Aside from some major corporations, banks, and the big touristy attractions, there are very few translations available in public spaces. The language itself seems extremely complex and foreign for a non-speaker, so it’s easy to get lost. It’s easy to take for granted that in most parts of Europe you will find people who speak English. If you speak a little bit of one Romance language, it’s even easier to maneuver your way around Southern Europe, but I can’t say the same for Hungary.
  • Reluctance to help foreigners– I’m not a particularly threatening looking person, in fact people frequently comment that I’m not very aggressive. Yet, there seemed to be an almost innate level of distrust with foreigners. It didn’t strike me as racially motivated, but generally somewhere xenophobic and fear based. I can imagine trying to resettle there as a foreigner, this would present (at the very least) as a nuisance in day to day life. Fortunately, this looks as if it’s on the track of changing into the future.
  • Access to and diversity of products- Establishments open from 8–9 and close around 6 pm. As a Californian, I enjoy taking midnight walks to 711 for snacks and grabbing coffee early in the morning at a 24 hour fast food restaurants. Granted those aren’t particularly healthy habits, I enjoy having the option to do them anyways. During my final days in Budapest, I caught the flu and needed medicine late night. No grocery stores were open and the next morning the local drug store didn’t open until 11 am. At a separate medicine shop, a tried to use a translator, and was told that I had to make special order flu medicine and wait a day or two. In the U.S. cold, flu, and other drugs are available at any time without a special order.
  • Jobs, Pay, and Cost- Food is cheap. Renting is below average cost in Europe. Most everything else is expensive relative to the rest of Europe. A medium sized purse would cost anything from 25–60 Euros in Spain, France, or Italy. In Hungary, the same purse would probably cost about 70–120 Euros. In California, an “organic” coffee is 3–5 USD, while in Hungary it was the equivalent of 6–8 USD. Living expenses are affordable and a good option in Hungary if you are okay sticking to purchasing the same products over and over again. As for pay, I looked into the pay rate of teachers and professors and it requires the same amount of experience and education as a teaching position in the U.S., but pays only a fraction of what it would pay in the U.S.
  • Crime, Poverty, and Pessimism – Relatively to population size, Budapest has far more homeless people than San Francisco. Let that sink in. Petty crime is common. People seem somewhat pessimistic about their future, and I can only surmise that this is because of their history.”

 

Pessimism and no way of having fun

“A big disdvantage of Hungary is that there are no widespread living habits that makes you feel happy or just have fun. In Scandinavia and the Baltics for example, you have the sauna culture, cross-country-skiing as national sport, a separate day in February just for sleighing in the snow, Midsummer’s Eve bonfires and parties. The Baltics have the song festivals which you can watch or participate in for cheap, and all the above countries have the habit to go and pick berries and mushrooms in the forests. I think you get the idea what I mean.

Hungary doesn’t have anything like the above. Nor its possible geographical equivalents.

 Maybe it comes from the above, maybe not, but even if you want to go out hiking or just a big walk in nature in the weekends, people are just so not used to it, that it is very hard to find a companion for such activities. In general, Hungarians are not too active.” (Olev)

Low wages put people into survival mode

“…you live to work and all the fun you want to have is what you can get from your salary for yourself under your vacations. I mean, really all the fun is dependent on it. And the salary is not very competitive in Hungary. Poverty is disturbing for even those who are financially stabile. There are enormously many homeless and mentally ill people in the streets. In Budapest you cannot stand in one place and wait for 3 mins for your friend, because you’ll be asked many times to give money or do any other favour.” (Olev)

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Corruption

In terms of corruption and cronyism, Hungary may actually give India a run for its money, even doctors expect bribes, or they’ll just let you die on the hospital bed. You also can’t get anything done without knowing someone, which often includes finding a job. Jobs, government contracts, etc… are all handed out based on a patronage system, not on merit, which is probably why most of the country just can’t seem to develop at all and time stands still. (Christian)

It can be difficult to find work in Hungary, and it usually isn’t well paid (by Western standards). The bureaucratic face of Hungary is harsh. The low level of trust in this society makes it difficult to do business. The cost of living is rising, but wages remain static.

“Not my problem”

“…yes, there are some aspects of budapest that are depressing… lots of pubic alchohol abuse, homelessness, messiness, and poor attention to people who have difficulty with stairs

for example, the brand new metro 4 which connects to the keleti railway station , the busiest station in the country, does not have an elevator or escalator up to the main level. with thousands of passengers using the facility each day, there are some hundreds of elderly or handicapped passengers who have to struggle with suitcases up a stairway to a level about two stories higher than the metro level.

there is also a very strong sense of “not my problem” when dealilng with anyone in charge. people cannot see beyond written protocols, they refuse to take independent action to correct matters.

Example… I was in a TESCO store looking for a product. they did not have it. I had already walked through the entire store and was close to the exit by the cash register. I was told, no , i had to go back to the main entrance. I said, in essense, fuck you, this is the exit and i am leaving through here. Call the cops fine. just see how stupid you will look. Big shouting match, i said in essence you are stupid and so is your rule.” (Robert, US)

No individual initiative

“Another example. Very little sense of volunteership. I lived two years in a very nice town, not far from BP, with a lovely train station… but the platform is full of crap, broken seats, the grounds are weedy. and ugly. Any US town would have a garden committee dedicated to beautifying the local train station to make it attractive for visitors. Just not in the consciousness of Hungarians.” (Robert, US)

Nationalism and xenophobia

“The people are super friendly. There are reports of Neo Nazism etc but to be honest, i have never seen any of these people thus far. The people tend to be a bit complaining though and they do have a bit of historical enmity with their neighbors- especially Romania and Slovakia. A Football match between Romania and Hungary is like a cricket match between India and Pakistan.” (Prasanth, India)

“The xenophobia seems to be fear-based. As in, fear of the unknown. Hungary is an ethnically homogeneous society – for the worse. They consider gypsies essentially non-people, while other ethnic minorities, with a country behind them are so tiny, they hardly merit political debate. Orban can campaign with ethnic homogeneity and even the well-meaning, non-racist (by US standard) people will applaud him because they are genuinely fear foreigners. They often never met one.” (Peter, Texas)

Crazy bureaucracy

“We have moved here because we heard that taxes are low and authorities are friendly. My husband is British-American and I’m Spanish and we run an international business. Small, but sweet. So we figured that anything would be better than what we had to put up with. How wrong we were! People, just because you hate your own tax regime it doesn’t mean that some random country really is the promise land. Headline rates are low alright. But the real amount of tax is higher than what either of us was used to. It is tax by a thousand cuts, so to speak. Plus some extra taxation by unpredictable and unavoidable fines.

We hired an accountant when we arrived because you have zero chance to understanding the language. Later we learned that even the locals don’t understand tax rules and shell out real cash on accountants – who are also somewhat clueless because rules change a lot and no one knows how to interpret them. Every time I ask our accountant what a new rule means he just shrugs and tells us to just pay up and hope for the best. As a rule, whatever is less beneficial for you applies. And then there is this hostility. Tax men are like hunters. They behave like one (ours did). He said they have collection targets ON FINES, not taxes. My husband was breathless. I am from Spain so… not so much.

In the end we payed everything the authority demanded and the accountant was just there to tell us how to pay it. Our friends also had the same issue.

We have also heard about massive corruption and political interests running the tax office and by that time I could believe it. We had a child in the meantime, so we are staying until he gets to school. He will start school somewhere else.”

(Arantxa, Spain)

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6 thoughts on “The Dark Side of Living in Hungary

  1. The real problem is that some people among hungrians (not all) are envious and simply bad character, able to cause you a lot of trouble in life if they are in the right position. My child was taken away from me for no reason and they are keen to do such things. Now he is with his mother who is not hungrian and just few months old. This is just an example of the stories that can happen in this country.
    Some people have serious mental problems, who can cause a lot of trouble, some of them as above.

    The food is bad q’ty because the government doesn’t really care about the majority of hungarians, what they eat and drink, shops are filled with lower quality food products. Food was much better 20-30 years ago when there was not so much low cost imported food and junk. The baby factory started up due to government communication it is needed to get the growth rate back to a normal level, which may be a good move, though the during & after birth procedures involved in child upbringing are really weak, lacking money, but maybe mostly lacking motivated and professional workers in this very important area. And people are the most important value in every field, as we know. I do not want to express my view on the hungarian healthcare system & workers, I think it is much better if you go to any other countries in case you have any serious problem, before your health gets much worse gradually because of their treatement…

    I have no experience in education or justice system in hungary, but judging from the rest they are not in their heyday. One thing should be clear- better life can be achieved with brain, not physical power, long time (maybe hundreds of years) investment in People (education, healthcare, high food safety standards, etc). The trend in hungary doesn’t seem to be in close relation with this trajectory of human development.

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  2. Pingback: Moving to Hungary | Meanwhile in Budapest

  3. “Tell us your story: Contrary to what I have finished reading, for me, Hungary is the best Country in the world.I have visited hu.on many occasions; not looking for mushrooms but for a clever culture, pride and Patriots people. I have never had a problems to communicating in English, Spanish, French or German with them. Hu you are the most beautiful, honest and decent youth on the planet thanks to Prime Minister Viktor Orban who enjoys 96% of approval in the country. The contributions of Hungary to the humanity is imaginable. Some of Hu. Inventions: Binocular. Hydrogen bomb. Ball point pen. Rubik’s cube. Safety match. First electric motor. Fort model T. Nuclear reactor. Hologram. Plasmas display. Vitamin C. Carburetor. Transformer. Telefone. Electronic television. Infrared camera. Apollo lunar Rover. Manhattan project amount other. “

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  4. Pingback: Living in Hungary as an Expat | Meanwhile in Budapest

  5. Pingback: Living in Hungary as an Expat: Wages and Doing Business | Meanwhile in Budapest

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