How many problems can toasting with beer cause in Hungary? Do they take a dim view of this behaviour? There are so many alarming rumours about it on the internet, but I’ll tell you what the truth is.
It is a misconception that locals will give you resentful looks if you toast with beer in Hungary as a tourist. Toasting with beer is taboo only for Hungarians. This is how we commemorate the Hungarian generals executed by Austrians in 1849, who toasted with beer after the execution.
Of course, there are situations you need to be informed about in order to avoid problems. Hungarians love their country and are proud of their history, so it is considered very rude if you offend them in this regard. But let’s come back to this a bit later.
First of all, let me explain to you why Hungarians made a vow not to toast with beer for over 150 years.
What is the background of Hungarians not toasting with beer?
In the 19th century, the Kingdom of Hungary and the Austrian Empire together formed the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy with a common ruler who always came from the Habsburg House.
Although there was a Diet of Hungary, its official language was first Latin, then German. The Hungarian nobility strived for independence and tried to ask for concessions from the emperor, with little success.
Although concessions were made on the part of the monarchy, they proved to be such irrelevant ones that the Hungarians revolted and on March 15th, 1848 the Hungarian Revolution and War of Independence broke out.
Over months of fighting, the Hungarian army was destroyed and finally they capitulated. However, this was followed by harsh retaliations.
Although private soldiers were granted amnesty, they did not receive impunity as most of them were conscripted into the imperial army. Senior officers, officers, and envoys were brought before a court-martial, and trial order was determined by the degree of their “guilt”.
Lajos Batthyány, the then-prime minister, was arrested in January 1849 and sentenced to death by hanging on trumped-up charges brought by the Viennese court.
In Arad, 13 Hungarian generals were sentenced to death for high-treason and sedition on September 26th, 1849. Haynau (nicknamed ‘the Austrian butcher’), the general of the Austrian Empire, vowed to revenge the revolution and did his best to set an example.
The executions took place on October 6th – the anniversary of the Viennese Revolution. Batthyány stabbed himself in the neck with a dagger that was smuggled into his cell the night before, so he could not be hanged. The local commander changed the verdict to execution by shooting at his own discretion. This made Haynau furious with rage as he wanted to hang the Hungarian Prime Minister at whatever the cost.
Count Batthyány did not let his eyes be blindfolded. He knelt down on one knee and commanded the shooting himself, his last words being: “Éljen a haza!” (Long live my country!) “Rajta, vadászok!” (Go, huntsmen!)
The 13 Hungarian generals also executed on October 6th in Arad were the following: Lajos Aulich, János Damjanich, Arisztid Dessewffy, Ernő Kiss, Károly Knézich, György Lahner, Vilmos Lázár, Károly Leininger-Westerburg, József Nagysándor, Ernő Poeltenberg, József Schweidel, Ignác Török, and Károly Vécsey.
First, Kiss, Schweidel, Dessewffy, and Lázár – who were “pardoned” to death by bullet – were shot dead in the northern rampart of the castle. Then, the other nine were hung on a hastily assembled tree south of the castle.
The dead bodies were left hanging on the gallows as a deterrence, but it had an opposite effect and the place of the execution became a real pilgrimage site.
The retaliations resulted in more than 500 death sentences. Primarily officers were executed.
One thousand five hundred people were sentenced to many years in prison or had their death sentences changed to prison terms. 25–30% of the Hungarian private soldiers who fought in the War of Independence were conscripted and had to serve seven years far away from their homeland.
The wave of retaliation did not subside until July 1850, when – due to outrage all over Europe – the Viennese Court retired Haynau for “exceeding his authority”.
The vow since which no Hungarian has toasted with beer
Haynau and his High Command toasted with beer at the reception, celebrating their victory and the execution of the 13 martyrs of Arad on October 6th, 1849.
Following these events, Hungarians vowed to not toast with beer for 150 years in protest against the Austrian Empire.
Why 150 years? There are only legends about this. One of the most probable reasons is that the Turkish occupation of Hungary had lasted for 150 years before they were successfully expelled from the country. So, our forefathers might have thought that 150 years should be enough – even in the worst-case scenario – to gain back their freedom from the Austrian Empire.
This has become such a strong emotion that the vow has been kept ever since.
Why don’t we care if tourists toast with beer in Hungary?
We are a small country. Many people can’t even tell where Hungary is, let alone know our history or customs. Thus, we don’t disapprove of foreigners who toast with beer. Why would we? This vow – that has become tradition by now – applies only to us.
So, feel free to celebrate as you please when in Hungary. Toast with beer, wine, champagne, or whatever you like. We won’t be offended by it.
Things to avoid by all means
If partying tourists toasting with beer at clubs doesn’t bother Hungarians, then what does?
There are many great party places in Budapest and in Hungary, as well. So, it is inevitable that you will meet Hungarians while partying. When the mood is at its peak, everyone is your friend, no matter if they are tourists or locals. You happily invite all your new acquaintances for drinks.
But if either of you have a beer in your hand, don’t try to toast with a Hungarian. They will be polite and reject the offer with a smile. Take the hint and don’t be offended. It is not about not liking you; it is simply the way Hungarians commemorate the 13 executed generals and the retaliations.
Problems arise when tourists still insist on the toast or deliberately clink their glasses to ours. Don’t do that! You never know how a slightly drunk Hungarian will react to this – because even sober Hungarians are true patriots.
The other thing you should avoid is laughing at a Hungarian for not toasting with you with beer. You obviously find it funny because you don’t know the historical background to it. This way you can really hurt your new Hungarian friend; don’t be surprised if they simply turn around and walk away (if you are lucky).
How to toast in Hungary? Cheers in Hungarian
Luckily, you can toast with several other types of alcohol. In fact, there are Hungarian specialties, such as spritzer, pálinka (fruit brandy), and Unicum, which you can only taste in Hungary.
Every country has its own way of toasting: Cheers, Salud, Salut, Prost, etc. Learn the Hungarian way, as well.
If you want Hungarians to take a shine to you, raise your glass before toasting and say: Egészségedre! – it means you drink to their health. Here’s how to say it: ag-esh-sheg-ad-reh [ægeʃʃegedre].
Hungarian is one of the most difficult languages in the world, so everyone will be amazed at how attentive you are. You will have huge success!