As far as I can make out Hungarian social culture is much like Russian social culture. It may also be a pan-European thing that when you socialize you should be prepared to devote a lot of time. I still remember visiting with one family at their place in the Buda Hills. She spoke some English. He spoke some French. She did a lot more of the actual hosting and food preparation. Of course, like most things Hungarian, it was dawn to dusk. They insisted that we arrive as early as possible. They would pick us up at the bus depot at 8 am. We started drinking early at a restaurant along the way to their house. When we arrived at the house itself, there was Pálinka (which is a sort of brandy). There were promises of food, and a series of snacks were offered while we waited and drank and blathered. The main dishes though kept getting put off. There was a kind of stew that usually simmers in a cauldron (bogrács) on a fire in the yard. It was of wild boar. Finally around 10 pm we suggested that we had to get home amid protestations. I think the main supper courses were still in the preparation stages. It took forever to get home. We had been drunk all day.
There is a passage in a biographical piece in a recent New Yorker about a writer named Frayn (who is British) who had a long and somewhat ambivalent relationship with Russian culture and Russian writing. And I have to say that there is a lot of similarity in what he describes of Russian social life and what I've experienced of the Hungarian equivalent. Anyway, there's a section in in this piece about the aspects of Russian culture that this guy Frayn found were at odds with his own personality:
Russians are maximalists. Russian friendship has always been a very demanding concept, particularly in Soviet times. If you were admitted to someone's circle as a friend, you were expected to give up anything, really, as the Russians did for each other. If you had some money and your friend wanted to borrow it, you gave it to him. You had to be prepared to devote whole days to seeing people. Well, there are some English people who can cope with that, some who like it, but I can't say I ever have. I take a view of friendship as something that doesn't make those kinds of demands on you.(New Yorker, Oct. 25, 2004 at p. 64.)There are aspects of Hungarian social life that are like this. And, like Frayn, I just don't have the time to devote to this kind of life. Maybe if I were single and a had a nine to five job and no kids, but not with two kids etc. etc. there's really no way. So we have to beg off a lot on the social thing. On the other hand, in a way it's easier to observe when you're not totally immersed in the culture. Here are some photos of various wine beer and hard liquor emporiums (taken from the outside) to give you a more concrete idea of the drinking communities here. Please click on each photo for a much larger view.
The first picture, above left, is of a little hole in the wall basement 'borozo' or wine bar. It's pretty skanky as most of these places are and the wine is not brilliant. However, these kinds of bars are everywhere. This particular bar is near our place on a street called 'forget-me-not.' Easy to remember. So if you're prone to binge drinking in neighborhoods not your own and happen to leave your keys on the counter maybe the name could come in handy. Or it could just be one of life's little ironies that you left your wallet, your soul and passport in a bar on forget-me-not street. The next shot, above right, is of forget-me-not street itself.
Above left is a bar at the end of the same block. You can see the street name on the side of the bar under the 'Eszpresszo' sign (Nefelejcs utca - utca being street). Above right is the Piroska restaurant (pronounced Pee Roshka, "vendéglő" being restaurant or diner). Piroska (Rosy) is also the name used for Little Red Riding Hood. So the restaurant is sort of named Rosy's Diner. A lot of people hang out there and/or go out for beer at such places.
One of Budapest's grand boulevards called Andrássy ut is above left. To the right is of an intersection called Oktogon. If you look closely on the right side of the photo on top of one of the buildings there is a McDonald's M above the Burger King sign (of course). Americanization exists here, but it's not as serious or as high pressure as (or so I've heard) in Prague.
Above left is one of the more common forms of snack shack - a little sandwich and drinks stand where you can get wine or beer in a cup. In fact, there is a sign above and to the right of the boy's head that says hot wine - 80 forints (about 50 cents). These snack stands are very common in the subways. The last is a shot of a beer bar 'söröző' called Niagara. It is named after Niagara Falls, Canada mainly because it's part of a mall that was built by Trimark, a Canadian investment company, which features at least one but probably several prominent Canadians. In fact my husband calls the mall the Brian Mulroney Memorial Mall because Mulroney, Canada's last Conservative Prime Minister, had a hand in making this particular business venture happen. Alas, the 'memorial' part is just an anticipatory flourish.