Estimated reading time: 6 minute(s)
Newcomers to Hungary will be exposed to a new and fascinating language, most of which will be completely incomprehensible to them for at least six months after their arrival. They will pick up Köszönöm (Thank you) and Jó napot (Good day) pretty quickly, but other, longer words and expressions will slip quietly past them. There is, however, one primary word that new expats will have to master as quickly as possible, as it holds the key to understanding Hungarian and to being understood by Hungarians. That word is “Igen.”
As any new arrival learns during his/her first day in Budapest, “Igen” is Hungarian for “Yes.” But what the newly-arrived expat does not know is that Igen can be and is used by Hungarians in a multiple format. You can say it once, twice, three or even four times, depending on the level of excitement involved in the conversation. Expats need to know just how and when to use the correct number of Igens. So, here’s your guide to this most useful of Hungarian words.
The Fifty Shades of “Igen” – The Basic Igen
One “Igen” is indicative of a simple response to a simple question or request. No embellishments or emphases are required.
“Do you want a beer?” “Igen.”
“May I borrow 10,000 forints?” “Igen.”
“Will you come home with me tonight? “Igen.” (I keep hoping to hear just this one, simple Igen from just one basic Hungarian woman).
See? An easy, simple, quick, no-nonsense reply. No need to say more. This is the Basic Igen.
Ever had a funny interaction because of the language barrier? Tell us about it!
The Fifty Shades of “Igen” –The Excitement Level
When you say “Igen” twice, at normal speaking speed, you are responding with more enthusiasm to a request or question, usually something having to do with sports, dancing or food.
“You look like a woman who’d like to join me for some Reggae.” “Igen, igen!”
“Feel like a spin around Margit Island in my new Porsche?” “Igen, igen!”
“How about a really BIG Somlói Galuska?” “Igen, igen!”
No problems here, just rev up the excitement level a touch and go for it.
The Fifty Shades of “Igen” – Said Quickly in Succession
Now you’re getting into the upper rows of the grandstand. You need to start being a little more careful in your use of the Three Igens, as this structure indicates an almost pathetic eagerness to acquiesce to an entreaty, demand or plea. Use the Three Igens carefully and judiciously, as they communicate a rather desperate hope that the user will be believed and will be embraced by the requester. The Three Igens should always be said quickly in succession, with little or no space between them.
“So, Honey, want to come to London with me for the weekend?” “Igen, igen, igen!”
“I’ve got tickets for the Madonna concert; want to go with me?” “Igen, igen, igen!”
“Here’s 30,000 forints; want to come home with me tonight?” “Igen, igen, igen!”
Say it carefully, softly, gently, but with just the right amount of eagerness and desperation, coupled with a touch of arrogance and superiority; practice, folks, it takes practice.
The Fifty Shades of “Igen” – Be very, very careful!
The superlative use of the word. The Four Igens should only be used on very special occasions, maybe once or twice a year, and even then only for those once in a decade situations. Be very, very careful when using the Four Igens, as you will become the immediate puppet of the person to whom you say them.
“Hi, I’m Brad Pitt’s brother; want to come home with me tonight?” “Igen, igen, igen, igen!!”
So, Honey, I’m a photographer for Playboy; want to be Miss November?” “Igen, igen, igen, igen!!”
Hi, I’m Bill Gates’ brother; want to come home with me tonight?” “Igen, igen, igen, igen!!”
The Four Igens must ALWAYS be said as speedily as possible, indicating the user hasn’t even taken time to consider the question or request, but has just automatically reacted without even thinking. The voice should start high on the first Igen and should finish lower on the final Igen.
So, newly-arrived expat, you now know just the correct number of Igens to use in appropriate situations. Or the correct number of Igens you should expect in response to a certain question or request. Practice these usages as and when you can. Watch the reaction of your partner or guest to be certain you haven’t misused your Igens, and you can look forward to a long, happy, Igen-filled life here in Budapest.
The Fifty Shades of “Igen” – The Unimaginable!
EDITOR NOTE: Never, ever, attempt to use Igen more than four times in a row, as you never can tell what disaster might befall you. The most recent misuse of The Five Igens was in the middle of March 2010, and look what happened just a few days later: yep, the Iceland volcano erupted. You have been warned.