Turkish Customs:
Get to Know Them Before You Land

Turkish customs may seem interesting to you at first. But when you get to know people, you’ll feel like you’ve been living here for years.

Without exception, every country has its own dos and don'ts. So it would be a good idea if you get some insight to Turkish way of doing things before visiting Istanbul.

Usually, you might be doing well here, even if you have no idea about Turkish customs. Because Turkish people are familiar with the customs of westerners and how different these cultures are.

But if you know how to do things the Turkish way, it will impress Turkish people tremendously.

Turkish people are more formal and traditional in their relationships. Turkish customs during Ottoman Empire times were highly formal and developed.

Those Ottoman daily life traditions are still alive. Although Turkish people are more informal in their daily relations some of those Turkish customs are still alive.

Even Turkish language has lots of politeness phrases to be used on different occasions like; greetings, condolences, circumcision parties, weddings, when someone has a haircut, when someone has a bath, when someone sneezes, when starting a meal and ending a meal…

And by the way, info on this page are only for travelers and a little bit info for business people. If you are planning to live here, it gets deeper and deeper.

Turkish Customs 101:


Body Gestures:

You can avoid awkward situations by knowing these beforehand;

  • In Turkey people shake hands when meeting someone. If someone lends his/her hand, shake it… (But this may be considered inappropriate between different sexes in rural areas.)
  • Need for physical personal space is totally different here. Don’t be surprised if a Turkish person stands close to you during a conversation. It is totally normal in Turkey.
  • Pointing your finger to someone is also considered rude.
  • It is considered rude to expose the sole of your foot while you are sitting.
  • Keeping an eye contact during a conversation is very important. Turkish people consider that it indicates sincerity.
  • Kissing, hugging is okay but overt displays of affection towards the opposite sex are inappropriate in public. You might get gazes towards you.
  • Picking teeth after a meal in public is also rude. You might see a lot of people doing it but with one hand covering the mouth. Even that is repulsive..

Head Gestures:

* Yes: If someone nodes his/her head down, it indicates “Yes”.

* No: If someone lifts his/her head up while raising eyebrows, it indicates “No”. There is usually a slight “ncssskk” sound made with tongue and teeth accompanying it. Couldn’t imagine how it sounds? You’ll understand when you see it.

* No: Another one for “No”. If someone shakes his/her head from side to side, it indicates “No”.

Meeting and Greeting:

  • When meeting someone, shake hands firmly.
  • When departing shake hands again.
  • Friends and relatives greet each other with two kisses on the cheek. If you are not that close, you don't have to kiss someone.
  • Don’t be surprised if you see children kissing the hands of the elderly. It is the way to show respect.
  • When entering a room, if you are not automatically met by someone greet the most elderly first.
  • Always greet the people when you enter somewhere. Greeting; “Selam” is very important here.

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Gift Giving:

Actually, "gift giving" has no real place in informal or business relationships. Dining together is what builds relationships here.

But of course, if there is a gift involved, it will be appreciated. Bringing craft items from your country is always a nice gesture.

If you are invited to a Turkish house for a dinner, lunch or even breakfast, it is considered nice to bring a gift with you. Nobody will think that you are rude or something if you don’t. But bringing a gift to your host is one of the most applied Turkish customs.

There is even a phrase for this; "Coming empty handed"..

What can you bring as a gift?

* A desert like baklava

* A box of chocolate

* Flowers (Cut or in a pot)

* A bottle of wine (Make sure the hosts consume alcohol. It is very unlikely that they don’t drink, but being sure never hurts.)

Dining:

In Turkey, most of the relationship buildings and business deals will take place in restaurants. Turkish people simply enjoy food and they are happily proud of their cuisine.

  • Turkish customs and hospitality almost dictates that host always pays for the meal. There is no such thing as sharing the bill. You can offer to pay, it will be considered polite. But never insist. Instead, thank your host and invite them to another place a few days later and pay the bill there. Oh, by the way, you definitely should inform the restaurant about this, otherwise they will accept the payment from the Turkish one at the table, assuming you are their guest.
  • I'm not sure if it can be considered one of the Turkish customs but it is so common, maybe we should; This is a really bad habit but most of the Turkish people smoke a lot. (Remember the saying: Smoking like a Turk!) Don’t be surprised if they smoke before, during and after the meal, repeatedly. They are not stressed, actually relaxed. As a relief, the new law prohibits smoking in restaurants, cafes which don't have open spaces. So you won’t be a second-hand smoker.
  • You might be offered to drink “raki”, a traditional alcoholic drink of Turkey. It is a great part of Turkish customs. You don’t have to drink but it will be nice if you taste it even a little bit. By the way, if you decide to continue with raki after tasting it, be aware that it is really strong. It might make your host happy but if you drink too much it might give you a strong headache the day after. Well, you’re informed..
  • This is the most delicious of the Turkish customs: Deserts and tea or Turkish coffee is served at the end of a meal. Turkish coffee is a traditional drink, it has a big part in Turkish customs too. It is very delicious and strong. It can be sugar-free, with a little sugar or sweet, you choose. Turkish coffee is nothing like instant coffee, you should follow the ritual. The right way to drink it is; Smell it, sip it, allow your taste buds to realize the heavenly flavor, and finally swallow and enjoy!

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Dressing:

It depends on where you will be travelling in Turkey. For Istanbul and other big cities, smart casual dressing is the way to go for nearly anywhere in Turkey.

  • In the stylish restaurants, dress is more formal than any other restaurant. Good looking is very important at those places so avoid wearing shorts and t-shirts.
  • In seaside towns, you can dress as you wish. You can even go topless at beaches.
  • In rural areas a modest type of dressing is required. It will be better if you wear knee-height shorts and t-shirts instead of topless tanks.
  • Business dress is more conservative. Men are expected to wear a suit and tie. Women are expected to wear smart and professional looking outfits.

Business Meetings:

  • Turkish people usually do business with those they know, like and respect. Therefore your first appointments will be more social. Extended lunches and dinners are created for this.
  • Be aware that your deal will become real only if you build effective personal relationships. Although this is changing rapidly with the effect of big multi-national companies and corporate culture in some of the larger companies, personal relationships is still king.
  • A clearly outlined and well presented proposal is very important too but not the only important factor on business decisions.Do not immediately begin discussing business. Small talk is part of a relationship building here.
  • Talking about football always opens doors for communication because most Turkish men are fanatic about football.
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Discover Istanbul at your own pace...

Want to know more about what is appropriate and what is not? Here you can find all Travel Advice that you need:

Turkey Travel Advice in General: Travel Advice

General Tips for Istanbul Travelers: Tips for Travelers

Safety Tips for a Safer Trip: Safety Tips

Where ever you go, there is always an additional advice for women travelers. I don't like it, but it is the reality. So here they are; Tips for Women Travelers

Shopping is an adventure in Istanbul and Turkey. Learn all tricks that will save you money and time: Shopping Tips

Like all big cities, there are crooks in Istanbul too. Here is how to avoid them; Taxi Tips

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