Turkish Customs and Etiquette
Turkey (formally the Republic of Turkey) is a vast country located at the crossroads between Europe and Asia. Its geographical location between these continents has caused Turkish society to be influenced by the East and the West-from Eastern and Eastern Europe to Central Asia and the Caucasus. As a result, the culture blends traditional and modern customs, as well as religious and secular traditions. Indeed, the Turks continue to negotiate the identity of some of the most secular people in the Islamic world.
It is important to note that cultural customs, social attitudes, and lifestyles vary significantly across the country. There are significant differences between regions (rural/urban), regions, socioeconomic status, race, and education level. Nonetheless, the Turks are usually united in a strong national identity. They also have specific core cultural values, such as a sense of honor, hospitality, and good neighborliness.
Ethnic Origin and Identity
Turkey used to be part of the Ottoman Empire and ruled for six centuries in many countries and cultures throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia. The Turks were the center of this large-scale conquest, and the capital Istanbul (then known as «Constantinople») was the central trading hub between East and West. The Ottoman Empire was dissolved after the Allied forces were defeated in the First World War. The Republic of Turkey was established in 1923.
The formation of the modern Turkish state is accompanied by the development of a strong national identity. It is generally claimed that Turkey was established for the «Turkish people.» Therefore, the status of the country as a Turkish citizen is more important than its ethnic identity. This strong national identity can undoubtedly unify the entire country while marginalizing certain ethnic minorities (see ethnic minorities below). Nationalism remains one of the most powerful ideologies in Turkish society. People are usually proud of the country and culture of Turkey and the history of its Ottoman Empire. Patriotism is visible on a daily level. For example, people typically see their Turkish flag flying anywhere in Turkey-on houses, shops, and high-rise buildings.
Basic Rules and Etiquette
- In Turkey, people usually quote many times. It is generally polite to refuse the gesture at first and accept the gesture after the person insists. This exchange can make the offeror show sincerity in the gesture and show the modesty of the recipient.
- Make sure to provide everything multiple times. If you only bid once, the Turks may answer, «No, it’s okay» out of humility and politeness, even if they intend to accept the second bid.
- If you want to decline the offer or gesture, you may have to be very persistent. To say so, put one hand on your chest. If someone invites you somewhere, you can make the same gesture and then point to your watch to indicate that you have no time to stay.
- The older man should be polite when he gets into the house. If they do not have a seat, they can give them seats for others.
- Turkish men are used to escorting women to seats and bathrooms during meals.
- It is impolite/impolite to chew gum while talking with someone in a higher position or on a formal occasion.
- Avoid sitting in any position where the shoes can face others. This is considered an insult. Similarly, when meeting someone, crossing legs is also inappropriate.
- It is considered inappropriate for a woman to sit with her legs crossed.
- Please ask their permission before taking pictures of women.
- Try to gesture with only your right or both hands, touch others, or provide items. And many Turks observe a separation between the functions of the hands. This custom is related to Islamic doctrine, which stipulates that the left side can only be used to remove dirt and cleaning. It may not be necessary to follow it strictly, but unless it is unavoidable, it is best not to use the left hand.
- People rarely split the bill in Turkey. People who invite others to join usually pay, and men typically pay for women. You can offer to pay the full fee; however, if your Turkish counterpart insists on keeping you to them several times, please allow them to pay. It’s an excellent gesture to propose to take it out the next time you return.
- Hospitality is the main virtue of Turkey. As we all know, Turks are very generous to their guests because hospitality is regarded as an honor. Some people think that the unexpected guests are «guests from God».
- Turks regularly invite others to join them (for example, at their table) or have their stuff. These gestures may be too persistent or demanding for foreigners. However, please consider that the more influential the invitation, the more severe and polite the people think it is.
- People should attend dinner and intimate parties on time. However, it is appropriate to be late for the party.
- When visiting any child in the house, it is an excellent gesture to bring sweets, flowers, or gifts to the children. However, the Turks usually do not care much about what you bring and are more interested in socializing and conversation.
- If alcohol or food is brought to the party, it should be shared with others.
- Wear clean socks. People usually expect you to take off your shoes before entering a person’s home. In some cases, slippers may be provided to you.
- In any case, provide tea or coffee and get drunk (usually traditional Turkish tea or apple tea). It is generally packed in a small tulip-shaped cup with sugar. After sitting down with the Turks, I hope to get it soon.
- In some families, you may find that you did not interact with adult female family members during the visit. Women usually prepare and clean after meals, while men interact with guests.
- Please be careful of your compliments in Turkish houses, as they may force you to give them as gifts.
Eating — very important part of Turkish culture
Turks usually prefer to sit down and eat. They rarely eat snacks all day or dine on the go. It is not uncommon for everyone invited to dinner to bring their dishes to share with a «bento» meal. Usually, the host will cook and prepare everything.
In the city, people usually eat at the dining table. However, in smaller families, you can spread the food on the carpet, and then everyone sits on the mat. Some Turkish families may place cushions at low tables.
Turks often provide food multiple times and prompt their guests to eat more than is feasible. Try to accept as many things as possible, even if you cannot complete them all. It is best to eat a meal on an empty stomach so that you can accept multiple servings.
If you cannot eat food, you may have to be very persistent and give a reasonable reason (for example, I am a vegetarian). Your landlord may refuse you out of courtesy, and still make a difference.
- According to Islamic customs, some Turks are not allowed to eat anything containing alcohol or pork.
- Many Turkish cuisines involve eating from various side dishes, which are called meze.
- Turks tend to eat slowly and quickly. Usually, stop between two dishes, then smoke and drink some wine, and then continue to the next meal.
- Handle all food with your right hand. The left side is related to cleaning and should not be used to deliver, serve, or serve food.
- Do not blow your nose or grit your teeth when eating.
- Always hide your feet under the table.
- Depending on who is dining with you, dinner may be accompanied by alcohol. The local Turkish beverage is called «Raký.»
- You can drink tea or Turkish coffee after a meal.
- The owner usually refills the empty glasses he sees.
- An excellent way to praise the host is to say «Elinize sağılık» (make your hands healthy).
Formal gift-giving is commendable, although not necessarily typical or expected. Gift packaging and cards are not standard.
And Turks tend to give gifts on a more regular basis, often offering small objects and gestures throughout the friendship process.
Give and receive gifts with both hands.
Gifts are usually not opened in front of the giver.
It is sufficient not to give gifts that contain traces of alcohol or pork. Some Turks may drink alcohol. However, since it is a mostly Muslim country, you should be assured of this before drinking wine or spirits.