Turkish Culture & Social Traditions
Turks are very sociable, as you will soon discover from your time in Turkey. People from countries with reserved social practices may be in awe of the friendly nature shown to everyone but relax and make new friends!
You will hear this phrase often in Turkey. It means, “Welcome” and the words to reply with are “Hos bulduk” which means, “We feel welcome.
Greetings & Body Language
A kiss on both cheeks is the standard greeting between friends while strangers will shake hands. Expressing ‘yes’ in Turkey is done by bowing your head, while ‘no’ is shown by raising your head backwards while rolling your eyes.
Surnames were only introduced in Turkey in 1934 and because of this; most Turks address each other by their first name or an endearing term. ‘Bey’ is added to the first name of a man, or ‘Hanim’ to a woman’s name eg Mustafa Bey. Other common terms are ‘abi’ (older brother), ‘abla’ (older sister), ‘amca’ (uncle) and ‘teyze’ (aunt). While ‘abi’ and ‘abla’ refer to young to middle-aged people, ‘teyze’ and ‘amca’ are reserved for the older generation.
Culturally women do not go in Turkish teahouses because they are “men only” environments. If in any doubt, look for other females, couples and families. Countless tables filled with men playing backgammon means it is a no go area for females.
An Invitation To a Turkish House
Turkish people invite anybody and everyone to their houses. It might be for breakfast or a formal evening meal. Shoes are not worn in the house and visitors are given slippers. Whether alcohol will be served is dependent on the family and their background.
Turks expect adults to marry and have children, and the vast majority do. Because men should not lower their wives’ standard of living, they are not supposed to marry women of a higher economic class. In traditional Turkish society, elders control the selection of spouses and the marriage ceremony. Don’t be surprised to find yourself invited to a marriage even if you are a complete stranger!
Cash is exchanged without commission in most exchange offices, banks, or hotels. Cash point machines (ATM) are available in most busy areas. They accept worldwide cards and some cash points display instructions in English. Inform your bank in advance that you are travelling to Turkey as some automatically prevent use to combat fraud. Turkish newspapers and the Internet publish exchange rates daily.
Tap water in Turkey is high in minerals and can upset the stomach so use bottled water instead. Some upper-class hotels offer complimentary bottled water while others will charge. Most shops sell bottled water and you can still brush your teeth with tap water but do not swallow.
Working Hours & Public Holidays:
Offices and banks are generally open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Monday to Friday, with a break from 12:00 to 1:30 PM. Touristic shops, restaurants, and bars usually open until late at night.
Dates of the following two religious festivals change according to the Muslim lunar calendar and thus occur 10 days earlier each year. Shops, banks and offices opening hours will be affected.
Ramadan Bayrami / Sugar Feast: Three-day festival to celebrate the end of the fast of Ramadan.
Kurban Bayramı / Sacrifies Feast: Four-day festival to slaughter a sheep or cow and distribute the meat among the poor, neighbours and within the family.
Internet: Most hotels, inns, pensions, and hostels have a communal computer and open wireless Internet access (Wi-Fi) in at least one public space, such as the lobby or lounge. Wi-Fi access is usually free in smaller hotels and inns but larger hotels may charge. You should check with reception. Turkish airports, some cafes, and restaurants also have free Wi-Fi access.
Laundry: Some hotels offer laundry services and they normally display the price list in rooms. There are not many launderettes in Turkey but dry cleaning shops are scattered throughout most cities.
Visiting a Mosque:
Foreign visitors should remove shoes and show the same respect they would to any other house of worship. Avoid visiting mosques during prayer time. Women should cover their heads and arms, and not wear miniskirts. Men should not wear shorts. Tipping: Most tour and hotel staff appreciates small tips given with discretion but it is not mandatory. Taxis do not expect tips but rounding up the fare for convenience is common. In restaurants, the normal amount to tip is 10% of the bill depending on how happy you are with the service.
Using the Telephone:
Turkish SIM cards are sold at most mobile phone shops but it is a lengthy process for foreigners. Some shops sell telephone cards to use in public phones and there are many iPhone apps that allow you to speak free. If you use the telephone in your hotel, check with reception re charges.