Turkish Culture – A Guide to Social Traditions

One thing you will soon realize when visiting Turkey is part of the Turkish culture involves being very sociable. Turkish people love to meet new friends and think nothing of spending half the day talking to a complete stranger while putting the world to rights. People who come  from countries that are reserved may be in awe of the friendly nature shown to everyone. With this in mind, I have put together a guide on Turkish culture and social traditions that you will encounter when visiting Turkey.

Hos Geldiniz.

You will hear this phrase often in Turkey, more so if you visit the traditional Turkish restaurants and bars rather than establishments aimed at tourists. It means “welcome” and the phrase that you should return is “Hos bulduk” which means we feel welcome. Don’t get nervous if you forget this term or forget to say it as Turkish people realize that not every foreigner knows the Turkish language.

Men only.

If you are a woman, the only establishments to be aware of are  Turkish tea houses. Culturally women do not go in there.  Instead look for a Turkish tea garden where couples and families will go. If you are in any doubt, take a look at who else is there. Countless amounts of tables filled with men playing backgammon means it is a no go area for females.

Social gatherings

You will probably find yourself invited to a wedding or a circumcision party by a Turkish person even if you have only known them for a couple of days. The motto here is the more the merrier and the word stranger is not even thought of. Whether alcohol will at the venue is dependent on the family and their background.

I am not going to write a long list of do’s and don’ts because the Turkish people just want you to relax and enjoy yourself. If there is anything you need to know at the time, then someone at the event will inform you of what is happening. As a present to give to the guest of honor, buy small pieces of gold from a jewellery shop or give them money. Wrapped presents and cards are not widely recognized in Turkey.

An Invitation To Their House

Turkish people invite anybody and anyone around to their house. It might just be for breakfast or a formal evening meal. Remember to say Hos bulduk when entering in response when they tell you that you are welcome. Shoes in the house are generally not allowed. Instead you will be given a pair of slippers.

Turkish cultureNow here is what you do need to know. If you are going around for dinner, make sure you have a big empty stomach. Dishes after dishes will be wheeled out for you and Turkish people do not take no for an answer. The main meal will be big and then afterwards will be popcorn, nuts, fruits, cake followed by tea and Turkish coffee.

If the family is from a big city, you will probably  be seated at the table. However if it is a small village house, a big round stand will be placed in the middle of the floor and everyone will sit around that to help themselves to food in the middle. I have never yet been given a knife when at someone’s home, just a spoon and fork. If you really want to impress then at the end of the meal, say elinize saglik to the cook. This means health to your hands and is appreciation of a good meal.

When going round to someone’s house for a meal, I normally follow the women into the kitchen and I will help them to prepare the meal. During this time, men will be sat in the living room discussing daily events and gossiping. The same applies to clearing up after the meal.

If you want to help by washing the dishes, remember that Muslims do not believe in bathing or washing items in stagnant water. Therefore there will be a washing up bowl, but after they will rinse the plates and cutlery under a running tap. That is also the reason why you will not generally find plugs for the sink in hotel rooms either.

So that is your quick introduction to social customs in Turkey. If you think there is anything that I have missed out then please feel free to add them below. Likewise if you want to know more and have a question, add it below and I will be more than happy to answer it for you.

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Natalie

Hi. My name is Natalie Sayin and I am the author of The Turkish Travel Blog. I am an eccentric,Internet addict with a passion for history. I really shouldn't travel because I can not read maps and always lose my way! But hey, that never stops me and it is part of the fun! Leave a comment below to join the discussions.
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Comments

  1. says

    Fascinating customs! Interesting that there is a big divide between the sexes both at home and at some public places. I guess some of this comes from the religious/Muslim background. Dessert sounds really good! :)

  2. says

    Good post Natalie. The other thing that’s worth noting is that if you take a gift to someone’s house, don’t be put off by the fact that they will just put it away and not open it in front of you. This is done to avoid embarrassment to you, or them, or anyone else.

    And it’s great that I have at least got one Turkish blog that I can visit and comment on during the Blogger ban!

  3. Bron says

    Never take a bottle of wine as a gift for the hosts, as is really commonly done in some Western countries – it is insulting. Many Turks have told me this.

    • leyla says

      actually it is not insulting but it is about religion.Some people don’t drink alcahol because Islam forbids it.

  4. says

    @Jeremy. Dessert is too much for me. I can never move when I have been round to a Turkishs person house for dinner.

    @Vago. Thanks, if you have any other questions, than just ask away.

    @Ayak. Yes, good point. I can still get into all those blogspot blogs. Visiting yours now!

    @Sid. It is a great experience going around to a Turkish persons house for dinner.

    @Bron. Yes that is a very good point. Thank you for adding it.

  5. phil + Di marina gateway says

    the first time we went to a turkish home we were given a pair of slippers and thought it was a very nice thing to do we had a meal and a nice evening later that night we were told its very insulting to were shoes in a turkish home his words were “its like me coming in to your home and pissing in your plant pots ” we all fell about laughing but he got his point across i didnt no about the wine so thanks for that

  6. says

    Sounds like there are some interesting difference within Turkey! In Ankara (Aksaray, Kayseri), I have yet to see popcorn, other than on tv. I have seen it sold in stores, but not in anyone’s home. In all three, I haven’t been to a home where there wasn’t a knife at the table.And in Ankara, wine has been brought to homes, but it’s usually the “professor” crowd and Turks married to expats, etc. Turks have brought me wine bc they know of the custom. And if I ever catch my husband sitting while I go help the women int he kitchen, he gets a big kick in the bum! :) More and more men are helping out, but what I’ve seen are those those who have traveled/lived outside of Turkey.

    Never heard of the bath things, but that explains so much . . .

    • Kozano says

      Where I come from in Turkey (Istanbul) we will take dessert or a box of little treats from the Pastane (patisserie) with us. And always received these when people visited us.

  7. says

    @Terry. Sounds like you are hanging out with the posh crowds!! It is only us commoners who get the popcorn kernels out! Maybe it is a regional custom or one of the big differences between people who live in the villages and people who live in the cities. I have found a vast difference in attitudes between villagers and city people. Also like you say, Turks that have traveled outside of Turkey.

    @Jack and Jill. The Turks are really not that focused on gifts. When inviting you for dinner, they are doing it more so for your company and social interaction. To them the gift is that you enjoy the food and have a good time with friends so don’t feel like you have to take a gift. If you really want to, then I would just take a bunch of flowers or a small plant. The Turks seems to love plants and flowers as well.

  8. says

    Natalie, I did notice a popcorn kernel on grandmother’s floor this weekend. :)

    Aksaray, while a city, is really just a very big village. The older folks lived there since it was just a little village and most people still see it that way.

    I feel like Ankara is a big city made up of villagers. Most have moved here recently and still don’t have that “big city” attitude.

    Another gift idea? Dessert! They will already have too much food, but they like it when you bring more!

    • Timur D says

      Terry,

      I do remember growing up in Aksaray with either popcorn or roasted corn (misir) after dinner. That was more of a treat for us as kids. it is not a very common thing in smaller towns and villages.

  9. says

    Hi Terry,Desert is a great gift idea. I have yet to visit Ankara but it is on my long list of places to see. When I set out with this aim of visiting every corner of turkey, I don’t think I realised it would take me to the day I die! Will let you know when I head to Ankara and you can give me some pointers.

  10. Turkey Tour Packages says

    It is part of famous Turkish Hospitality to invite people over and share their meals with the guest.

    Because in Turkish Culture, the more you have guest, the more fertile your meals gets.

    Thanks for the article.

  11. says

    Thanks Natalie for sharing this.The post is very well describe…after read this post Turkey people seems sociable and also maintain his culture such as: women do not go in tea houses ans also they do not believe in bathing or washing items in stagnant water,Social gatherings,An Invitation to their house anyone…etc

  12. Donna Schwarz-Nielsen says

    “Countless amounts of tables filled with men playing backgammon means it is a no go area for females.”
    That would leave our whole street out of bounds then. There is no where in our street where men are not sitting around in large groups gossiping and drinking tea. Including the whole corner areas. I’ve learned to ignore it…just enforces my opinion that Turkey runs on the backs of it’s women ;P

    • ibrahim inan says

      When Natalie said there is men sitting in large groups and drinking tea and playing backgommon she didn’t mean men are not being fair to women…. when men are at the teahouse look around when women finish cleaning or cooking they gather up in front of one ladies house and gossip as well :).. sometimes you will see 10 to 15 ladies sitting in front of someones house and drink tea as well. usually men do not expect women to work so life is usually shared as men work women cook. nowadays women work too thats why you started seeing men help women with house stuff but culture used to be women stays home. its not a bad thing if you don’t understand some stuff and some stuff might not be acceptable for you but it is the culture no one can judge it right?… thank you for your thoughts and Thanks to Natalie for bringing up a subject like this. as a turkish person it gives me proud when i read comments good or bad doesn’t matter. at least you know my country :) Good Day

  13. JF says

    First let me thank you for your first hand experience information.

    Now my question. What is the proper clothing western women should wear that is not offensive to the local people of Turkey?

    Thank you
    JF

    • ibrahim inan says

      And if you are in someones house as a guest they will give you a regular day clothes of theirs too.. mini skirts and v neck or see through blouses are not really used except for an important day

  14. cagla says

    Hi Natalie!

    This is a very interesting post! I sometimes laughed loudly!

    Food after food will be wheeled out for you and Turkish people do not take no for an answer.

    This is a very good point! Yes, in Turkey, you cannot say – thank you I am full. And I remember from my childhood that as a turkish girl, you can never sit down, because while the guest is drinking tea , the fruit should be ready and while the fruit is over in their plates, then the nuts are coming!! haha

    (girls have to serve and help to the mother)

    And another point which you mentioned was that “knife” is not so often used by turkish people. That is very true! Of course it depends where you come from but generally Turkish people find it unnecesarry:)

    When I was a child, my parents often took me and my siblings to nice restaurants, there, we always ate in a proper way but when we are at home , knife was rarely an option!

    I hope nobody gets it wrong but I find it more natural to eat freely at home. I think, fork and bread is a good combination for cutting a piece of meat!

    I can tell a story that when my husband (german) met with my family the first time, he was surprised that we dont use knives :):):):) Even stilll, my mother often tells him that he should be free because we are a family so he doesnt to behave too polite!

    But the funny thing, for my husband using the knife is like using the fork or spoon, but for us , using knife almost for everything ( even for cutting a piece of cheese) looks a little bit aristocratic ;)

    In our home, he is eating with knife and I still use my hands or take the help of some bread ;)

    On the other hand, if you are invited for a dinner, I guess that taking a small present is always good. Turkish people will not think about its quality or price, just something small would be enough.
    If you earn well, baklava will be the best option. If you have a limited income, some cookies from turkish bakery will also be ok:)

    (((Therefore there will be a washing up bowl, but after they will rinse the plates and cutlery under a running tap)))) and this is totally true!!!! :) Or else it wont be clean! :)

    • says

      Hi Cagla, Thanks for your comment on this post and the others. I must admit that I have now become accustomed to eating without a knife. Physiological, I know but I think the food tastes so much better!

  15. Sena Kvkc says

    Wow…That’s a good introduction for our country. Thanks a lot. I really liked the part about the meal. You’re right if you’re invited to a dinner, you must come to the house hungry. Turkish people don’t accept leaving the dinner table without eating much. They usually insist you to eat more and more. Sometimes you need to know how to say no to them otherwise you will get fat in a few days.

      • says

        Hi Sena, Thanks for your comments. Glad you liked the post. If i am going to eat dinner with people that I am not familiar with, then I will keep shoulders etc covered until I have established what kinds of Turks they are. For example I have some friends from the cosmopolitan area of Istanbul, they are very relaxed when it comes to clothing. However I have some other friends, where the women traditionally cover their heads so I will be more conservative in my choice of dress. I would not want to go round to someone’s house for dinner and offend them with my style of dress.
        Natalie wrote about..Going Back After Eight Years : From Turkey to the UK

  16. Günsu says

    It’s a really good imformation about our country but ? want to add something that some of these imformation can change the person who you are visiting because in turkey we are huge cultural and economical differences between people so you can go to house that everyone use knifes and its very normal to take a wine for a gift but also you can go in to house that no one use knifes as you say ?ts rude to take a wine as a gift but generally for our people these imformations are absolutely true thanks for sharing

      • says

        Hi There!
        Well,this information is really good.I’m from Turkey,I would like to be a foreigner and come to Turkey.Nothing missed,every single information was in the text.Good luck to the foreigners going to come Turkey.
        Yine Bekleriz.(Come back soon )
        Derya Tuncaral

  17. ezgi arslan says

    It is my favorite blog because it is about my own country Turkey and analyses our characteristics in a correct and good way.Turkish peoples hospitable speciality is told and its possible to make comparison during the reading.Also the content is about Turkish people and our delicious foods and they are described in a good and nice way

  18. says

    The Author is right of thinking like that, but some of her observations aren’t true completely such as , she says ” Countless amounts of tables filled with men playing backgammon means it is a no go area for females.”, but there are over places where females can go and can play backgammon . There aren’t too many cafes where the only men can go any more, as much as before. Author says , ” I have never been yet given a knife when at someone’s home , just a spoon and fork.” There are lots of people , use a knife and There are lots of people give a knife for meal. And I want to add that Turkish are generous , they pay for people , Turkish are hospitable and they likes to invite people to their homes . Except for those mistakes , All observations are true and she makes me happy to thinking positively and nicely about Turkish.

  19. Damla Ç. says

    It’s a great post for Turkey and this text is totally true. After reading this text, I understood that Turkish people are so friendly, helpful and sympathetic but I want to add something when you go to a restaurant or a café please check your bill carefully bcs sometimes they can rook you =)

  20. p?nar yüce says

    Hi Natalie
    I think these are really good information about turkey .But I have something to add.Something you said can change ,because I thing generally turk?sh people are friendly and hospitable in the other hand some of our people are not frindly or hospitable. But I like your blog thanks for sharing

  21. Can says

    I think most of the decetion were right. observations are Turkish manners and traditions corretly. All foreigners have some doubt before come to Turkey
    but when they read this blog about Turkey. I’m sure that they won’t have any doubt about Turkish people and their habits.

  22. damla ayaz says

    ? totally agree with this article. it explains all the decent things about turkish people and their culture. i believe that turkish people are the most hospitable community in the world. yes we have some faults but nobody is perfect and i think our hospitality and our large culture are more important than that.

  23. Angela says

    Hi, I live in Sydney. I’m attending a wedding in Turkey. I will be staying with both groom and the brides home.
    I’m so lost with what to offer them as a gift.
    I’ll be leaving in a month (end of August)..
    Please help me with gift ideas!!

    • says

      Hi Angela, In Turkey, the gifts for weddings are totally different. We normally pin money to a red sash that the groom and bride will put on half way through the wedding. Alternatively, you can also buy gold coins to pin on, or a gold bracelet or a gold necklace. I like to buy gold as it seems like you have put a bit more thought into it. If you do decide on gold, then buy it here in Turkey as it is of a different carat value than offered in most other countries.
      Natalie wrote about..Göcek –Sophistication that is Not Part of My World

  24. Pakistani in Turkey says

    I am on my last day of visit to Turkey. I am flying tomorrow night. Although, I really like Istanbul so far as a tourist but I have not found Turkish people to be overtly friendly, hospitable or nice.

    I had enough time to visit Istanbul only but nowhere did people befriend me. Every one seems to be busy in their own thing.

    At one restaurant, the owner chided me for asking if milk can be added to Turkish Coffee. Today at this restaurant that I went, the waiter knew enough English to communicate. I wanted to chat with him while I wait for my food but he was no way to be found after performing his service i.e. taking orders, giving me silverware, bringing food and later bill.

    I then quietly ate my food and left. I also knew this person online and when I asked him to meet. He made excuses.

    • niyazi says

      Hi Natali, Hi Pakistani,

      General attitute of hospitality is an interesting sociological thesis topic for Turkey. ?f you are from an exotic country, then you are a guest. Beeing exotic is a strange thing, i.e. if you are from western europe, americas, china, japan, australia or russia, then you are a foreigner guest. But if you are an arab, african, middle asia or pakistan, then you are not that much a foreigner, so a guest. turks are not that much warm to each other also. There are several stories about turkish hospitality: if a guest comes to village, villager can buther his only sheep to serve good food to guest, but if his neighbours sheep run into his garden and eat some cubbages, he can attack his neigbour phisically. :) Dear pakistani, for an ordinary turk, you are not that much a guest, you are not exotic, so they will treat you as they treat their neighbours :)

    • ibrahim inan says

      istanbul is a busy city if you ever have another chance see other historical cities as well. istanbul is just like newyork as everyone knows. people feel like they have to get everything done the same day and also most of them are frustrated because of the traffic :) maybe you went to wrong side of it or maybe you met the busiest people there :)

  25. Mark says

    I have traveled to Turkey a few times as I am in business with a Turkish manufacturer. In Izmir I could not have found a more friendly welcome from the locals – being invited to their home and even to bring my (large) family over to holiday at no expense. Trying to pay for food or drink in their company is well nigh impossible, they are very generous and if you take the trouble (as I believe you should) to learn at least a few basics of the language you can actually see the true pleasure it gives them. I will also add that in Izmir it was my experience that in the small cafe/bars that the locals use (as did I usually) that it is mainly a male environment. A very relaxed one but can get excitable depending on the subject of conversation – say politics! And yes, there are areas and bars that should be avoided at all costs but then is that not true of virtually everywhere?

    In respect of Istanbul – a totally different city with a large mix of peoples/cultures and again I’ve found it very friendly and sociable. Though extremely ‘busy’ I can say in my experience that even in restaurants that are bustling they’re still very friendly and everyone is willing to help and talk with you – though I agree that you do need a large and healthy appetite and as there are so many tempting foods about I try my best to accommodate! I am also learning (and liking) to drink tea without milk – the only area I have found Turkish people to not ‘understand’ the English need for milk in their drink. The history, culture and people of Turkey are a recommended addition to anyone’s experience of life – even if some aspects of it go against what we consider ‘life’ in the West. Go and enjoy – it’s worth it!

  26. says

    Ive been to Turkey many times now . I love the place and the people> At time we can be confused at the way they do things.Just as they are of us. I always travel with an open mind and never judgemental. As they dont judge us. All i try to do is not offend. last year I had an intresting time at a tea house. I was sat playing chess with an old guy about 180 years old I dont speak turkish only the odd phrase and he spoke no english. but for 2 hours we played chess and drunk tea and smoked. we both had an intresting time another guy was translating. who turned out to be a Imman ( not sure of spelling from local mosque. It made my holiday to sample a bit of real turkey and not the tourist turkey
    Roger wrote about..Hotel Burak

    • says

      It can be simple little moments like that, which become the best Roger. I have to ask though, was he really 180 or was that a typo? Love your new site about Altinkum. Well done for setting it up

  27. Philip says

    I would like to know about “thanking” someone for their hospitality. I recently took a Turkish friend to a restaurant and I paid for the meal and drinks at the end of the evening (while my friend was at the toilet). I received no acknowledgement from him of my having done this either on the night or through subsequent emails. I just wonder…. was he being rude or would it be considered bad manners by Turkish people to thank someone for their hospitality?I do realise there are different conventions throughout the world (and I am hoping that he did not also pay for the meal when he went to the toilet and he is wondering why I have not thanked him!)

  28. says

    It is not bad manners to thank someone for their hospitality but there wouldn’t have been a big show of affection, if he had thanked you. More of an off the cuff announcement of cheers mate and then the conversation would have changed. To ask him now about it would appear rude especially via email and could put a big dent in your friendship. I would just forget about it and move on.
    Natalie wrote about..An Exotic Honeymoon in the Magical City of Istanbul

  29. Alex says

    Great Tips. I always try to learn basic phrases when abroad such as good morning , thank you as manners can go a long way!

  30. Kibariye says

    You don’t need to do anything. My people usually loves tourists. Only thing you had to do is being careful. If you’re a woman don’t stay in the streets at night.

  31. Turkeymysecondhome says

    Hi,

    I am a Pakistani and going through this blogs and comments of some Pakistanis, i really felt to write somthing, To me Turkey is my love, i have traveled to Turkey quiet a number of times as a tourist and so feel it at home, its an amazing to talk with the locals, the food..places..”çok güzel..

    Love u Turkey!

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