Twelve Unspoken Turkish Rules You Might Not Know

Like every country, Turkey has a set of social rules to live by. Here are a few to start on you on your way…

1. Don’t leave too early

If you leave before midnight it means that you think your hosts haven’t done a good job. Turkish people typically enjoy extended visits, talking and drinking raki into the small hours, with children nodding off on the sofa or staying up late as a treat.

2. Sharing is caring

Sharing food is an integral part of Turkish society. If your neighbour is ill, take them a bowl of soup. If you’re the sick neighbour, make sure you fill the bowl with food when you take it back. Even in the bustling larger cities, this custom is firmly ingrained in the Turkish way of life.

3. When to say when

In-between meals, after a meal, first thing in the day and last thing at night, Turkish Tea, or çay, is a way of life and Turks literally drink litres of it. When you’ve finished your cup, it will automatically be refilled as a matter of course. When you’ve had your fill or your bladder is fit to burst, lay your teaspoon across your çay glass to signify that you’ve had enough.

4. Oldest first

Elderly people in Turkey are treated with the upmost of respect. When you enter a room try to greet the eldest person first. If it’s not clear who that is, just greet the person closest to you and work your way around anti-clockwise. It’s also polite to greet an older person with a slight bend. Many Turks have also been raised to kiss the hand of their elders, although you won’t be expected to do this.

5. Bring a gift

Make sure you take something with you if you are invited to someone’s home. Flowers and chocolates or something from your home country work best. Although sweet pastries, such as baklava, are also a popular gift and sweets if there will be children there. Be mindful about taking alcohol unless you know for sure that your host drinks it.

6. Take your shoes off

Remove your shoes outside or just inside the front door. Your host is likely to offer you a pair of slippers to wear inside; the shoes-off rule is universal throughout the whole of Turkey.

7. Dinner’s on me

Turkish hospitality dictates that your host will pick up the bill and the idea of sharing a bill is completely alien in Turkish society. If you offer to pay you will be politely declined. The best idea is to simply thank your host and offer a reciprocal invitation.

8. Politics are a no-go

Turks are passionate about their country and often have very strong political views. Saying anything remotely negative about Turkey, the Turkish flag or founding father Atatürk is considered to be highly offensive.

9. Personal space

Turks don’t require much personal space and will stand close to you when you talk. Try not to back away, this would be considered rude. Conversely, it is considered rude to touch someone without their permission.

10. Conversation starters

If the conversation starts to flag, ask questions about Turkish history and culture. Turks are extremely proud of their heritage and will usually answer animatedly. Football is also a very popular subject, with most people supporting either Galatasaray, Besiktas, or Fenerbahce.

11. What’s in a name?

Men are usually addressed by their first name and then “bey”. For example Ahmet Altay would be “Ahmet Bey”. A woman’s first name is followed by the word “hanim”. However, if the person holds a professional title you should use that – with lawyers (“avukat”), engineers (“muhendis”) or managers (“mudur”) – followed by “bey” or “hanim”.

12. Water for luck

A damper version of throwing salt over your shoulder, this Turkish custom ensures a smooth journey. When someone sets off on a journey, you should pour water behind them or their vehicle, saying “su gibi git, gel,” which literally means “Go and return, like water”.

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