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Cultural Differences in Turkey

This guide was written by Francine Carrel, Assistant Editor of Guides.Global (office@guides.global).

It was written on 13 February 2017. The law and practice in Turkey change all the time. Our guides are updated as frequently as possible - typically every three years - but may be out of date.

Our guides are prepared by professionals from many countries. They are, of necessity, both brief and general and can take no account of your personal circumstances. They are intended to be a good introduction to the subject BUT ARE NO SUBSTITUTE FOR PROPER PROFESSIONAL ADVICE, which our contributors will usually be happy to provide upon request.

The advice and opinions contained in the guides are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Guides.Global.

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The scope of this guide

This guide is about some cultural differences you should be aware of before going to Turkey. It looks at personal and business culture.

You may also want to watch the video version of this guide or download the audio (MP3) guide.

Introduction

Turkish people are sociable, well-mannered and hospitable.

You will make many 'friends' upon arrival in Turkey - Turks will be effusively friendly and enthusiastic to see you.

Although the friendliness is genuine, don't confuse this with 'real' friendship, which only develops with time and mutual respect. Your real Turkish friends will be intimately involved in your life, and in more or less constant contact (this has only been magnified by the growth of texting and social media!).

As a foreigner, you will have a certain leeway when it comes to etiquette in Turkey - but it's best to learn about cultural differences before you go.

General cultural differences

Miscellaneous manners

Turkish hospitality

Hospitality is perhaps the Turks' most famous attribute. They're very good at it.

If you're invited to visit the house of a new friend or associate, always accept - it would be seen as quite rude not to.

An 'open invitation' - an offer for you to drop round at any time - is genuinely given, unlike in many Western countries. You should take your friend up on the invitation, not leaving it to long. And don't offer one yourself if you don't mean it!

When you visit your host, bring a small gift (flowers or chocolate are acceptable, but any gift should be wrapped). Leave the gift on a table or in the hallway, rather than handing it to the host. It will probably not be opened in front of you.

When you arrive, see whether your hosts are wearing 'outdoor' shoes - if they are not, remove your own. You will be provided with slippers to cover your feet.

You're likely to meet several generations of the family all at once, which can be a little overwhelming. Be sure to greet everyone in the room, and stand to receive any guests that arrive after you do.

Whether you're over for the evening or just for a coffee, expect to be provided with delicious food, both sweet and savoury (see below). You will be pressed to eat many helpings, even after refusing: to politely turn down another serving, place your right hand palm down on your chest.

Your visit, especially if it includes an evening meal, may extend well into the night. It's important to enjoy the company after you've eaten. Children will likely be able to stay up much later than is normal in your country - don't worry, they all seem to cope perfectly well!

Try not to leave abruptly. Start dropping hints about your imminent departure quite a while before you actually need to go. You'll be strongly encouraged to stay until your coat is on and you're nearly out the door.

Food & drink

IMAGE TITLE Turkish cuisine is a mix of many: Central Asian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Jewish and Balkan.

Check out Turkish Cuisine for an idea of the food you will find in Turkey.

Local specialities change from region to region (the Black Sea region, for example, makes fantastic use of seafood), but you should be able to find a few favourites throughout the country.

Timekeeping

Unlike their Mediterranian cousins, Turks place importance on punctuality.

Religion

Turkey is a split society. The desires of Islamic Turks and the desires of secular Turks often clash.

See our Guide to Religion in Turkey for more details.

Honour

Honour, respect and dignity are integral to Turkish culture.

Especially when in the company of older people, try to address people by their first first name and a title. The title comes after the first name.

For example: bey is sir and hanım is madam. These titles are used for strangers, or in formal situations.

E.g.: "Zeynep hanım" or "Yusuf bey". E-learning Turkish has a good list of these titles.

As I mentioned above, age earns respect in Turkey. It is usual to show deference to one's elders.

The honour of a family may rest largely on the virtuous behaviour of its women, the career success of its sons (although increasingly this includes daughters!) and how well the family is doing financially.

Any loss of face can affect the whole family. If a loss of honour is due to one family member, that member may be ostracized.

Some of this may seem old-fashioned to people from Western Europe or America, but it is very important to keep in mind.

Privacy

Unlike, say, the UK or Scandinavia, there is little pretense of privacy in Turkish conversation. Do not be surprised if someone asks you personal questions about any ailments or other 'private' matters. They are showing they care. Also expect your new Turkish friends to drop in unannounced or contact you often, making sure you're happy and healthy.

Healthcare

See our Guide to Healthcare in Turkey.

Tipping

Tipping is appropriate (and often expected) in restaurants and after taxi journeys. A tip fo 10% is fine - feel free to tip more if you are particularly happy with the service. It is also customary to tip your hairdresser, beautician or barber (again, around 10% is fine).

Differences in business culture

Business cards

As with much of Asia, business cards are exchanged upon meeting. Give and receive cards with both hands.

If possible, have your business cards translated into Turkish on one side.

Attire

Dress professionally and modestly. Business suits for men, and business suits or non-revealing dresses for women.

Building trust

It is very important to establish trust and familiarity in your Turkish business relationships. Meetings should be face-to-face whenever possible, and you never pass up the opportunity to share food and drink with your business associates.

Meetings

Meetings should be attended punctually.

If you are giving a presentation, make use of graphics, graphs and charts. Visual demonstration is popular in Turkey.

After your meeting, be prepared to wait for a long time before you hear a decision. The people you met with will need to report to their superiors, who will discuss your proposal at length before getting back to the negotiators.

Working hours

Turkey's Labour Code defines a work week as 45 hours, but this is not always adhered to. Normal office hours are 8:30 to 17:00. Working in hospitality, as in everywhere in the world, will get you odd (and often much longer) working hours.

When arranging meetings, keep in mind that devout Muslims will need to avoid the five prayer times. Try not to arrange meetings during Ramadan (a fasting businessman is a distracted businessman!) or during July & August (these are the main holiday months for Turks).

Children at work

Children can work part-time in Turkey from 13 years old, as long as it isn't 'hard labour', so don't be surprised if you see quite a young child behind the counter at a shop! Turks can legally work full time from 15 years old - and many do.

Expats' Tips

What are your experiences with Turkish culture? Share them by emailing office@guides.global.

Conclusion

Turkish culture varies by region and social group - especially when you take into account the difference between religious and secular Turks.

Overall, though, it is important to remember the key tenets of respect and hospitality.

Other guides of interest

 Description Link 
Turkey Country Guide
Essential facts and figures about Turkey
Click to see this guide
Learning the Language in Turkey
How to learn Turkish
Click to see this guide
Local Press and Other Media in Turkey
Newspapers, television and radio
Click to see this guide

You may also want to read:

 Description Link 
Turkey - Business Culture
From expatfocus
Turkey - Business Culture
Do’s and Don’ts in Turkey
"How to behave in Turkey: a short intercultural guide to Turkish customs and traditions"
Do’s and Don’ts in Turkey

Readers' Comments

 

Further information?

I hope you have found this guide useful. If you need any further help, please contact me.

Francine Carrel

13 February 2017


 

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