Turkish Customs and Manners
Mini Turkish Dictionary
Customs and Manners
As in many other countries, customs in Turkey vary considerably from some countries in Europe, USA and Canada. You will encounter all the trappings of a modern western country; blue jeans, modern apartment blocks, traffic jams ... but side by side with all this is the unfamiliar, pencil-thin minarets and the wailing of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer (five times a day); the smells and sights of the bazaar; the lined Asiatic faces and Anatolian peasants; camels slow stepping through the village streets; Turkish carpets airing on balconies. This blend of east and west assures the visit a gentle introduction to Asia and Islam.
You will find the modern Turk welcoming and friendly. Almost without exception you will be greeted everywhere with "hosgeldiniz" (welcome) and later you will be asked a barrage of questions about yourself and the world. "How much do you earn?" "How much did such-and-such cost in your country?" "Do you have to go into the army?" "What other countries have you been to?" All these questions should be treated as only a genuine curiosity in you, and not an offensive intrusion.
We Turks are renowned for our hospitality. In almost every shop, if you are a client and start to bargain, you will be offered tea of coffee.
It is not considered good manners to fill up a half full glass, it must always be empty and then filled up. When drinking a toast one always touches glasses with everyone and says either "serefe" (to our honour) or "sihhate" (to our health).
You will also notice that in Turkey we take our childen everywhere, especially to dinner in the evening. You will find that your children will be welcomed everywhere.
If you decide to visit a mosque during your stay, please be aware that ladies are expected to cover their shoulders and legs. You must take off your shoes and leave them in front of the door. When you are inside a mosque, even if it is not prayer time there will often be several people praying, so don't disturb them in any way, don't take flash photography and don't talk or stand directly in front of them.
If you should go to visit a Turkish family in a village you would also take your shoes off, and the custom is to kiss the elder's hand and bring it to your forehead. This will be very much appreciated, especially coming from a foreigner. Don't do a lot of kissing and hugging with a person of the opposite sex in public. These actions are consdered rude and offensive.
It should be remembered that in Turkey we are by nature a modest nation, and find other people's nudity offensive. Topless sunbathing actually contravenes the Turkish obscenity law; albeit a lawy not enforced on foreign visitors but please respect our traditions. On the whole we are an honest nation and you will be little troubled by theft.
Turks say "evet", (eh-veht) (yes) by nodding the head forward and down. To say no, "hayir" (hay-yurh), nod your head up and back, lifting your eyebrows at the same time. Another way to say no is "yok" (yohk), which literally means "it doesn't exist". Remember, when a Turk seems to be giving you an arch look, he's only saying no. By contrast, wagging your head from side to side doesn't mean no in Turkish; it means "I don't understand". So, if a Turk asks you "Are you looking for a bus to Bodum?" and you shake your head, he will assume you don't understand English and probably ask you the same questions again, this time in French! There are other signs that can cause confusion. For instance, if you want to indicate length ("I want a fish this big"), don't hold your hands apart at the desired length, but hold out your arm and place a flat hand on it, measuring from the fingertips to the hand. Height is indicated by holding a flat hand the desired distance above the floor, or some other flat surface, such as a counter or table top. If someone, a shopkeeper or restaurant waiter for instance, wants to show you "come on, follow me", he will wave his hand downward and toward himself in a scooping motion. Waggling an upright finger would never occur to him, except perhaps as a vaguely obscene geture.
Until recently folk music was not written down and the traditions have been kept alive by the "asiklar" (troubadours). Distinct from the folk music is the Ottoman military music, now performed by the "mehter takimi" (janissary bands in Istanbul, originated in Central Asia, and played with kettle drums, clarinets, cymbals and bells). The mystical music of the Whirling Dervishes or "mevlevier" is dominated by the haunting sound on the reed pipe or "ney" and can be heard in Konya during the Mevlana Festival in December.
Each region in Turkey has its own special folk dances and costumes, and best known of these are:
"Horon" - a Black Sea dance performed by men only, dressed in black with silver trimmings. The dancers link arms and quiver to the vibrations of the "Kemence" (a primitive violin).
"Kasik Oyunu - the Spoon Dance performed from Konya to Silifke, it consists of brighly dressed male and female dancers clickling out the dance rhythm with a pair of wooden spoons in each hand.
"Kilc Kalkarn" - the Sword and Shield Dance of Bursa represents the Ottoman conquest of the city. It is performed by men only, dressed in early Ottoman battle dress, who dance to the sound of clashing swords and shields without any music.
"Zeybek" - in this Aegean dance colourfully dressed male dancers called "efe" symbolise courage and heroism.