Costumes and Traditions in Turkey
Updated: May 5
Turks are well known to be very conservative to Ottoman and Turkmen People.
They pay great attention to their guests, hospitality, care about the preparation of authentic Turkish food, and how to serve it.
Here are some of the Turks Traditions:
In Tuks culture, it is considered rude to show or expose the soles of your feet to other people. Avoid pointing your feet towards other people when sitting down or crossing your legs around elders.
Similarly, it is inappropriate to cross your legs when facing someone.
People generally extend an offer multiple times. It is often polite to decline gestures initially and accept once the person has insisted. This exchange allows the offering person to show their sincerity in the gesture and shows the receiver’s humbleness.
Be sure to offer everything multiple times in return. If you only offer something once, a Turk may respond, “No, it’s okay”, out of modesty and politeness even though they meant to accept the second offer.
You may have to be quite insistent if you truly want to refuse an offer or gesture. Place one hand on your chest as you say so. If someone has invited you somewhere, you can make the same gesture and point to your watch to indicate you do not have time to stay.
It is polite to stand when someone elderly enters the room. If they do not have a seat, it is expected that they will be offered someone else’s.
It is considered rude/disrespectful to chew gum whilst talking to someone of higher status or on a formal occasion.
It is considered improper for a woman to cross her legs while sitting.
Ask permission before taking a woman’s photograph.
People rarely split a bill in Turkey. The person who invited the others to join them will commonly pay, whilst men are usually expected to pay for women.
You may offer to pay the whole bill; however, if your Turkish counterpart insists multiple times that you should leave it to them, allow them to pay. It can be a kind gesture to offer to take them out in return next time.
Turkish culture is very family-oriented. There is a strong belief that people should maintain ties with their relatives and care for the parents and elders into their old age. Turks may live in their family home for a long time into adulthood and visit their family on a regular basis. One can usually call on extended relatives to provide emotional and economic support.
Turkish families have an average number of children is two.
Generally, the eldest people have the most authority and should not be disrespected or strongly disagreed with.
Most Turks will avoid arguing or smoking in front of elders and adopt a more formal approach towards them.
The eldest brother usually takes on the role of caregiver for younger siblings when parents are absent.
Traditionally, men are the providers of the main source of household income.
Women are generally seen as homemakers, managing money, cooking, cleaning, and hosting. In rural areas, they may also contribute to the household by engaging in much of the agricultural production, children’s education, etc.
The average age for marriage is 22 for women and 25 for men. Most Turkish marriages are conducted as a civil service in addition to a religious service (officiated by an Imam).
Among more traditional families, it is a strong cultural requirement that a woman must be a virgin/untouched before marriage.
Divorce is not common and most Turkish couples seek to avoid it if possible. When it does occur, the belongings and wealth of a couple are split equally between them.
The Turks always use formal speech with others especially when they meet someone for the first time or when dealing with the elderly and this means respect to everyone.
Most Turkish names are composed of a [first name] [Family Name]. For example, Fikret Yildiz.
Women commonly take their husband’s family name at marriage or add it onto the end of their own. For example, if (Fatma Karabacak) married Mehmet Keçeli, she could be known as (Fatma Karabacak Keçeli) or just (Fatma Keçeli).
People are often addressed by their first name followed by “Bey” for men and “Hanim” for women. For example, “Mehmet Bey” and “Fatma Hanim”.
Kurds may follow traditional Kurdish naming customs and use their tribe’s name or their grandfather’s personal name as their surname.
Meeting & Greeting
When meeting shakes hands firmly. When departing it is not always customary to shake hands although it is practiced occasionally. However, some Muslims may prefer not to touch people of the opposite gender.
Friends and relations would greet each other with either one or two kisses on the cheek.
Elders are always respected by kissing their right hand then placing the forehead onto the hand.
Women may only give a physical greeting to other women (i.e. with a handshake or kiss). Married women may be more hesitant to touch other men in greetings.
When entering a room, if you are not automatically met by someone greet the most elderly or most senior first. On social occasions greet the person closest to you then work your way around the room or table anti-clockwise.
Greet people with either the Islamic greeting of 'Asalamu Alaikum (peace be upon you) or 'Nasilsiniz' (How are you?).
Other greeting phrases are 'Gunaydin' (Good Morning), 'iyi gunler' (Good Day), 'iyi akşamlar' (Good evening), or “Merhaba” (Hello).
Turks may call someone whom they are not related to ‘abla’ (older sister) or ‘abi’ (older brother).
People who have a professional title expect it to be used, e.g. Doctor, Professor, Lawyer (Avukat), or engineer (Muhendis).
It may be harder to end a conversation with a Turkish person than it is to start one. Farewells are typically continued as Turks have a tendency to restart conversation whilst saying goodbyes. The easiest way to end a conversation is to use a conventional expression that politely asks to leave with their permission – “İzninizle” (with your permission).
Visiting a home
Hospitality is a central virtue in Turkey. Turks are known to be highly generous to their guests, as hosting is considered an honor.
Some thought an unexpected guest as a guest from God’ (Tanrı Misafiri).
Turks regularly offer invitations for others to join them (e.g. at their table), consider that the firmer the invitation is, the more serious and polite it is thought to be.
People are expected to be punctual at dinners and intimate gatherings. However, it is appropriate to be late to parties.
It is considered a nice gesture to bring sweets, flowers or presents for any children when visiting someone at their home. However, Turks are usually less concerned with what you bring and more interested in socialization and conversation.
If the host has children take some expensive sweets or candy.
When invited to a Turk's home for dinner, the most usual gifts to take are pastries, (especially 'baklava') and decorative items for the home such as ornaments or vases.
Flowers are not usually taken to a host but can be if felt appropriate.
If you bring alcohol or food to a gathering, you are expected to share it.
When you visit Turks at home you will take off your shoes before entering the home. In some cases, you may be given a pair of slippers to wear instead.
Tea or coffee is offered and drunk on all occasions (commonly traditional Turkish tea or apple tea). It is usually served in a small tulip-shaped glass with sugar. Expect to be offered it as soon as you sit down with a Turk.
In some homes, you may find that you do not interact with adult female family members during your visit. It is common for women to prepare and clean up after a meal while the men socialize with the guest.
Be careful what you compliment in a Turkish person’s house as they may feel enforced to offer it to you as a gift.
Gift giving has no real place in business relationships or etiquette. Relationship building and the like will usually take the form of dining or sightseeing trips rather than rich gifts.
However, if a gift is given it will be accepted well. It is always a good idea to bring gifts from your own countries such as foodstuffs or craft items.
Formal gift-giving is appreciated, although not necessarily common or expected.
Gift wrapping and cards are not common.
Turks tend to give gifts on a more casual basis, offering small items and gestures very frequently throughout a friendship.
Offer and receive gifts with two hands.
Gifts are generally not opened in front of the giver.
It is best not to give gifts that contain traces of alcohol or pork. Some Turkish people may drink alcohol. However, since it is a predominantly Muslim country, you should be assured of this fact before giving wine or liquor.
Dining & Food:
Do not blow your nose or pick your teeth during a meal.
In the cities, people generally eat at the table. However, in smaller houses, a food stand may be placed on the carpet that everyone then sits around on cushions. Some Turkish houses may use a low table with cushions set around it.
Turks tend to offer food for guests several times and assist their guests to have more servings than they can feasibly eat.
Try to accept as many things offered as possible, even if you can’t finish all of them. It is best to arrive at a meal on an empty stomach so you can accept multiple servings.
Some Turks may not eat anything containing alcohol or pork, in accordance with Islamic custom.
Much Turkish food involves eating from a selection of small dishes, known as meze.
If a Turkish person has invited you expect that he will pay for the meal.
The concept of sharing a bill is completely strange. You may try and offer to pay, which may be seen as polite, but you would never be allowed to do so.
The best policy is to thank the host, then a few days later invite them to do dinner at a restaurant of your choice. It may be a good idea to inform the restaurant manager that under no circumstances are they to accept payment from your guests.
Evening meals may be accompanied by alcohol depending on the person you are dining with. The local Turkish drink is called ‘Raký’.
Turks tend to eat at quite a slow, relaxed pace. It is common to stop between courses to smoke a cigarette and have a few drinks before moving on to the next dish.
Tea or Turkish coffee may be served at the end of a meal. sometimes with pastries.
Your host will not ask you if you want to drink tea or not, but he will pour it for you until you ask him to stop or to put the spoon on top of the cup that means you are full.
A good way to compliment a host is to say “Elinize sağılık” (Health to your hands).
Always keep your feet hidden under the table.
Turks tend to speak in quite a slow and drawn-out way. They may not leave gaps for you to interject and add your opinion. Try to exercise patience and wait for them to ask for your input instead of interrupting.
Turkish men tend to speak with force, sometimes quite loudly. Women tend to speak in softer tones.
The Turkish generally have quite a relaxed sense of humor. Playful teasing and joking are common and accepted.
The Turkish communication style is often warm and indirect when first meeting people.
Criticism and disagreement are generally softened with vocal hesitation or terms such as “perhaps”, “probably”, “I guess”, “sort of”, “maybe”, etc.
Turks are generally very open, It is common for friends of the same gender to kiss during greetings, or hug one another.
People are usually seeing open affection between couples or children in public (e.g. hand-holding). However, physical contact between unrelated members of the opposite gender is less appropriate.
The natural distance that people tend to keep between one another is small. For example, tables may be placed quite close to each other in a restaurant.
If a Turk accidentally stands or sits within your personal space, avoid stepping back or moving away as this may give the wrong impression.
Direct eye contact is expected throughout the conversation. Staring is not necessarily considered impolite.
Women may also avoid eye contact with unknown men to avoid unwanted harassment.
The informal way to say “no” in Turkey is to raise the eyebrows, look up and make a ‘tsk’ or tutting sound. This is not considered rude or an expression of annoyance.
Turks may shake their heads to say “please explain/I don’t understand”. Therefore, consider that shaking one’s head does not necessarily indicate a refusal or disapproval and might cause a person to repeat themselves to you instead.
Avoid standing with your hands on your hips or in your pockets, especially when talking to those of higher status or older than yourself.
Some Turks may give the impression of having a more ‘serious’ attitude, smiling less frequently in public during the first interaction with strangers. This is not thought to be rude, rather the social expectation.
It is common for people to raise their hand with the palm facing up and fingers touching the thumb to show appreciation for something.
It is an obscenity to make a fist with the thumb protruding between the middle finger and the index finger.
The symbol for ‘Okay’ (with the index finger and the top of the thumb meet to form a circle, with the other fingers stretched out) has offensive meanings relating to homosexuality in Turkey.
Serving water with Coffee to guests
This habit dated back to the Ottoman era, the Ottomans served water with coffee when receiving their guests.
So if the guest drinks the coffee first it means he is full, otherwise, if he drinks water first it means he is hungry so that the host will prepare food for the guest without embarrassing the guest to say he is hungry.
One of the old marriage habits in Turkish society, which is still applied by many girls as a test for the man and his desire to marry her.
When the groom's parents go to the girl's house to propose to her, the bride prepares regular coffee for all guests, except for the groom's coffee, she puts in his coffee salt instead of sugar as a test.
The percentage of salt that the girl puts in the cup varies according to the degree of her love for the young man and her acceptance of marrying him.
If the young man drinks the full cup without any complaining, he proves his manhood and willingness to marry the girl.
If the bridegroom is disturbed by the coffee and does not complete drinking, it means that he failed the test.
Exchange food dishes
This habit is not related to a specific occasion.
This habit becomes mandatory if your neighbor is sick otherwise dishes are exchanged on different occasions, especially during Ramadan.
The dish that arrives from one neighbor to another does not return to the owner empty but must return it loaded with delicious foods similar to those received.
If a Turkish person travels, a family member sprays salt on his shoulder and spills water behind him after he goes
This habit signifies the bitterness of his absence and prays for the traveler to return safely, smoothly, and quickly as the smooth water runs in its streams.
One of the habits of engagement is to tie the bride's and the groom's rings to a red ribbon to indicate their eternal attachment.
At the engagement ceremony, the girl's father or mother cuts the red ribbon, which means the girl's parents agree to their daughter's engagement and get out of her family life to her married life.
This night is before the wedding day night, it has special rituals, relatives of the bride will sing sad songs, and remind the bride of memories and old things to push her to cry, as a sign of her grief on leaving her family home.
Then they prepare the "henna" on a special plate and when they put henna in the bride's hand her mother puts a piece of gold before putting henna in the bride's hand.
On a henna night, the bride often wears a red garment and a red scarf covering her face, which the bridegroom exposes later.
A red ribbon at the wedding
The wedding habits of many rural areas of Turkey, and in many conservative families, put a red ribbon on the waist of the bride after wearing the white dress, the girl's father or older brother wrapped around her waist as evidence that the bride is a virgin girl.
His family and relatives read verses from the Qur'an on the dead and talk about his good qualities and achievements in his life and his impact on those around him. Family members do not wear colorful clothes or participate in any concerts or events until their grief is gone.
They also put the shoes of the dead man or woman outside the house.