Traditions in Turkey & Istanbul for Expats
Generally speaking, you will find Turkish people very friendly and welcoming. They are known for their generous hospitality. If a Turkish host welcomes you into their home, you will be treated like royalty and offered everything.
A Turkish neighbor may invite you to dinner. A fellow passenger on a bus may offer you half of their lunch. As smoking is still fashionable in Turkey, many people will offer you cigarettes. This gesture can be annoying if you are a non-smoker.
Greetings in Turkey
It is customary to greet with a kiss on each cheek. Females greet each other this way. Even men that know each other will greet this way. If a female is meeting a man for the first time, they will usually shake hands. When a Turkish friend invites you to their home, the host will greet you by saying Hoşgeldiniz to which you will reply Hoşbulduk. This phrase means ‘Thank you for having me’.
Some other words and phrases to learn that will definitely impress your Turkish friends.
Thank you very much Teşekkür ederim
Goodbye Güle güle
Good morning Günaydın
Good evening İyi akşamlar
Good day İyi günler
How are you? İnformal Nasilsin
Traditions in the Turkish Home
Always remove your shoes at the door. There will be slippers for you to put on.
If you are invited to dinner, always arrive with a small gift like chocolates or baklava.
Understand that although Turkish people are allowed to consume alcohol, many traditional Muslims don’t drink and so the dinner or party will be alcohol-free.
When a Turkish friend invites you to share a meal in their home, it is taken as an offence if you decline an offer of food. The woman of the house will take pride in loading your plate up.
It is rude to blow your nose or cough in public.
It is also rude to put your feet up on a table or chair.
If a neighbor brings you a plate of food, never return the plate empty.
If a Turkish friend invites you to their home, it is rude to leave before midnight. They might think that you did not enjoy the meal.
At the dinner table, the elderly will be served their meal first followed by the guests.
Avoid politics. Turks are fanatical about their politics, their country, their flag and their great leader Kemal Atatürk. Always be respectful.
Personal Space in Turkey
One thing that might take a while to get used to is your loss of personal space. Turkish people like to be together and often live with many generations in the same house. Therefore, they don’t realize that perhaps they are in your personal space. If the bus has many empty seats, they will still sit next to a person. If they at the beach, they will throw their picnic blanket right next to yours. When speaking, they may have their face too close for comfort.
You will also find that Turkish people are curious about the life of a foreigner. They will ask you how old you are? Are you married? Why you’re not married? How much do you earn and many more invasive questions?
Public Holidays in Turkey
In Turkey, there are many public holidays and observances. There are also many specific to a certain city and area. For a full list of these holidays and observances for 2021 and 2022, check here.
In regards to area-specific holidays, Çanakkale has a holiday on 18 March which is known as Victory and Martyr’s Day. This holiday commemorates Çanakkale’s victory in holding back Allied warships in 1915.
Christmas Day 25 December in Turkey is just a normal day as Muslims do not celebrate our Christmas. However, Turkish people refer to New Year’s Eve as Christmas. You will see Christmas decorations and hear Christmas carols in the shopping center.
You may notice shops with large displays of red underwear as this is a New Year’s Eve tradition. You can celebrate New Year’s Eve in nightclubs and bars. There will be a special night organized which will include dinner and music. Massive crowds also congregate on Istiklal Caddesi in Taksim to bring in the New Year. Be warned, this can often get out of hand and is not the safest environment to be.
Ramazan is a 30-day holy time. During Ramazan, Muslims will fast between sunrise and sunset. It is the most sacred month of the year. It is a time for self-reflection and cleansing.
In 2021 Ramazan will begin on 13 April and end on 12 May. As a foreigner, it is impolite to eat and drink in public but of course, you can at home. Restaurants will still be open also.
Fasting means nothing can pass one’s lips and so devout Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, chewing gum and sexual intercourse. Not even drinking water is allowed. The sick and elderly are exempt from these strict rules.
The dates of Ramazan change every year. They are determined by the lunar calendar and the sighting of the first Crescent Moon. Fasting in winter is not severe as the days are short. Therefore, the fast time is short. However, the long days and extreme heat of summer make fasting brutal. Tempers are often becoming frayed.
After sunset, a cannon alerts the population that it is time for feasting known as Iktar. Families and friends get together to feast. Again in the early morning hours, drummers will wake the devout to prepare their breakfast before sunrise.
It translates to ‘Sugar Holiday’ and is also known as Ramazan Bayrami. It is a three-day holiday to celebrate the end of Ramazan. It is a time for family and friends, eating lots of sweets and drinking lots of tea and coffee.
This is the holiest Islamic holiday in Turkey that is observed over four or five days. In 2021 Kurban Bayrami begins on 20 July till the evening of 23 July. These dates are also the dates for the annual pilgrimage to Mecca which many Turks participate. It is believed that every Muslim must visit Mecca at least once in their lifetime. During Kurban Bayrami every household sacrifices a sheep or a goat. The meat from these animals is then offered to poor people. Charity is the principal ideology behind the sacrifices. Cash donations are also given.
For foreigners, note that banks and official businesses will be closed. Transport will be more crowded as people are travelling home to family. There may also be changed opening hours for bazaars, museums and shops.
Tipping in Turkey for Expats
Tipping in Turkey is quite common but not mandatory.
Restaurants, cafes and bars attract 5-10% tip if you’re happy with the service. Service in Turkey is usually excellent. Tipping is always in cash.
When you check into a hotel, the porter will carry your bags to your room. You can tip him. Sometimes it’s against hotel policy. Therefore, they won’t accept your tip. It is the same with the housekeeping staff.
Don’t tip taxis. At the airport, people might approach you offering to carry your bags. They are not official porters
You can tip musicians and buskers if you like what you hear.
If you do a tour, you can tip the tour guide by putting some lira into his jar.