I was browsing blogs the other day, reading about people who have or who are going to Turkey. I remember myself when I was getting ready to go- I was so excited, full of wonder and expectation at what this exotic location held for me. Fortunately for me, though, I had a Turkish boyfriend (if you haven’t read my about section- that boyfriend is now my husband lol!) who prepped me on how to not stand out as a tourist in Turkey, and what behaviors could result in miscommunication with the locals. I can’t imagine the hassle I would have dealt with if not for his advice.
1. Don’t look passers-by in the eye if they are the opposite sex: I know this sounds sexist and whatnot, but it is true. If a woman looks a man in the eye (particularly if they are foreign), or a man looks at a woman in the eye upon passing- they will think you are sexually interested in them. This isn’t necessarily how every individual feels, but it is a hard and fast rule to keep you out of trouble.
2. Don’t make small talk: If you are trying to pass the time in a crowd or a line while waiting, don’t make small talk. While in America making small talk is considered polite, in Turkey it can be considered flirting if you are speaking with a stranger.
3. Don’t speak too much English in a crowded market: Not because people are going to hurt you or be angry, but because you will get bombarded with vendors trying to sell you something. For some reason they think tourists have a lot of money to spend…
4. If your host/friend insist on something, say yes: This is so common with offering food in particular. If someone insists you eat more food or go somewhere with them (if you know them ONLY! Don’t do this with strangers), it is rude to decline more than two or three times. It means they really really want you to if they continually insist.
5. Greetings: When greeting the same sex, it isn’t strange to do a cheek-to-cheek kiss, especially if that person is family or you expect them to become close to you. Also, kissing the top of the hand of an elder and touching their hand to your head is a great sign of respect, usually reserved for immediate family (mum/dad) and grandparents…but sometimes it is extended to some aunts and uncles- particularly if they are elderly.
Out and about
1. BRING TOILET PAPER: Wherever you are going, bring a bit of toilet paper with you! Not every location you will visit provides it. The custom in a turkish toilet is to clean your places with water…so you may find a spicket, but not toilet paper
2. Toilets aren’t free…: Oh yeah, and toilets aren’t free to use either- not even public ones. Bring a hand-full of 1 lira and 50 kurus coins wherever you go.
3. Carry wet-wipes and deoderant: So, AC isn’t exactly the norm in Turkey- and you are definitely going to get hot. I learned from my mother-in-law to carry baby wipes/ wet wipes and a little spray deoderant around in my bag to freshen up when needed.
4. Be modest: It honestly depends on the town, but I found that wearing modest attire (such as knee length shorts and tshirts) helps prevent unwanted attention. Not like all Turks are pervs, but if you limit your shorty-shorts to beach towns you appear more like a local rather than a tourist. I mean, now I am a hijabi so it doesn’t matter for me- but still.
In The Home
1. Remove your shoes: When entering someone’s home, remove your shoes. This is a cultural/religious tradition carried over from the Ottoman times, and it helps keep the house clean! When you are a guest you may receive “house shoes” upon your arrival. A lot of the time they are just regular shoes…but don’t wear them outside!
2. Say goodbye to daily showers: This one took a LOT of getting used to. Religiously speaking, you only require a shower for two reasons (although more is encouraged of course), because you are a woman who finished their time of the month, or because some kind of sexual deed occurred (even a sexual dream). Even though you may not be religious, and even your host may not be religious, this assumption is fairly ingrained in the culture. Even in the US, my husband cocks an eyebrow when I shower every morning…and he KNOWS that I do that, particularly during the summer, because we hijabis get sweaty easily so we need to shower frequently. So yeah…just go ahead and let go of your daily showers. I know it hurts, but…when in Turkey.
Well, that’s all the time I have at the moment, I hope these tips help you… More over, some people may not experience Turkey how I did and these tips may seem silly or demeaning in some cases- but that is the Turkey I know. Let me reiterate that I love the country and the culture, but it is only polite to adapt to your surroundings rather than impose your culture on other people. It can save you a lot of headaches.
Iyi ve rahat seyahatlar ❤