Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What to know when you visit Turkey


What to know when you visit Turkey

Tourist season in Turkey is from April through the end of September. Since etiquette and customs vary from country to country, the season is ripe for culture clash.
Tammy from Tennessee wrote to me and asked the following:
Dear Charlotte: My partner and I will be visiting Turkey for seven days in late May. I am so excited. The tour we are on includes both İstanbul and İzmir. I read your column regularly and have picked up a lot of cultural tips. Please give us a few tips to help us make the most of our time. I am looking forward to a most memorable trip. Thanks!

Dear Tammy:
So glad you enjoy the column! May is one of my favorite months in Turkey. It’s not too hot yet. Here are seven practical tips to help you during your visit:

ATATÜRK: You will see statues of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk everywhere. You will soon recognize his face from these and the pictures on the walls of shops, workplaces, and government buildings. Atatürk is the founding father of the Republic of Turkey. Perhaps you have heard of the Gallipoli campaign from your reading about Turkey or from a world history class. He was the military leader who won a great victory in the Gallipoli campaign, and the politician who made Turkey into a secular democratic republic. You’ll never see cartoons of him, or hear a joke about him. Defamation of his person or character by any means is against the law. By the way, it is an offense to wear a garment made out of the Turkish flag.

ISLAM: Perhaps you have come across this statement in your reading: “To be a Turk is to be a Muslim.” This is a statement that defines nationality and culture. The call to prayer is five times a day in Arabic. If you visit a mosque, women should cover their heads with a scarf, and both sexes need to be sure to take their shoes off before going in. Be sure and be careful not to wear any socks that have any holes! There are some funny incidents that have happened because of that.

THE MILITARY: There are signs in Turkish warning people not to photograph any military establishment; if you ignore these, you may lose your camera.

TURKS ARE INQUISITIVE: Often foreigners are surprised by some of the direct questions asked by Turks. They are not shy to ask you a personal question if they feel comfortable with you. Don’t feel like you need to answer every question a Turk asks you. If you think it is too personal a question, just learn the art of being vague or answer the question by asking another question. That is what they do.

EATING OUT: There are plenty of safe places to eat, so don’t be afraid of getting ill. Just be careful to choose where you eat. The general rule is go where you see others eating. Turks love eating out, so you can easily find something to satisfy your taste buds. Options range from regional fish to kebabs, pastry shops and even sushi and Western fast food chains. If you don’t understand the menu, don’t be afraid to ask for samples. You may even be invited into the kitchen to choose and point. It is usual to leave a 10 percent tip in cash if you eat at a restaurant.

DINNER: It is possible you may meet some Turkish people who want to treat you. The protocol of Turkish hospitality dictates that the host always pays for the meal. The Western concept of sharing a bill is completely alien. You certainly don’t ask for each person to have an itemized bill like you do in America. It is polite for you to try and offer to pay, but your Turkish host will never allow you to do so.

FOLKLORE AND SUPERSTITION: You will see the “evil eye” charm hanging above the door or on the wall or dangling above the dashboard of a minibus. It is everywhere. Depending on economic and religious status, people can be quite superstitious. The evil eye is considered to be the main cause of many misfortunes and you will see everywhere the large blue and white bead used to protect against it. If you have blue eyes, don’t be surprised if people stare at you -- they are not so common here.

Enjoy your visit! When Turks set out on a trip they wish each other a good trip by saying, “İyi yolculuklar!” (Have a good trip!)

Note: Charlotte McPherson is the author of “Culture Smart: Turkey” 2005. Please keep your questions and observations coming: I want to ensure this column is a help to you, Today’s Zaman’s readers. Email:

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Learn Turkish or else

While trying to work out the qualities necessary for making a go of life as an expat in Turkey, I’ve already poured cold water on the idea that only those with omnivorous appetites are likely to succeed. Flexibility?
 That would have topped my list of the requisite assets even if globalization might be making it less essential than it once was.

So what do other expats think? In my straw poll the answer that came over loudest and clearest was “no matter how hard it is, you must get to grips with the Turkish language.”

Bodrum resident and British author of the comic expat memoir “Perking the Pansies” Jack Scott was quite clear on the matter. “Learning the lingo, at least conversationally, will really help,” he said, a view echoed by Marc Guillet, a Dutch journalist who lives in İstanbul and runs the website. “The absolute number one is, do your best to learn the language. Yes, it is difficult, but whatever your level, when you start to speak some Turkish all doors will be opened for you, because trying to speak Turkish shows Turkish people that you respect their culture and language.”

The same reply came in from all over the country. Duke Dillard, the American author of the blog, recently moved to Çavuşin in Cappadocia with his family after teaching in Ankara. “I have found that the more Turkish an expat knows, the better the experience. When we lived in Ankara finding English speakers was easy, but as we learned more Turkish our relationships deepened and our understanding of what was going on around us, the hidden cues, became more clear.”

A long-time Selçuk resident also listed linguistic skills as essential: “The more and more easily one can understand and communicate, the easier and more fulfilling life is likely to be. Being on the outside of what’s going on is stressful. I don’t know how couples with discordant and low levels of [understanding of] each other’s languages ever survive.”

Gazipaşa resident Estella Saville, who used to lead wildflower tours of the country, said the same thing: “Above all, learn the language. Turkish people are so kind and generous and will excuse all your foibles, but if you learn a little Turkish it will go a long way.”

This won’t come as good news to the many expats for whom learning a new language is akin to taking up brain surgery, or for those who have moved to Turkey later in life when it’s hard to pick up a whole new vocabulary, but there couldn’t be such unanimity of opinion were it not the case that learning Turkish is crucial. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that not knowing the language is the single biggest obstacle to settling in, now that so many of the creature comforts of home are as readily available in Turkey as anywhere else.

No one expects you to become word perfect, and most Turks are extremely forgiving of even the most comical linguistic blunders. But flip the situation over and imagine what it must be like for people living in your own home country without being able to speak the language. Just think how much they miss out on. Of course it’s just the same here.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Turkish food and good manners


Turkish food and good manners

In my piece, “What to know when you visit Turkey” (May 1, 2012), a number of comments were posted offering other points to cover...
Ahmet sent this comment in: “What about the traffic, transportation and especially cab drivers???? They have to be careful!!!! You can give some about Turkish food... Thanks.”

Thanks Ahmet, and other Today's Zaman readers, for your comments. I must admit while I was in the US for the past month that I began to miss certain Turkish dishes. Many Americans asked me about Turkish food, and they wonder what it is like. I explained Turkish food varies some from region to region. Often Americans are not familiar with the rich cultural heritage of Turkey. They do not know that some specialties came from Mongol raiders riding across the plains: yogurt and sucuk, and that southeast Turkey has a more spicy diet. Towns are famous for various things: for example, Susurluk ayran, Bursa chestnut candy and peaches, Black Sea hazelnuts and hamsi, Antep pistachios, Afyon spicy sausage and Turkish delight etc., etc.

The preparation of Turkish food is an art and can be time-consuming. Turks place much emphasis on the presentation of food. In case you are not familiar with the Turkish proverb, it goes like this: “First appeal to the eyes, then fill the stomach.”

Westerners always ask me what kind of meat is available and how it is served. They are surprised to hear that lamb is the most popular meat, and that beef is so expensive. I explain beef is often grilled and that kebab (cubes of meat) is common. Chicken, especially prepared with walnuts, paprika and garlic, is popular. Fish is expensive but a key ingredient. Meat is prepared according to Islamic (halal) rules. Of course, pork, ham, bacon and other pig products are banned in a halal diet. Other dishes are rice, which is served sometimes with currants, pine nuts and other spices, and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables are grown in Turkey. Garlic and olives are used widely, as with much of the cuisine of the Mediterranean region.

One of the things I enjoy seeing in Turkey is the rows and rows of peppers, eggplant, etc. hung out to dry. Women at certain times of the year are busy making tomato paste, pickling vegetables and drying fruit.
A favorite pastime of Turks is eating. Kiosks and buffets are at the roadside, itinerant sellers carry trays of pastries on their heads, or push carts or elaborate mobile kitchens displaying their wares; from sesame seeds to sweet corn, from simit (sesame-coated bread rings) to kokoreç (grilled sheep intestine), from fish sandwiches to meatballs, all are available on the street. A typical restaurant menu will contain the following courses for you to choose from:

Meze (cold starter): Usually a tray with 10 or so varieties will be shown to you. Typical selections include stuffed vine leaves or peppers (dolma), cheese, vegetables such as eggplant or okra in olive oil, spicy tomato paste, eggplant and yogurt paste, chickpea paste (hummus), potato salad and cracked wheat in tomato and chili sauce (kısır). You may choose from the selection offered on the tray.

Ara sıcak (hot starter): Here you can choose from such delights as a deep-fried cheese pastry roll (sigara börekği), deep-fried ball of rice, minced meat with nuts (icli köfte), calamari, fried mussels, etc. Don't forget that the waiters will normally also bring delicious hot, fresh bread.

Salata (salad): Fresh fruit and vegetables are wonderful in Turkey. The two most common types of salads are a “shepherd's salad” of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and onions (çoban salatası) and a “seasonal salad” of lettuce, grated carrots or red cabbage, tomato and cucumber slices, sweet corn and green peppers.

Çorba (soup): It is worth trying lentil soup (mercimek), yogurt and rice soup (yayla), tomato (domates), chicken (tavuk) or mushroom (mantar) soups. Tripe soup (işkembe) has a strong smell and is an acquired taste.

For the main course, you can choose from meat and fish. If you have room, you can finish with tatlı (dessert): This is usually very sticky. While in Turkey, you must try sheets of filo pastry soaked in syrup and sprinkled with nuts (baklava), a similar dish made with shredded wheat (kadayıf), quince in syrup (ayva tatlısı) or pumpkin in syrup (kabak tatlısı) Alternatives to syrupy desserts are milk pudding (muhallebi) or rice pudding (sütlaç).

Good manners can go a long way when wanting to make a positive impression. Etiquette can vary from place to place. It is good when you can dine in or dine out with graciousness. I'll give a few helpful tips for visitors to Turkey and for Turks visiting the United States in my next piece.


Monday, May 7, 2012

"Yes, I Would Love another Cup of Tea: An American Woman's Letters to Turkey" by Katharine Branning

A great introduction to aspects of Turkish culture - including of course Turkish tea 'cay'

This talk was presented at the Rumi Forum

The Rumi Forum presented "Yes, I Would Love another Cup of Tea: An American Woman's Letters to Turkey" by Katharine Branning

About the Book:

Yes, I Would... comprises a series of imaginary letters written to Lady Mary Montagu, whose famous Embassy Letters were written in 1716-1718 during her stay in Turkey as the wife of the English ambassador. The author uses themes dear to Lady Mary, such as culture, art, religion, women and daily life, to reflect on those same topics as encountered during the author's past 30 years of travel in Turkey.


Katharine Branning has degrees from the University of Paris, Sorbonne and the Ecole du Louvre, where she majored in Islamic arts, with a specialty in Islamic glass. A graduate of the Pratt Institute School of Information and Library Science, she has been a librarian at the French Institute of Architecture in Paris, France, at the French Embassy Cultural Services and the Alliance Française in New York City. For her work promoting the French language and culture through the creation of numerous libraries in both France and the United States, she has been awarded the Ordre national du Mérite from the President of France, one of the nation's highest honors.

She has studied the Turkish language and literature at the Institute of Langues Orientales in Paris and with Prof. Talat S. Halman at New York University. As an independent researcher and glass artist, she has conducted annual field work relative to architecture and decorative arts in Turkey every year since 1978.

She currently lives in New York, where she is Vice President of Education at the French Institute Alliance Française.

Random Posts

There was an error in this gadget


learn turkish (38) turkey (26) turkish (25) istanbul (23) study (20) classes (13) study turkish (13) tutor (13) washington dc (13) learn (12) teacher (12) language (11) travel in Turkey (10) lessons (8) virginia (8) 2011 (7) Turkish culture (7) dc (7) go Turkey (7) maryland (7) bethesda (6) culture (6) fairfax (6) travel (6) turkce (6) washington (6) iconic monuments (5) turkiye (5) video (5) english (4) ottoman empire (4) rockville (4) rumi (4) ottoman (3) usa (3) Antakya (2) aegean (2) alexandria (2) ankara (2) archeology (2) arlington (2) baltimore (2) black sea (2) bosphorus (2) byzantium (2) cappadocia (2) catalhoyuk (2) central asian (2) help (2) inebolu (2) iraqi (2) media (2) olympiad (2) private (2) proverbs (2) read (2) regions (2) silver spring (2) speak (2) students (2) turkic (2) turkish mediterranean (2) vocabulary (2) western europe (2) youtube (2) ATFA (1) Abrahamic (1) Culture Minister (1) Ertuğrul Günay (1) IELTS (1) Katharine Branning (1) Keywords: turkey (1) Lady Mary Montagu (1) MAFTAA (1) Princeton (1) TOBB (1) USSR (1) acquisition (1) adana (1) affordable (1) albania (1) alphabet (1) america (1) amerika (1) anatolia (1) ancient (1) anthropology (1) arab channels (1) arab countries (1) arlington indepedent media (1) arts (1) aya sofya (1) bati (1) bağlarbaşı (1) behramkale (1) berlin (1) best (1) bird (1) black sea coast (1) bogazici (1) books (1) burdur (1) business (1) buyuk ada (1) cami (1) career (1) carl holtman (1) cave dwellings (1) cay (1) chap petersen (1) cheap (1) cinema (1) cities of Turkey (1) civilization (1) civilizations (1) communication (1) course (1) courses (1) cyprus (1) departments (1) dialect (1) district (1) dressing (1) east european (1) eastern europe (1) education (1) embassy (1) england (1) enrolment (1) ephesus (1) european capital of culture (1) faculties (1) festival (1) forum (1) foundation (1) fox (1) fun (1) games (1) germany (1) grammer (1) grand bazaar (1) hacı bektaş veli (1) hagia sophia (1) hangman (1) high school (1) hindi (1) hodja (1) holiday (1) idyll (1) instruction (1) italian (1) italy (1) izmir (1) jazz (1) kosovo (1) kultur (1) languages (1) lanugage (1) learning (1) lebanon (1) lesson (1) lexicon (1) listen (1) literature (1) local dishes (1) macedonia (1) madrid (1) mahmut yeter (1) marmara (1) master (1) mediterranean coast (1) mevlana (1) middle east (1) monolingual (1) moscow (1) mosque (1) namik tan (1) nasreddin hoca (1) neolithic (1) nobel award (1) northeast (1) ohio (1) osmanli (1) pamukkale (1) paris (1) past (1) patient (1) phd program (1) pilgrimage (1) practice (1) practise (1) rome (1) rumiforum (1) russian (1) sailor (1) samsun (1) sayings (1) senator (1) skills (1) soap operas (1) soft power (1) soviet politics (1) special (1) springfield (1) student (1) style (1) sultan ahmet (1) summer school (1) teachers (1) testimonials (1) texas (1) topkapi (1) tour (1) tourist (1) trabzon (1) translating (1) treasures (1) trnaslating (1) turkish classes (1) understand (1) united states (1) university (1) urfa (1) vowel (1) washington diplomat (1) wikipedia (1) yesilcam (1) yunus emre (1) Üsküdar Pilavcı (1)