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:


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