If you’re going to Turkey for the first time, you’re probably going to visit the sights and sounds that make the country the iconic location that it is. We wouldn’t pass them up – even locals love to have a day out at the tourist hotspots, especially when they’re as beautiful as the ones that you’ve probably already seen in your Turkey travel research online.
Whether you’re visiting for business or pleasure, your trip to Turkey is destined to be magnificent (and Tripsters can lend a helping hand with that). There are times, however, when you might face a cultural obstacle or two. Perhaps your business meeting didn’t go as planned because you skipped past the necessary pleasantries with a potential Turkish business partner, or the mood became awkward and somewhat confused after you tipped a waiter.
That’s why we’re here to help! Here’s a primer for your entry into Turkish culture with all its charm.
View this post on Instagram
Victory is for those who can say "Victory is mine". Success is for those who can begin saying "I will succeed" and say "I have succeeded" in the end. "Mustafa Kemal Atatürk" Today marks the day Turkey was victorious in gaining its independence. Happy August 30th #VictoryDay. 🇹🇷 . 📷 @abdullahshhn . #Turkey #Istanbul #Bosphorus
A post shared by Go Turkey (@goturkey) on
Whether you’ve travelled to Turkey before or not, we’re quite sure that this can help you out in some way or the other. Sometimes, some customs or traditions are news to locals, themselves – things are just different wherever you go, even in the same country and among different people.
And so, without further ado, as it were, let’s get right into the issues you might face and delve into the dos and don’ts of Turkish culture. We just want to make your trip that much smoother. It’s all about exploring like a local, and if you can’t learn the Turkish language fluently, we’re giving you the second best thing.
Here are a few introductory words and phrases that you can use to acquaint yourself with the Turkish language (and to be more polite!):
View this post on Instagram
Merhaba arkadaşlar! 👋 Project “M•M” represents new word: “ÇIKMAK”. ❤️ save 👀 memorize 📣 use in daily life 👋 Join us! Do you know more meanings? – Write it here! 😉 📚Translation: 1️⃣ I went out of the house approximately at 3 o’clock. – Я вышел из дома приблизительно в 3 часа. 2️⃣ We went up the hill to make picnic. – Мы поднялись на холм, чтобы сделать пикник. 3️⃣ Jessica and John are dating approximately 1 year. – Джессика и Джон встречаются около 1 года. #Turkish #Türkçe #Турецкийязык #Турецькамова
A post shared by Mozaik Turkish Club (@mozaik.turkish.club) on
Merhaba [mehr-ha-bah] – Hello
Teşekkürler [teh-shek-kyoor-lehr] – Thank you
Also: Mersi [mehr-see] – Thank you (from French “merci”)
Sağol [sah-ol] – You’re welcome
Lütfen [lyoot-fen] – Please
Hesap [heh-sahp] – Bill
Nerede? [neh-reh-deh] – Where?
Tele [the-leh] – Turkish Lira (TL)
Vapur [vah-poor] – Ferry
Taksi – Taxi
Ne kadar? [neh kah-dar] – How much?
Havalimanı [hah-vah lee-mah-nuh] – Airport
Burada [boo-rah-dah] – Here
Orada [O-rah-dah] – There
Evet [Eh-vet] – Yes
Hayır [Hah-yuhr] – No
“C” is a hard sound, pronounced like an English “J” (as in “judge”).
“Ç” is softer, pronounced like the “ch” in the English word “change”.
“Ş” is pronounced like the “sh” in “shawl” and “ship”.
The “ğ’ character in the modern Turkish language is never found at the beginning of a word and almost always follows a vowel. It’s silent, but lengthens the sound of the vowel before it.
The “ı” character in the Turkish language (an “i” without the tittle/dot on top) is an unstressed vowel sound which can be pronounced somewhat like “uh”, or “the” without the “th”.
Our dos and don’ts begin before you even set foot in the country, so we’ll begin with a little advice – Get your visa sorted out before your flight. Some of you might think that this goes without saying, but we do know what some people are like. The Turkish visa process, for most countries, isn’t a difficult process. In fact, it’s fairly straightforward as it’s possible to get an e-visa online almost instantly by applying by on the Republic of Turkey’s Electronic Visa Application System. You might have to pay a fee, or your visa may be free – it all depends on where you’re from. If you’re thinking of a Turkish holiday soon, it will be worth your while to acquaint yourself with what’s required, so that you know where you stand.
On a somewhat related note, make sure to have your travel insurance in order before leaving, too! Life’s like that, who knows what can happen.
As a side note, when packing, be sure to check up on whether your power plugs work with power sockets in Turkey and whether you’ll need an adaptor.
Okay, so you’re in Turkey ever since the airport, you’ve noticed images, statues, and busts of a very polished, refined looking man almost everywhere. Haven’t figured it out yet? That’s Mustafa Kemal, otherwise known as Atatürk, the first president of Turkey when it became a Republic back in 1923. He’s revered in the country by most Turks since he was a brave war hero of the First World War when fighting for the Ottoman Empire, and helped to keep Turkey out of the hands of foreign powers when he led the army in their fight for the Turkish War of Independence.
Turkish national pride is high, and Atatürk is inextricably linked with the nation’s founding so it’s best that you learn at least a little about Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his legacy before you go.
Getting acquainted with basic Turkish history, especially with the country’s founder, is a good place to start. In fact, extend that policy to religion and football, too. Tensions can run high when these topics are discussed, so know your audience and play to the crowd! Turks love to converse with a foreigner who is well-educated about their country.
View this post on Instagram
"I was always looking for emotion when I attended campaign rallies for both sides but I think this is one of my favorite images, taken at a No rally in Trabzon, a genuine moment away from much of the regular flag waving. " – @cmcgrath_photo | April 8, 2017 | #GettyImagesNews [4 of 5} _ Getty Images photographer Chris McGrath spent 15 days traveling across Turkey leading up to the historic referendum vote. He's taking over @gettyimages today for a behind the lens look at his trip
A post shared by Getty Images (@gettyimages) on
If you’re coming from Europe, the United Kingdom, the US, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, or anywhere else that Western culture has been a prevailing force, Turkey’s going to surprise you in some ways – and you’ll love the country for this! Here are just a few things to make a note of before you go, just to get an idea of some of the cultural norms beforehand.
Drinking alcohol on public transport.
Turkey is an open and liberal country but there are still a fair number of social taboos. This is one of them, and some religious folk might not take too kindly to you drinking in such close proximity. It’s also officially prohibited to do so.
Don’t haggle in shops like department stores.
Let’s not embarrass ourselves now, everyone. Keep the haggling for the bazaars, like Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar and other markets throughout cities. When you’re in a shop inside a shopping mall, haggling does not apply.
Don’t refuse tea or a gift. Turks are very hospitable people and you’ll find that, as a guest to the country, you’ll be treated like royalty by the locals. Most locals will love the fact that you’re a foreigner and will go out of their way to make you feel at home. One way of feeling at home in Turkey: drinking çay (pronounced “chai”, Turkish black tea). You’ll most likely be offered an elegant, tulip-shaped cup of the hot drink by shopkeepers, new friends, in an office, etc. Accept it graciously (this part applies to gifts, too), drink it, enjoy it. There’s nothing like a good cup of çay (throughout the day). Oh, and a word of advice – Turks don’t add milk to their tea, so don’t ask for some unless you want to regarded with pleasant bewilderment at your life choices.
Turkish coffee is something you’ve probably heard of, too, and has its own history and etiquette that surrounds it. We go more in depth regarding Türk kahvesi here.
Don’t remind people of a smoking ban. Yes, smoking in public spaces like restaurants or cafes is officially prohibited, but it’s not something that’s enforced the way that it might be in Western Europe. In most cases, you’ll probably be shooed away by the cigarette-smoker if you attempt to stop them from smoking, wherever they are. Nargile (shisha/hookah) is smoked in many cafes (some are dedicated to the pastime – check out Tripsters best nargile recommendations here – accompanied by copious amounts of çay), but cigarettes are smoked everywhere. Granted, no one smokes on public transport, but the rules don’t really apply in other social spaces.
Don’t take photos of people without their permission.
Like we mentioned, Turks are friendly and really hospitable, and will go out of their way to help you out with whatever you might need, but don’t assume that you can just take photos of people with their permission, especially strangers. It’s common courtesy to ask before you do.
Don’t stay solely in resorts. Should we even be telling you this? Why are you even here if you want to spend your time in Turkey in resorts? You want to explore the life of the culture, meet the people, see the sights, bathe in the history… resorts don’t offer that.
Find hostels, hotels, and B&Bs that afford you close proximity to the living, breathing life of city, town, or village that you want to explore. Better yet, let us know the kind of trip you’d like to experience and we’ll plan the rest.
Pay separately. You’re at a restaurant or café and it’s time to get the bill. You’ll pay separately, sorting out your portion of the bill, right? What’s the better alternative? If you’re with friends and it’s something that you’ve agreed upon, then fine. If not, then one person (or party) gets the bill. Like we said, Turks are highly hospitable, especially to foreigners, so as a guest in their country, your new Turkish mate will probably insist that it’s on him/her. However, make sure to meet up again and return the favour.
On a related note, tipping culture is something of an unwritten rule in Turkey. If you’re satisfied with your meal, tipping 10% is a norm, but it’s not enforced the way it is in the U.S., for example. If you tip, make sure you tip in cash! Trying to add a tip when paying by card can lead to some admin frustration, so cash is the way to go.
We’ve covered some of the basics on what to look out for when you’re coming to Turkey for the first time. We could go on, but this is a general set of tips for your first visit. We’re sure that you’ll begin to feel like a local as you start to navigate your way around the cities that you’ve planned to see! If you’re planning a trip to Istanbul, check out this quick guide on getting the most
Give your holiday ideas live!Get started
Select one of the destinations belowJourny offers custom travel planning services in 2 different country.