Making friends in Turkey isn’t difficult. As long as you’re proactive and take an interest in your surroundings, you’ll be sure to meet local people and forge quality relationships. To smooth the road to lasting friendship, we’ve compiled a few suggestions you can use to win friends and influence people while living in Turkey.
1. Give them a hug
Outside of the boardroom, handshakes are considered a rather stiff greeting in Turkey. Give your new Turkish friend a hug - or do the half-hug thing if you don’t know the person well: take your friend’s hand and draw them in, patting their back with your other hand. You can also gently touch the side of your head to theirs.
2. Share a cup of tea
In Turkey, asking someone if they’d like a cup of tea is far more than just checking to see if they need a drink. A shared cup of tea is like a brief social contract, an interaction that is mutually enjoyable for everyone. Sitting down together over a cay is a way to bond and allow your friendship to grow. It’s hardly surprising that tea is a huge deal in Turkey, with Turks drinking around a thousand cups a year.
3. Stay to the bitter end
Show your new friend he or she has done a great job at making you feel at home by not slinking out the door early. Turkish people love long visits, spending lots of quality time together. And most importantly: staying up late. If you leave early, your new friend will wonder if you haven’t been made to feel at home. So eat, drink and be merry till midnight.
4. Take them soup when they’re ill
This is a rather nice aspect of living in Turkey: people look out for each other, and share food with those less fortunate. If your new friend falls ill, take them some food to show you’re thinking of them. Added bonus: you’ll more than likely receive your bowl back at a later date full of Turkish tasties.
5. Take a gift
When you’re heading over to your new friend’s place, pick a gift up on the way. Just like at home, flowers and chocolates work - although do check with the florist because some flowers are associated with funerals. Pastries - like the famous baklava - are always very welcome, as are delicacies or souvenirs from your home country.
6. Show an interest in Turkish culture
It’s more than likely that your new friend is proud of their heritage and they’ll be happy to answer your questions. Don’t worry if you’re starting from scratch and know nothing. You could use your thirst for knowledge as an excuse to have your new friend show you round some of the local landmarks so you can learn more about the country you’re living in. If you have strong political convictions it might be best to steer clear of politics at the initial friend-making stages: Turks can be very political and you might find sparks fly.
7. Learn some Turkish
Your new Turkish friend won’t expect you to be fluent. But they’ll appreciate you trying. Learning Turkish shows respect of the culture and its people, and interest in becoming part of where you live. Ask your new friend to help you, they’ll probably be only too happy to correct your grammar - and teach you all the weird Turkish expressions you’ll need.
8. Don’t fall into the expat trap
Making friends with other expats is easy: you’re all on the same page, experiencing the same frustrations born of adapting to a new country. It’s natural to gravitate to people from your own culture, who speak your language and get your references. It’s fine to have expat friends, but try to bear in mind that you moved to Turkey for a reason: to experience a new way of life. Make sure you have a balance in your life: a connection with home and your own culture, and another with your new life in Turkey.
9. Make an effort to learn names
Just like anywhere in the world, learning the name of potential friends is crucial. Turkish names can be difficult to newcomers, so you might find you forget your new friend’s name as soon as you hear it. Try a few remembering techniques: repeating the name to yourself, finding something that rhymes with the name that you’re not likely to forget, or get a pen and paper out and ask your new friend how to spell their name. You can also ask the meaning of your friend’s name: in Turkish, names usually have a literal meaning. But if in doubt, just ask. After all, your name might sound strange to your new friend - they might be grateful for the chance to ask your name again, too!
10. Listen up
No matter where you’re from, people’s favourite topic is themselves. Ask a new acquaintance a few pointed questions and you might find you gain a firm friend - and a reputation as a good listener. People who move to a new country tend to be curious and interested anyway, and you might find yourself on the receiving end of a few juicy tidbits. Your new friend will feel a bond with you - and will probably reciprocate with questions of their own.
11. Find out what people are talking about
Turkish soaps, football or pop music are among the subjects that just about every Turkish person holds dear - and will talk about at length. Ask someone what their favourite team is - or weigh in with your own opinion on Fenerbahce, Galatasaray or Besiktas. Ask people what they’re listening to or watching, and write down their recommendations. There are few easier ways to forge ties with new friends than by taking an interest in what they love.
12. Say nice things about Turkey
Many Turks will be curious as to why you’ve moved to their country. After all, there’s a whole world out there. Why choose Turkey over the US, Australia or Sweden? Tell your new friends what you love about your new home. Turks are proud of their country, and if you are complimentary they will feel warmly towards you.
13. Turn to the internet
Websites like couchsurfing.org and internations.org are not only a place for expats to connect: they’re also full of local people looking for friends and setting up events and language exchanges. These sites are a great way to not only make friends, but to see a bit of the city or region you’re living in. From cooking classes to sports games, there’s usually something to interest everyone.
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