The old-fashioned saying of “when in Rome do as the Romans do” particularly appeals to most people when they travel or become an expat in another country. To prevent standing out like a naive foreigner wandering around aimlessly, we attempt to learn local culture and traditions. Doing so, will never make us a native, but it softens the experience.
However, this is easier said than done when it comes to travelling or living in Turkey. On the surface, the country portrays a typical stereotype of sandy beaches, historical landmarks and hard-core kebab eaters but get to the nitty-gritty of society and it reveals more than 79 million people, each with their own traditions because of a diverse historical timeline.
As the home of the former Ottoman Empire, many cultures including Kurdish, Armenian, and Georgian are entwined in the heritage. On the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, a long-standing connection with the Greeks also weaves a tale through all history books. For this article, though, we thought of four common traits across the country, that foreigners instantly notice about Turks.
Food, Glorious Food
An age-old Turkish proverb says, “a hungry bear won’t dance” and the deep meaning is that food is energy for the body, soul and mind. Great emphasis surrounds the simple act of eating, a concept that much of the Western World takes for granted. The day always starts with a healthy, breakfast usually tomatoes, cucumber, eggs, olives, salami and, of course, bread, the staple accompaniment to every meal.
Evening meals are a family occasion and if you have any notion of serving up frozen, ready meals, to save time, forget it because the Turks like fresh food and a complex blend of ingredients. This applies even to the humble dish of soup, that housewives spend hours cooking for a perfect taste. That is why weekly farmer markets do a roaring trade. Any foreigners invited for dinner after eating should say “Elinize Saglik” which means “health to your hands“ and it is a compliment to the cook who crafted a delicious dish from pure ingredients.
Even Turkish coffee has its own proverb that is “Coffee should be as black as hell, strong as death and sweet as love” and in some more traditional areas, it is part of the wedding customs. A potential groom visits the house of the girl he wants to marry, and she will make Turkish coffee but add salt instead of sugar. His temperament when discovering this is a reliable sign of how their marriage will be. Although, in other areas, traditions say the bride will be judged on her house making abilities by the coffee she makes.
So regarding food and cuisine in Turkey, don’t throw away leftovers, give thanks for what you have, eat everything fresh and you are 50% on your way to being like a Turk.
Mothers will always be loved by their sons, fathers adored by their daughters and children immensely cherished because of their pure innocence and potential as the future generation. While the western world has reduced the emphasis on family ties, they are still very much alive in Turkey.
Another trend that died out in other countries is for three generations of one family to live in the same house. Elderly grandparents, shown a lot of respect for wisdom, patience and knowledge take an active role in bringing up grandchildren, while the middle generations earn income to support them all.
Although divorce is rising in Turkey, in many rural areas, it is still considered a shame and such is the family bond, they stick together through thick and thin, come rain or shine.
Dance Till You Can’t Dance Anymore
One obvious and striking pleasure about Turkish culture is their love of dance. Most Westerners need alcohol before they set foot on the dance floor while Turks think nothing about dancing the night away sober, a typical occurrence at weddings and celebrations such as circumcisions.
Also unusual is that further East and in the Black Sea regions, younger generations still learn folklore dances typical to that area or village. The Horon dance is one such example. Reflecting the era, when great strength and hardworking hands farmed the land, the dance tells of how workers did it and kept their motivation high.
Watching a youngster who is wearing the latest fashion trend while carrying a mobile telephone and completing the horon dance is a perfect example of how time changes things but traditions stick around forever. To be like a Turk, hit the dancefloor while sober and strut your stuff like an expert!
Be Expressive and Don’t Hold Back
First-time visitors to Turkey often remark that Turks always seem to shout, especially when talking on the telephone, but they’re just extremely expressive, up-front and open. A Turk, when meeting you for the first time, won’t hesitate to ask many lifestyle questions about your job, and family and by the end of the conversation, it is like you have been friends for years.
Likewise, put on a few pounds around your waist, and they will say openly to your face that you have gained kilos. If a Turk has an opinion, they will tell you even if it is completely different from yours. What can you do about this “no holds barred” social interaction? Keep an open mind, and embrace the stark differences to your own culture. After all, “it’s nobody's business but the Turks” so join them!
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