8 strange things about Turkish culture you'll only know once you've lived there

Navigating the weird and the wonderful is all part of moving to a new country. Turkish culture and customs can seem unusual to some, and downright weird to others. We have compiled a list of some of the most head-scratchingly weird things about Turkish culture that stick out to expats and visitors to Turkey.

Read more: 13 unspoken Turkish rules you might not know

1. You  might find chicken in your dessert

Turkey, home to the kebab and Turkish meatballs, is widely known for its cuisine. However, unlike these favourites, tavuk gogsu has not become a worldwide phenomenon. The milk pudding made with shredded chicken breast was beloved of the Ottoman sultans, and today it’s considered one of Turkey’s signature dishes. But only in Turkey - most expats find the bland, sweet dessert has an unusual texture and most tend to give it a swerve. 

Read more: 7 strange Turkish dishes you have to try

2. You can cross a continent underground

It’s difficult to get your head around the fact that Turkey spans two continents. And kind of mind blowing to think its largest city does, too. The idea for a rail link beneath the Bosphorus Strait, the waterway that divides Istanbul into Europe and Asia, isn’t a new one: an Ottoman sultan raised the idea more than a century ago. However, it wasn’t until 2013 that the idea - no doubt considered science fiction in the 19th century - came to fruition. As well as catching the metro, you can walk, drive or cycle your way from Asia to Europe - or the other way around. 

Read more: Divided heart of a city: the beautiful Bosphorus

3. Turkish isn’t really that difficult

Aside from the Turkish language’s longest word, the tongue-twisting muvaffakiyetsizlestiricileştiriveremeyebileceklerimizdenmissinizcesine, which means “as if you are from those we may not be able to easily make a maker of unsuccessful ones,” Turkish isn’t as difficult as you imagine. Despite being foreign to European ears, the agglutinative language whose dialects are spoken across Asia all the way to China is reasonably accessible. Following a language reform in the 1920s that simplified the vocabulary and moved from the Arabic script to the Latin alphabet, getting your head - and lips - around the language isn’t as daunting as you’d think.

Read more: Easy ways to learn the Turkish language

4. There’s no concept of health and safety

Newcomers to Turkey report being horrified at some of the following sights: people driving with small children on their laps; whole families riding on mopeds (without any helmets, naturally); workers dangling precariously from villas in Turkey's suburbian areas or standing on ledges to do construction work. There’s not much you can do except go with it - and when you go back to your home country the safety standards will seem equally jarring!

5. Turks are emotional

Turks live their lives with great passion. Tears flow easily. Everyday things like cooking, watching a film, small wins or losses - all are celebrated or lamented accordingly. For a foreigner, it might seem over the top. Overemotional, even. But for Turks, the highs and lows are part of life’s fabric and should be celebrated. Especially when it comes to sport: Turkish fans will cry for wins, for losses, and even for their club’s management or financial woes. 

6. Road rules? What road rules

Driving in Turkey can be a nerve-wracking experience. Most Turks seem to take traffic rules as suggestions, and Turkey’s roads can be chaotic. You’ll see drivers sounding their horn at the slightest provocation, even at police cars. You won’t see indicators employed too regularly, and you’ll be alarmed at the lackadaisical attitude to traffic lights, stop signs and pedestrians. You’ll witness baffling behaviour: driving backwards on a busy road, unexpected and unexplained stopping, and precarious weaving when roads are congested.

Turkish superstitions

7. Turks can be a superstitious bunch. 

Turkey is full of superstitions, which have given rise to some curious expressions When you sneeze, someone will tell you, “cok yasa”, meaning “live a long life”. The expression hails from shamanic Turkish culture, when people believed that with each sneeze, one’s life became a little shorter. To avoid this, others would wish the opposite.

When Turks drink raki, they say “serefe”, which means “cheers”. However, if they want to convey a more deeply felt sentiment, they will say “en kotu gunumuz boyle olsun” which means, “may this be our worst day ever”. It might sound odd on a happy occasion, but it’s a wish that all the other days of your life will be even better than this one.

Turks - even the most rational - also believe they can see their future in a coffee cup, by looking at the shapes left by the coffee grounds. A bird might symbolise a journey, or a heart shape a new love.

8. Smiling at people is seen as a bit unusual

In Turkey, you don’t smile at strangers. Smiles are reserved for people you know, and anyone going around smiling randomly is seen as a little simple. But conversely, Turks are some of the most hospitable and friendly people you will ever meet, and when you befriend a Turkish person, you’ll likely have a friend for life.


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