When you move to a foreign country, there are always unexpected cultural quirks that take you by surprise. Some are pleasant, but others can be maddening. Here, we outline some of the more infuriating Turkish traits that might take a little adjusting to, and how to manage them. It all comes down to accepting your new country for all its weird and wonderful ways, and realising that it’s not like home, but with beaches - it’s a whole new culture and lifestyle.
1. Driving you insane
Driving in Turkey’s cities and larger centres can be euphemistically described as an adventure. At first glance it’s chaotic and disorganised, with drivers appearing to just do their own thing without regard for any rules because yes, that is often what’s happening. Right of way rules seem a little different in Turkey. Large vehicles like trucks and buses muscle in where they’re not supposed to, and cutting in front of vehicles is common, as is swift, unexpected lane changing.
Top tip: Start driving defensively, using your horn and your lights to communicate to other drivers and pedestrians. Although you’ll see a lot of people driving without seat belts, don’t forget to use yours. Make sure children are safe and secure in the back. Don’t let your attention slip for a second - pay close attention to horns, and watch out for unpredictable passing and cutting in.
2. Five minutes means an hour
The casual attitude to showing up on time can drive new expats around the bend. Call up a new friend to ask where they are and you might get a “geliyorum” (I’m coming). That can mean anything from “I’m still at home in my pyjamas” to “I’m getting in the car now.”
Arranged to have a plumber come and fix that u-bend on Tuesday morning? Don’t hold your breath. It’s likely they’ll show up another morning, or possibly not at all. Take a deep breath and try to see the appointment time as a suggestion, rather than a date that’s fixed in stone.
Top tips: Expect people to be late. If you throw a dinner party for 7pm, bank on everyone arriving at 8. Take a deep breath and relax. Life is different in Turkey, life is slower and more easy going. Embrace the casual way of life and feel your blood pressure drop.
3. Maddening bureaucracy
Whether you’re getting a work permit, importing a car or applying for residency, be prepared to deal with reams of paperwork and often farcical layers of bureaucracy. Completing paperwork will likely involve traipsing round government departments (many of which seem to be open for just a couple of hours each day) and receiving information that’s contradictory, to say the least. You’ll wonder if anyone actually knows how to do their job, and how they were employed in the first place.
Top tip: Find a willing local who knows the system and will help you for a small fee. As stressful as it seems, try and relax a little and take on a more fatalistic attitude. Remember why you came here in the first place (clue: sunshine, beaches, Turkish food). Eventually you will come out the other end, with all forms filled and permit in hand. And fortunately, applying for residency can now be done online, taking much of the donkey work out of the experience.
4. (Overly) friendly people
Turks are warm, welcoming and quick to kindness. However, to those coming from a very different culture, this friendliness can come across as overbearing and invasive. You might get chatting to someone in a shop and before you know it, you’ll have met the whole family and will be pressed with coffee and pastries. Or you’ll ask for directions and not only will you be shown the way, you’ll find yourself with a companion for the day. It’s not uncommon to be invited to a party minutes after meeting someone new. This blurring of boundaries can be tiring to someone who’s used to a more stand-offish culture.
Top tips: While it’s nice to make friends in Turkey, if you’re not comfortable don’t feel you have to say yes for the sake of not ruffling any feathers. Extricate yourself from the situation, striking a balance between polite and unavailable. You don’t have to cause offence, just make it clear you’re busy or not interested.
5. Everyone’s a tradesperson
Tell someone you’re looking for an electrician and it’s likely they’ll tell you that they are, in fact, an electrician. Oh, and they’re also a carpenter and a tiler. What are the chances?! You have to admire the can-do attitude, but in reality, trades training and qualifications in Turkey is often poor, precisely because everyone thinks they can give it a go. That’s why a lot of the work that’s done is sub-par, or even dangerous.
Top tips: The trades industries are slowly catching up to the rest of the world, with more regulation being introduced, but all the same, it’s best to be careful. Get a referral from someone who has used a reliable tradesperson.
6. The love of Turkish soap operas
Soap operas in Turkey can seem bizarre to outsiders. They’re melodramatic, with lots of crying and over-theatrical performances from both sexes that looks strange to someone used to the relative subtleties of Western television. But like it or not, Turkish soap operas are at the peak of their popularity, and as well as being hugely popular in Turkey have been rolled out in neighbouring countries with huge success. Expect to see soap operas playing on screens in cafes, salons, malls and on bus journeys. There’s no getting away from them - possibly even in your own country, since Turkish television is taking the world by storm.
Top tips: Look at soap operas as a way of learning about Turkish culture and about its history, since many soap operas focus on Turkey’s rich heritage, especially Magnificent Century. If you watch a few religiously you’ll also have plenty to talk about with your Turkish friends.
Turks are comfortable talking about personal details, even with someone they’ve just met. This can be alarming to someone from a more reserved country, such as the UK. As a foreigner, you’re even more interesting. Expect to be grilled about your marital status, age, number of children, job and salary. You can also expect all manner of questions about where you’re from.
Top tips:Turn this cultural aspect to your favour, and take the opportunity to find out all about Turks and their many quirks. Here’s a genuine opportunity for a window into a new culture and way of living. Or, just look at it as a way to find out all the gossip about your neighbours and friends.
8. Health and safety
Ever seen someone hanging out a window painting their house while holding on with the tips of their toes? Or using a jackhammer in a pair of flip flops, whilst smoking? Expect to see these alarming-looking activities while in Turkey, where health and safety just isn’t given the emphasis it is in Western countries.
Visitors to the country alternate between admiring the fact there is more freedom in Turkey - and wanting to close their eyes against the sight of live electrical wires hanging from the ceiling.
Top tip: Be careful around building sites and watch your step when there’s works going on in public places because there is often a lack of caution-type signs.
9. Queuing frustration
Turks don’t queue, they bunch. Instead of forming the orderly line that those in the Western world favour, Turks cluster together and when that door opens or the bus arrives, it’s every man, woman or child for themselves. It can be quite intimidating to those of us who are used to leisurely embarking on the bus when it pulls up to your stop.
Top tip: Stand your ground. Make your way firmly through the crowd, without resorting to violence. Hold tight to small children.
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