Culture Shock in Turkey

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As a country straddling Europe and Asia, Turkey is a unique destination with a rich cultural heritage that blends both East and West. Although the country has such diverse influences and is quite multi-cultural, expats are still likely to experience some culture shock in Turkey, and adjusting to life there may take some time.
 
Turkish people are generally friendly and welcoming to foreigners and expats should move to Turkey with an open mind and not be afraid to embrace all aspects of their new life; the slightest effort to learn and speak Turkish on the part of expats will be highly appreciated.
 

Religion in Turkey


Although the majority of Turkey's population are declared Muslims, the country is adamant about its persona as a secular state. In fact, this stance is formally declared in the country's constitution and is officially protected by the army. However, the between the secularists and the traditionalists continues over issues such as the Islamic head scarf and women's rights. 
 
For all practical purposes, however, as an expat in Turkey - Istanbul in particular – one can safely practice one’s own religion and wear Western dress without fear of reprisal, but the local customs and culture should always be respected. This is especially important during the Muslim holy month of Ramazan (Ramadan) when Muslims refrain from eating, drinking and smoking between sunrise and sunset.
 

Understanding gestures in Turkey


Turks think that it is rude to say an outright ‘No’ if something is not possible. Instead expats will get a roundabout explanation and until they get used to this, it can be confusing and frustrating not to get a straight answer. The Turks also have an unusual gesture for saying ‘No’ - it is an upward flick of the head accompanied by a clicking of the tongue. One rarely ever hears the actual Turkish word for ‘No’ being used.
 

Addressing others in Turkey


In Turkey, women will always be addressed by their first names with a Hanim (pronounced Hanum, meaning lady) after it. It is not considered familiar or rude to use the first name. For example, Jane Smith will be addressed as Jane Hanim, rather than Mrs Smith. The male equivalent of Hanim is Bey (pronounced Bay). So John Smith will be addressed as John Bey. Only in very formal situations would they be addressed with the Turkish equivalent of Mr and Mrs Smith – Bay and Bayan Smith.
 

Women in Turkey


Turkish people are known for their friendliness, but sometimes this extends a bit far when it comes to how men respond to women. Although most men are respectful towards women, reports of sexual harassment of foreign women in Turkey are an unfortunate reality, particularly on public transport or on the streets of Istanbul. It’s not unusual for Turkish men to perceive Western women as sexually promiscuous and proposition them with lewd comments. Female expats should rather avoid going out alone, especially at night.