Understanding the values of Turkish society goes hand in hand with understanding, in part, the country’s history. Modern day Turkey’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Atarturk, reformed the Ottoman Empire, building schools, reducing taxes and championing equal rights for men and women in the early 1900s. His honorary last name translates as “Father of the Turks,” and is legally not allowed to be given to any other Turkish person.
It follows, then, that the first taboo of Turkey is to say his name in vain or insult his legacy in public.
This is one of a number of simple but important notes worth taking before heading off to one of the most beautiful and diverse countries in the world, a place bordered by two continents, historically loyal to two religions and home to snowed mountains above golden beaches.
When the sun sets on Istanbul gilded minarets reach up into the orange glow, leading a traveller’s eye into the Mediterranean ether and back down to the mosques below.
The Blue Mosque, built at the start of the 1600s, is perhaps the most prevalent building on Istanbul’s skyline, and is easy to visit if you time a trip between prayer times.
An older construction within the city is the Suleymaniye Mosque, created in the 16th century by the famed Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan.
Westerners are welcomed to see the magnificent grounds of these buildings but will face stern punishment if they do not respect local religious law. As with other mosques around the world, women must wear headscarves inside the Mosque and every visitor must remove their shoes.
Guardians outside the mosques will prompt visitors to do these things but, as I found out in Casablanca a few years back, sometimes a common difference in cultures can also be an issue. In my example a German woman walked into the mosque with a low cut top on and was screamed at by a local man who then chased her out. She was wearing a headscarf and had removed her shoes but the show of flesh was not appreciated at that particular sacred site.
The best idea is to cover up appropriately and remain as respectful as possible to the more reticent conventions of Islam.
Doing so will allow you to see some of the most amazing religious artwork and fine tile work in the world.
It’s doubtful that any younger Turkish people are going to be that offended if they see a tourist make a silly hand gesture. However, the older generation aren’t likely to take too kindly to it
The problem those coming from the UK & Ireland have is that some of the offensive hand signs in Turkey are perfectly fine at home.
Pointing at people is considered far ruder in Turkey than it is in Western Europe, while doing the OK sign is even worse and is actually a homophobic insult. The question of whether Scuba divers get away with that one is something I don’t know although I am sure the people at Scubaadvisor can help with that.
Talking of hands, keep them to yourself if you are a man and with a woman. Touching each other in public is seen as extremely forward and most people will not be a big fan of it (apart from the two people in question obviously). Men are perfectly OK touching each other and, in fact, be prepared for the locals to be ‘hands on’ if you’re also a man.
Still, remarkably, talking of hands, make sure to keep a relaxed hand when shaking your Turkish counterparts’. A firm grip is too aggressive and might also come across as arrogant.
After the initial greeting it’s common for Turkish men to ask a lot of questions to their western visitors, which can sometimes seem excessive. However, although this is general custom, you of course get different types of people so don’t always expect such interest. It’s just good to be ready for what is a fairly intense but wholly innocent line of questioning.
If you all get on well and decide to get some food, like the delicious Yaprak Sarma (flavored rice wrapped in vine leaves), or Lahmacun (minced meat and vegetables on a crispy flat dough) then there are a couple of rules at the dinner table as well.
If you happen to eat anything without cutlery remember to use only your right hand because the left is considered unclean in Islamic cultures.
If you’re not eating then it’s polite to keep your hands out of your pockets and by your sides, engaging them in conversation.
At the end of the meal don’t be surprised if your host pays for the whole meal, or if you are expected to do so. The custom in Turkey is that the host pays for everything and their guest returns the favour at a later date. The real challenge is working out exactly who is the host.
Traffic can be excruciatingly slow in the larger cities and the public transport between them can be equally as tedious. Getting a rental car is a good idea if you are moving around a lot from the cities into the coastal beaches or mountain areas. However, if you are staying in one city then you’re better off having a nice walk.
This is a simple one. Carry ID on you at all times in Turkey. As with a number of other countries not having valid identification is illegal in Turkey and, even if prison is unlikely, a huge headache is guaranteed. A driving license is probably the best option.
It doesn’t matter hugely what men wear in Turkey but, for woman, it’s a really big deal.
On most touristy seaside locations like Antalya bikinis are completely fine and it’s worth checking out this list of the best ten beaches right here.
However, walking through a city without wearing being well covered up will attract a lot of negative attention almost everywhere. Normal trousers and a shirt are completely fine and there’s no need to go overboard with an all in one snuggie. It’s just another case of respecting a different set of cultural values.