FEAR not – you’ll find that travelling to Turkey isn’t like travelling to outer Mongolia or Timbuktu. The cultural divide is definitely bridgeable. Anyway, Turks are generally welcoming, good-humoured people, and if you make a gaffe it will soon be laughed off.
However, to give you a head start, we’ve compiled a list of what NOT to do when you get to Turkey. Pay attention, some of these could save your (social) life:
Disrespect Mr Ataturk
Images of the Turkish Republic’s founder are everywhere – there are statues in town squares, pictures in shops, offices and public buildings. It’s illegal to defame his likeness, name or character. So this is less of a faux pas and more of a crime!
Leave your shoes on
This is mostly relevant to visiting mosques (and you should get a clue by the pile of shoes by the entrance), but many households are shoe-free, so it’s best to ask before you clomp your filthy footwear over the threshold.
Touch the ladies
This is one for the men. While you’re allowed to touch another man – even if you’ve just met – it is not acceptable to touch a woman unless she is your girlfriend or wife. You’ll be considered forward and very rude. However, this rule relaxes in well-touristed places like Antalya, Bodrum, Marmaris or Kusadasi. But it’s still best to be aware. Ladies – you can touch each other all you like, it’s perfectly acceptable.
Shake hands as if your life depended on it
Unlike in the west, where a limp handshake is considered irritatingly weak, Turks shake hands gently. Of course, you may come across westernised Turks who will prove an exception, but it’s best to go softly where handshakes are concerned.
Flirt with another bloke’s girl
A gentleman will already adhere to this one. But for the rest of you: be civil, polite, interested and a little charming, but never lascivious or leering. It’s just not on, and you could get in big trouble with the offended bloke.
Talk religion or politics
Unless you know someone well, it’s best to steer clear of certain divisive subjects. At the moment, terrorism and human rights issues are hot topics, especially anything to do with the PKK, the Kurds or the Armenians. Tread carefully – these issues are close to Turks’ hearts and emotions can run high. Once you’re well-acquainted with someone it’s fine, but until then, tread carefully.
Be a tightwad
Turkish protocol says the host should pay for the meal. Turks don’t share the bill and they’ll be puzzled and possibly offended if you suggest such a thing. By all means, you can offer to pay if you are not the host, but your host may refuse. If they refuse twice, let it go. If you’re the host, be prepared to foot the entire bill.
Get offended by the many questions
Turks are inquisitive people. They may ask questions that in your country would be considered rude. If you don’t want to answer the question, just reply vaguely, this is perfectly acceptable. Alternatively, you can answer the question with another question – which is seen as pretty annoying in western culture, but perfectly OK in Turkey.
Snap pictures without permission
It’s just manners. Not everyone likes having their pictures taken or being treated as part of a potential holiday slideshow. Ask politely and if refused, smile and walk away. If the person agrees they may ask you to send you a copy of the picture.
One for the ladies especially. Avoid hassle by wearing sensible clothes. Even though Turkey is a secular country it’s generally frowned upon to show lots of flesh. Just use your common sense – if you get hassled, put some more clothes on. This rule relaxes in the more popular and westernised beach resorts, but if you visit the city dress like you would dress in a city in your home country.