While Turks are generally friendly and welcoming to anyone holidaying in their country or buying a permanent home in Turkey, it’s good to be forewarned before you go about what’s culturally acceptable. Our handy guide lays out the do’s and don’ts of Turkish etiquette.
1. No sole
In Turkey it’s considered rude to expose the sole of your foot so it’s facing another person. Turks tend to sit cross-legged in social gatherings, and Westerners who aren’t used to this may need to stretch a foot out now and again. If you do, make sure the sole of your foot is facing the floor.
2. Don't point the finger
It’s considered impolite to point at another person. Use your whole hand or nod politely in the direction of the person you’re indicating.
3. Yes, no, maybe
Just like we do, Turks nod their heads to indicate yes. However, shaking your head as we do to say ‘no’ tells people you don’t understand. Saying ‘no’ in Turkey involves tipping your head back once while raising your eyebrows.
4. Public displays of affection
Canoodling with your loved one will probably earn you a eye rolls back home. But in Turkey it’s inappropriate to show more than simple displays of affection (holding hands etc) towards a partner.
5. Personal hygiene
Don’t pick your teeth or blow your nose in public. Head to the nearest bathroom.
6. Visiting mosques
There are many, many mosques in Turkey, ranging from small places of worship to grandiose, beautiful structures. If you get the chance to visit one it’s well worth it. Don’t be intimidated – Turks will welcome you and tell you about their customs. However, make sure you remove your shoes before entering. Wear modest dress, with all limbs covered, and women must cover their hair. Speak quietly and do not walk in front of anyone who is praying. Don’t take pictures – it’s disrespectful. If in doubt, just watch what others around you are doing.
7. Come on!
In the western world we hold our hand palm up and waggle our fingers to say ‘come with me’. In Turkey, this gesture’s a little rude. Instead, turn your hand upside down so your palm is facing the floor, and make the same waggling motion.
8. Dinner time
If you’re eating at someone’s home, make sure you clean your plate. Leaving food is offensive. (This shouldn’t be difficult when Turkish food is so delicious). When finished, line your knife and fork up together on the plate. Never eat with your left hand, it’s not considered clean.
Make sure you have a full wallet if you’re inviting people out: it’s not traditional to separate the bill in Turkey, and the person who does the inviting picks up the check. If you’re taken out for a meal, it’s polite to return the gesture.
9. Meet and greet
Shake hands with the elders of a group first, and keep going until you’ve shaken the hand of everyone in the room. Relatives and friends get a kiss on the cheek. When you’re invited to someone’s home, make sure you turn up on time and bring an inexpensive gift (flowers like roses or carnations always go down well). Remove your shoes before going inside.
10. Business matters
When meeting someone for business matters, be careful not to schedule anything inside Ramadam, or during Turkish holidays (see herefor 2013’s public holidays).
Becoming acquainted with the person you’re working with is crucial, and the first meeting will be devoted to getting to know each other and discussing subjects like family, Turkish history and sports. Make sure you avoid politics.
Maintain eye contact as it shows honesty. Print out all information in Turkish as well as English, and supply lots of visual aids. Prepare to wait for any big decisions – Turks don’t like to decide important matters quickly. Something else to watch out for is that an outrageous suggestion may be made in the early stages of discussion to see how well you’ll respond to negotiation.