Primary AuthorNina Evason,
- In Turkey, people generally extend an offer multiple times. It is often polite to decline gestures initially and accept once the person has insisted. This exchange allows the offering person to show their sincerity in the gesture, and shows the receiver’s humbleness.
- Be sure to offer everything multiple times in return. If you only offer something once, a Turk may respond, “No, it’s okay”, out of modesty and even though they meant to accept on the second offer.
- You may have to be quite insistent if you truly want to refuse an offer or gesture. Place one hand on your chest as you say so. If someone has invited you somewhere, you can make the same gesture and point to your watch to indicate you do not have time to stay.
- It is polite to stand when someone elderly enters the room. If they do not have a seat, it is expected that they will be offered someone else’s.
- It is customary for Turkish men to escort women to a seat and to the bathroom during a meal.
- It is considered rude/disrespectful to chew gum whilst talking to someone of a higher status or at a formal occasion.
- Avoid sitting in any position that allows one’s shoe to face another person. This is considered insulting. Similarly, it is inappropriate to cross your legs when facing someone.
- It is considered improper for a woman to cross her legs while sitting.
- Ask permission before taking a woman’s photograph.
- Try to gesture, touch people or offer items using only the right hand or both hands together. Many Turks observe a separation between the functions of the hands. This custom is tied to Islamic principles that prescribe the left hand should only be used for removal of dirt and for cleaning. It may not necessarily be strictly followed, but it is best not to use the left hand unless the action is inevitable.
- People rarely split a bill in Turkey. The person who invited the others to join them will commonly pay, whilst men are usually expected to pay for women. You may offer to pay the whole bill; however, if your Turkish counterpart insists multiple times that you should leave it to them, allow them to pay. It can be a kind gesture to offer to take them out in return next time.
- Hospitality (misafirperverlik) is a central virtue in Turkey. Turks are known to be highly generous to their guests, as hosting is considered an honour. Some regard an unexpected guest as ‘a guest from God’ (Tanrı Misafiri).
- Turks regularly offer invitations for others to join them (e.g. at their table) or have something of theirs. These gestures can come across as overly insistent or demanding to foreigners. However, consider that the former the invitation is, the more earnest and polite it is thought to be.
- People are expected to be punctual to dinners and intimate gatherings. However, it is appropriate to be late to parties.
- It is considered a nice gesture to bring sweets, flowers or presents for any children when visiting someone at their home. However, Turks are usually less concerned with what you bring and more interested in socialisation and conversation.
- If you bring alcohol or food to a gathering, you are expected to share it.
- Wear clean socks. You will often be expected to take off your shoes before entering a person’s home. In some cases, you may be given a pair of slippers to wear instead.
- Tea or coffee is offered and drunk at all occasions (commonly traditional Turkish tea or apple tea). It is usually served in a small tulip-shaped glass with sugar. Expect to be offered it as soon as you sit down with a Turk.
- In some households, you may find that you do not interact with adult female family members during your visit. It is common for women to prepare and clean up after a meal while the men socialise with the guest.
- Be careful what you compliment in a Turkish person’s house as they may feel compelled to offer it to you as a gift.
- Turks generally prefer to eat at sit-down meals. It’s rare for them to snack throughout the day or eat on-the-go. It is also unusual to have ‘pot-luck’ meals whereby every person invited to dinner brings their own dish to share. Typically, the host will cook and prepare everything.
- In the cities, people generally eat at the table. However, in smaller households, a food stand may be placed on the carpet that everyone then sits around on cushions. Some Turkish households may use a low table with cushions set around it.
- Turks tend to offer food several times and prompt their guests to have more servings than they can feasibly eat. Try to accept as many things offered as possible, even if you can’t finish all of it. It is best to arrive to a meal on an empty stomach so you can accept multiple servings.
- If you cannot eat the food, you may have to be quite insistent and give a legitimate reason (e.g. I’m vegetarian). Your host may take initial refusals as and serve more anyway.
- Some Turks may not eat anything containing alcohol or pork, in accordance with Islamic custom.
- Much Turkish food involves eating from a selection of small dishes, known as meze.
- Turks tend to eat at quite a slow, relaxed pace. It is common to stop between courses to smoke a cigarette and have a few drinks before moving on to the next dish.
- Handle all food with your right hand. The left is associated with cleaning and should not be used to pass, offer or serve food.
- Do not blow your nose or pick your teeth during a meal.
- Always keep your feet hidden under the table.
- Evening meals may be accompanied with alcohol depending on the person you are dining with. The local Turkish drink is called ‘Raký’.
- Tea or Turkish coffee may be served at the conclusion of a meal.
- Hosts generally refill any empty glass they see.
- A good way to compliment a host is to say “Elinize sağılık” (Health to your hands).
- Formal gift giving is appreciated, although not necessarily common or expected. Gift wrapping and cards are not common.
- Turks tend to give gifts on a more casual basis, offering small items and gestures very frequently throughout a friendship.
- Offer and receive gifts with two hands.
- Gifts are generally not opened in front of the giver.
- It is best not to give gifts that contain traces of alcohol or pork. Some Turkish people may drink alcohol. However, since it is a predominantly Muslim country, you should be assured of this fact before giving wine or liquor.
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