Traditions dating back to the Ottoman era still permeate Turkey, combining with modern influences to form a unique blend. Affinity with Turkish culture is the driver prompting many expats to relocate to the country in the first place. If you are not familiar yet with Turkish lifestyle, great surprises are waiting for you, and Turkish people’s generosity and warmth will definitely contribute to make you want to stay.
The Turkish language
The Turkish alphabet consists of 29 letters — those of the Latin alphabet minus Q, W and X, plus 6 additional characters (Ç, Ğ, I, Ö, Ş, and Ü) tailored for the phonetic requirements of the language. Indeed, when it comes to writing, Turkish is completely phonetic: each letter refers to a particular sound, and every word is written exactly as it is pronounced.
The Turkish language encompasses many loanwords of Arabic (e.g. hediye, which means gift) and French (e.g. plaj, meaning beach) origins.
Let’s put it bluntly: everyone does not speak English, especially if you venture off the beaten tracks and out of the big cities. However most people are curious, open-minded and more than willing to try and communicate with foreigners by any means available — from body language to translating apps. If you can speak even a few words of Turkish, local people will genuinely appreciate and encourage your effort, turning a lenient eye on your mistakes.
A Turkish radio station to help you get familiar with the sound of Turkish: acikradyo.com.tr/stream/
Belief system in Turkey
An overwhelming majority of the population is Muslim, as emphasised by the country’s flag, which represents the Islamic crescent. However the country has a history of cultural diversity and is for example home to many churches and synagogues. Freedom of religion is a constitional right, enshrined by Ataturk on the occasion of the establishment of the secular republic of Turkey.
The Turkish society is very prone to superstitions derived from pre-Islamic traditions. One of the most mainstream is the 'boncuk', a glass bead representing a stylised blue eye, said to shield its bearer from bad luck.
The 'fal' (fortune-telling) is also very common practice in Turkey, especially among young women trying to get a sneak peek at their future husbands.
Turkey follows the Gregorian calendar, and falls within the UTC 2 time zone.
In addition to secular events (such as Republic Day on October 29th or Labor Day on May 1st), the Turkish calendar also celebrates major Islamic highlights.
For example the Ramazan Bayrami, which marks the end of the Ramadan fast, gives way to a four-day public holiday and to large celebrations. Similarly, the Kurban Bayrami (Sacrifice Feast), commemorating the sacrifice of Ibrahim (Abraham), is held around 2 months later. Although both these festivals have fixed dates according to the islamic lunar calendar, their equivalence in the Gregorian calendar drifts by around ten days every year.
Public holidays: www.timeanddate.com
One of the most popular activities in Turkey is… well, not that active, as it basically boils down to sitting and chatting (around cups of tea, a hookah, or a plate of pastries) with friends or neighbours. One could playfully say that 'dedikodu' (gossip) is a national sport.
Women traditionally used to meet at the 'hammam' — steam baths where you can avail yourself to various body care treatments — and many men, keeping alive an old tradition, still sit in the street to play 'tavla', a local version of the game of backgammon.
Foreigners are often surprised by Turkish warmth, hospitality and willingness to help. Out of the blue, a street seller may offer you a fruit or a flower; if you are lost, most strangers will take the time to kindly guide you, going so far as to walk you home or invite you to theirs for tea.
Turkish hospitality and social interactions of course have their own unspoken rules. Among the most prevalent, you should always remember to remove your shoes before entering a Turkish home; missing a meal or refusing to taste a dish offered by your Turkish hosts is also considered rude.
Traditions and practices, however, change with regions and people, and the best way to fit in is, as always, to observe the way people around you behave and try to adjust accordingly.