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A guide to social etiquette in Turkey

16th June 2015

Trying to follow our own countries social etiquette in various situations can be a bit of minefield sometimes, so you can imagine how difficult following proper social etiquette can be when visiting a new country for first time.

Thankfully the Turkish people are very friendly and understanding so don’t worry if you make any mistakes, because you more than likely will. Also not everyone will follow social etiquette at all times so don’t be afraid of relaxing it, if you feel the person you’re talking with won’t mind.

Of course you won’t remember everything so if you suddenly find your mind as gone blank then just try to be respectful and courteous to others in any way you can. There’s a number of guides to Turkish culture and social etiquette available that you might find helpful the Culture Wise series is particularly popular.

Social Etiquette - Dress

There’s a lot to learn about social etiquette but as a tourist knowing the basics will be enough in most cases, so let’s take a look at them.

Dress is one of the most common stumbling blocks for tourists and although there are some misconceptions about Turkish attitudes to women’s dress (like the must wear burqas) attitudes to dress are generally more conservative particularly in the east of Turkey. 

So mini-skirts and skimpy shorts are clothes you may like to avoid, (unless in a Tourist resort) men on the other should avoid going shirtless unless they’re at the beach. Beachwear for both men and women should be confined to the beach at all times.

While shunning these etiquette guidelines might get you some stares from locales on the whole the Turkish people are very respectful and polite, so if you’ve lost your shirt at the beach (it happens) or noticed your shorts might be a little too short then don’t be afraid of leaving the beach to change into a new outfit.

Social Etiquette - Social Situations

Not everyone will follow social etiquette as strictly as others but just in case it’s best to know how to properly greet people and learn the basics. One of the first things you’ll likely notice is that Turkish people in general have a smaller area of personal place so they might stand closer to you then you’ll be used to.

Handshakes are the proper traditional greeting in Turkey, and this includes shaking hands with men, women and children. Putting your hands in your pockets and standing with them on your hips is also seen as rude particularly when talking to people.

Men and women kissing each other on the cheek when meeting and parting is also common.

Things Tourists Should Beware Of

Apart from learning how you should act you should also be aware of how locales may react to you based on your appearance, dress or nationality. For example when I went to Japan a couple of years ago a number of people came over to look at my hair it being a naturally reddish/ ginger colour was unusual for Japan so it received a lot of interest from locales.

Similarly Asian tourists may receive some looks from locales and may be asked some questions about where they’re from and what it’s like there. These questions are bound by curiosity so don’t be offended, similarly gay and lesbian tourists should try to be discrete.  

Homosexual acts between adults over 18 are legal but there are laws preventing the spread of information about homosexuality as it’s seen as advocating the life style. Places like Istanbul and the towns of Antalya and İzmir are considered more gay friendly though.

Smoking is another hot issue in Turkey and while smoking was prohibited in all public places in 2009 don’t be surprised if you see many people flouting the ban. 




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