Turkey, one of the most visited countries in the world, is an amazingly diverse and complex country. As Turkey is a Muslim country, you always need to exercise great respect for their local tradition and culture. Even in a cosmopolitan city like Istanbul, people understandably revere their traditional customs. Turks are inherently very hospitable and welcome visitors who show an appreciation for their customs. If you are planning a trip, these Do’s and Don’ts will help to make your visit much more enriching.
As with any place of worship, visitors should speak quietly and behave respectfully. Mosques are usually closed to visitors during prayer times.
- Do remove shoes or sandals before you go inside any mosque.
- Do wear modest clothing. No shorts for males or females.
- Do cover your head and no bare shoulders if you are female.
- Don’t visit a mosque on a Friday, the Muslim day for worship.
- Don’t talk or laugh loudly in a mosque.
- Don’t obstruct or walk in front of a person who is praying.
Visiting traditional (non-tourist) areas
- Do remember you are a visitor in someone else’s country, so be respectful.
- Do wear more conservative clothing if visiting anywhere outside of cities. Short sleeved shirts are acceptable.
- Do be aware that men and women are expected not to touch. Even shaking hands can be taboo.
- Do avoid public displays of affection.
- Don’t sit beside or talk to single or young Turkish women if you are a lone male traveller.
- Don’t expect Turkish males, such as merchandise sellers, to routinely talk directly to a female traveller with a male companion. Traditionally Turkish men will tend to address the male.
Interacting with Turks
Hospitality is at the heart of Turkish culture. Turks are welcoming, friendly, willing to offer help and have a chat.
- Do be courteous. Turkish culture places heavy emphasis on good manners.
- Do learn some polite phrases or words such as, ‘tesekkür ederim’ which means ‘thank you’ and ‘lütfen’ which means ‘please’.
- Do be aware of differences with some Western mannerisms – a downward head nod indicates ‘yes’, whereas an upward nod with raised eyebrows whilst making a click sound with the tongue means ‘no’.
Signal ‘no’ by shaking your head from side to side because it means that you didn’t understand.
- Do remember ‘evet’ means ‘yes’ and ‘hayir’ means ‘no’ in Turkish.
- Do keep your feet flat on the ground when sitting. Crossing your legs or showing the bottoms of your feet is considered insulting in Turkey.
- Don’t make any derogatory comments about the Turkish Flag, or Kemal Atatürk, the Turkish Republic’s Founding Father or in fact anything else about Turkey. It is obviously impolite and disrespectful!
- Don’t stand with your hands on your hips or in your pockets.
- Don’t point at someone with your finger.
- Don’t make the “OK” sign with your hand. It is a rude gesture in Turkey.
- Don’t put your thumb between your index and middle finger. It is also a vulgar gesture.
In restaurants or cafes
- Do remember that alcohol abstinence is encouraged and common in Muslim countries, including Turkey. Tourists having a moderate drink is tolerated, but drunkenness and excessive drinking is not.
- Do be aware that smoking in public areas like restaurants and bars is prohibited, but it sometimes does happen. You probably shouldn’t request them to stop. You should stick to the rules though and don’t join in.
- Do pay for the whole meal if you initiated a meal invitation. Splitting the bill is not traditionally done and is considered rude in Turkey.
- Do return the gesture if someone else offers to pay the bill, and make sure you invite that person to lunch or dinner before you leave.
- Do be aware that gestures such as burping, picking your teeth and blowing your nose in a restaurant or café is considered impolite in Turkey.
- Do eat everything on your plate. Some Turkish hosts might be offended if you don’t.
- Do put your knife and fork side-by-side on your plate to indicate you are done.
- Don’t use your left hand when dining. The left hand is considered unclean.
Tipping in Turkey
- Do leave a modest tip at a restaurant. Tips aren’t expected, but they are appreciated. In fancy restaurants, you may leave a 10%-15% tip.
- Do round the fare up instead of tipping a taxi driver. For instance, if the fare is YTL 5.7 (Turkish lira), round it up to YTL 6 (Turkish lira).
- Do tip hotel porters 50 cents to a dollar a bag.
- Do respect Ramadan festival and be aware of when is the Ramadan month. This is the Islamic month of fasting when devout Muslims refrain from eating and drinking from dawn until dusk. Avoid eating in public during the day, as a sign of respect.
- Do take a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia and witness the breath-taking panoramic view of the scenery. It is an experience not to be missed.
- Do drink Turkish coffee and Turkish apple tea.
- Do visit Turkey’s local bazaars.
- Don’t take pictures of people without asking permission. Turks, especially the elderly, are afraid of the camera and consider it “the evil eye”.
- Don’t board a cab without a taxi logo.
- Don’t haggle in shops.
- Don’t refuse tea or a gift. It is considered rude. Turks are famous for their hospitality and rejecting a gift must be well justified. You do not have to eat or drink it completely.