Turkey is home to a variety of unique customs and rituals that you won’t find anywhere else. Our selection of the most unique traditions in Turkey includes some of the most interesting customs you’re likely to encounter on your visit to the country.
Turks are not just the world’s fifth-largest tea producers, but also the world’s top tea consumers per capita. “Çay” (pronounced “chai”) is the Turkish word for tea. Tourists visiting Turkey may be surprised by the beverage’s widespread popularity. Tea has a regular presence on street corners, at cafés, restaurants, and offices, and simply everywhere people gather, lounge, or pass the time.
Tea is the go-to beverage for any situation, whether it’s to wash down a meal or to take a break from work. Tea is more than just a beverage for the people. Serving and drinking tea is an essential part of socializing and is the most basic ritual of hospitality. Turkish Tea is a custom that is centered on hospitality and sharing.
When visiting Turkey, it is customary to be provided a cup of strong dark red brew tea, never with milk, presented in a tulip-shaped glass. Whether you are visiting someone’s home, a shop, or even the barber, you will almost always be welcomed with an inviting cup of Turkish tea.
Turkish Breakfast (Kahvaltı)
Breakfast is viewed differently by Turks than by the rest of the world. In the culture of Turks, breakfast is a vital part of the day. It’s not a meal in the traditional sense, but rather a gathering of family members or friends to celebrate their unity. Every time there’s an opportunity, Turks enjoy many hours at the breakfast table and drink gallons of tea. The Turkish breakfast is so rich, with a generous selection of cheese, spreads, eggs, sausages, pastries, and of course bread.
Breakfast is a big part of Turkish culture, and it’s on display in many ways. While some cafes exist solely as breakfast eateries, certain avenues in some cities are dubbed “breakfast cafes streets,” as they contain a variety of breakfast cafes in one location.
The Evil Eye (Nazar)
To ward off the envious gaze of others, these glass blue eyes have become one of Turkey’s most popular tourist souvenirs. As superstition goes, blue eyes are thought to send forth the most negative/bad energy, and the glass eye is intended to counteract this.
To ward off misfortune, people have traditionally pinned or hung Evil Eyes on the garments of newborn babies and on the entrances of homes and businesses, and wear it as an accessory/jewelry. A phrase that you may often hear relating to the evil eye is “nazar değmesin,” which means ” may you not be touched by the evil eye.”
Turkish Bath (Hammam)
The Turkish baths’ evolution as a cultural institution may be traced back to the Ottoman Empire’s golden era. Baths were built all around Istanbul following the conquest.
The Turkish way of life revolves around its long-standing bathing customs. Taking a Turkish bath includes more than just filling a tub with water; there have been a number of customs associated with the experience.
Turkish baths are known for being social gathering spots as well as locations for cleansing and relaxation. Instead of steam, the Turkish bath relies on hot and cold water. The body is rubbed briskly with foam, dead skin is removed, and massages are given upon request.
The baths hold a special role in Turkish culture as locations for celebrating special events, such as bridal bathing, birth bathing, baby’s fortieth-day bathing, soldier bathing, and religious holiday bathing customs.
Turkish Coffee and Fortune Reading
Turkish coffee, or “türk kahvesi,” is an important aspect of Turkish culture and an integral part of Turkish daily life. With its unique flavor, foam, preparation, and presentation, Turkish coffee has a distinct character and tradition. It is customary to offer Turkish coffee in small cups, and common to be accompanied by a glass of water and Turkish delight, which are typically consumed before the coffee itself. Not to mention, drinking coffee and then getting your fortune told from the leftover coffee grounds is a fascinating popular practice in Turkey.
Coffee fortune telling arose from Turkish coffee and has since become an integral component of the enjoyment and discourse associated with coffee. In addition to being a way to socialize, it can also serve as a valuable source of advice and information for some people. Some expect serious outcomes, while some do it just for fun. In Turkish, they say: “Fala inanma, falsız kalma.” which translates to “Don’t believe your fortune, but don’t go without one.”
“Bir kahvenin kırk yıl hatırı vardır,” is a proverb whose direct translation is “A cup of coffee will be remembered for 40 years.” Although, what is implied is that sharing a cup of Turkish coffee with a Turk brings a 40-year friendship.
Turks have a strong sense of patriotism. There is no better way to demonstrate their loyalty to their country than to fly the Turkish flag over their heads or hang it everywhere. The Turks’ affection for their flag is evident at all times, and you don’t need a special event or public holiday to witness it.
The Turkish flag, like the country’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, commands the utmost respect among its people. A patriotic Turk will never drop the flag on the floor, and as a foreigner, you should avoid any situation in which you damage the flag or a depiction of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
The modern Republic of Turkey was founded by Ataturk, and he is still honored as “the Father of the Turks”. Turkish pride and a new sense of accomplishment were restored to his people, as their nation was brought into the modern world by his leadership. Because of Ataturk, today’s 85 million Turks have a national flag and a reason to wave it.
Turkish Greetings & Gestures
When it comes to greetings in Turkey, men greet one other by shaking hands and maintaining eye contact. A firm handshake is appropriate. Hugs and gentle pats on the back are typical among close friends and family. Other males may kiss on both cheeks. Men may also touch their temples to greet one another, a political party greeting.
While women’s greetings could be gentle handshakes for first meetings, close friends frequently kiss each other’s cheeks while hugging lightly.
Regarding a man greeting a lady, the best advice is to follow the other’s lead. If they extend their hand, simply shake it. If they offer their cheek, kiss both. If a hand is not non-extended, simply nod or say “Merhaba” (hello) respectfully. A person’s faith may forbid them from touching a member of the other sex.
Many frequent terms apply to daily or special occasions. A unique Turkish phrase that has no equivalent in English is “Kolay gelsin” which means “May it be easy for you”. This is a great way to acknowledge another person’s labors, even a stranger on the street, who has a task at hand.
Entering a shop, cafe, or any establishment you may hear “Hos Geldiniz”, which means “welcome”. “Geçmiş Olsun” is a sincere “Get well soon” wish to an ill person.
The backward tilt of the head, frequently accompanied by raised eyebrows or even simply raising the eyebrows alone, indicates “no” in Turkey, even though in most countries, a nod denotes “yes”.
In Turkey, placing one’s hand on the heart or towards the chest region is a common gesture. This gesture, which is used to express a greeting, is also used to express gratitude.
To ask for the bill from a waiter in a Turkish restaurant, you’ll see customers combining their index finger and thumb and making a “writing on the air” gesture with their fingers.
Everywhere you go, you’ll see water and dry cat food bowls along the pavements and sides of buildings. The cats aren’t formally adopted, they are cared for by a massive community network of cat lovers.
Don’t be surprised if one comes up and sits on your lap. They are so prevalent that you can see them cozied up at a café table, lying behind cars, slinking between graveyards, and sunbathing on benches.
Turkey’s fondness for cats has mysterious origins. However, one of the reasons cats are so well-treated may have something to do with Islam. Cats are allowed to enter houses and places of worship since they are believed to be clean creatures. A widely known hadith (sayings of Muhammad) speaks about a woman who was condemned to hell for neglecting to feed and water her cat. To learn more about Istanbul and its unique relationship with cats, watch “Kedi,” a wonderful film that follows seven street cats and the people who care for them.
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