Each landscape in Turkey is a
backdrop, a context, for people and events in the play of life. Perhaps the most
thrilling aspect of travel is to become an active participant in this landscape
As in any other human interaction,
the basic rule is equal partnership, given the roles of host and guest. This
rule defines mutual respect and a shared sense of responsibility as the guiding
principle in an adventure where the parties involved are, by definition,
different in their understandings and ways of life. When Turks entered the
tourism arena not so long ago, they were armed with a tradition of hospitality
rather than sophisticated facilities or a service mentality. Although now Turkey
has an excellent tourism infrastructure, the motivation of most Turks remains
one of sincerity and courtesy.
The desire of Turks is to be
understood and liked, to communicate and learn about people from other lands,
and be on equal terms with them as citizens of the world. Interpret their
enthusiasm to interact with you with this perspective in mind. They would rather
make long term acquaintances, hangout together, exchange cards, letters, gifts,
than receive "fair payment" or large tips for help rendered. This attitude may
change as tourism industry develops more in the coming decades and much depends
on the visitors. But, for now, the sweetness of the Turkish people is unspoiled.
Here are some tips about social
graces and conduct, which may be useful in interpreting the goings on and help
you to enjoy your participation in this landscape even more.
Starting at the beginning:
Greetings involving welcomes, hand shakes, hugging and kissing on both cheeks,
followed by a "How are you? How is the family? How is your health? How is
business?…." are important rituals. It is expected that everyone will inquire
about the health and well being of everyone else present, before getting on with
it. During religious holidays greeting are even more important. The young visit
and kiss the hands of the elderly family members. Every friend and family is
visited to renew bonds and kinship. The children receive pocket money and gifts,
and social charity obligations are met. Like elsewhere, these are joyous
occasions. However, celebrations emphasize traditional social and spiritual
aspects and a certain amount of decorum in action and appearance is expected
In social gatherings, even though
everyone would be sitting in the same room, it is common for women to start
their interaction mostly with other women and similarly, men with men. Parties
where people stand around and "mingle" are not among common forms of
socialization except among the urbanized elite. During a typical after dinner
gathering candy, coffee, tea with cookies and pastries, and fruit are served.
A dinner invitation to someone's
home is a special honour. At the dinner table, it is customary for the hostess to
offer additional servings many times and with great insistence. The guest is
expected to oblige after several such offers. Dinners are leisurely affairs; to
be savoured slowly along with the delicious home cooked food. Sometimes guests
bring flowers or sweets to such occasions.
In business relationships, the
whole affair is conducted as a social occasion, complete with greetings, sharing
coffee, tea, or food and drinks, depending on the extent of the transaction.
Even in ordinary shopping, a lot of personal information is exchanged between
the vendor and the customer, setting the stage for everyone to fulfil their
responsibility in the transaction. Bargaining is not a simple game of
negotiation between adversarial parties, but pan of socialization and friendly
chitchat to confirm the non-adversarial nature of the activity.
There are a few subjects, which
need to be treated with care. These include the flag, the army, the country, and
religion. Even though people take great pleasure in explaining and answering
questions about these, criticism or disrespect, even in jest, is not taken
lightly. On the other hand, politics is fair game. There are few people who love
talking politics as much as the Turks do.
To sum up, a guest might commit
social faux-pas, but what matters is the underlying intention and the presence
of equality and respect, which the Turkish people will be quick to detect, and
all will be well. Enjoy your stay!