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A good understanding of a country may help you to make the most of your trip by giving you an insight into the minds of the nationals. That is the purpose of this series.


 

Diane Caldwell


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Getting to know... Turks

Diane Caldwell
Article © 2011 Dianne Caldwell


Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Turks are the most hospitable people in the world. They are open, generous, and love to stuff you with delectable Turkish food... They smile when foreigners break customs, but expect their own to know the rules of proper decorum.

Keyfi roughly translated means “merriment,” or “pleasure.” But in Turkey ‘keyfi’ is more a way of life: sitting in outdoor cafes sipping endless glasses of tea served in tiny tulip-shaped glasses, discussing everything from politics to the constantly shifting weather; drinking raki, the local anise-flavored liquour with your favorite fresh fish; plates of mezeler (appetizers) filling the table; clapping and singing along to their favorite songs, women and men rising to their feet swiveling their hips and waving white napkins in line dances, shoulders bouncing.

Personality. Turks are hot-blooded! They love big. They entertain big. They celebrate big. They are always touching one another, hugging, petting, leaning up against their family members and good friends. But when they get angry they’re just as fiery. They yell and gesticulate and discuss their situation with everyone. Then they forgive, hug, kiss, and make up.

Foreigners. Turks are the most hospitable people in the world. They are open, generous, and love to stuff you with delectable Turkish food. Turks have an acceptance of foreign behaviour that doesn’t always extend to their own people. They smile when foreigners break customs, but expect their own to know the rules of proper decorum.

Time. Turks, except for business people, tend to view time as a fluid concept. Most business appointments between the higher-ups take place on time. Most friends show up late. An invitation for dinner usually means that people show up an hour past the appointed time. Clubs with live music start to fill up at around 11 p.m. Likewise for meyhanes, Turkish restaurant-live music bars where appetizers overfill the table, raki continuously pours into glasses, and people animatedly sing along with the performers or leap to their feet in hip-swiveling joy.

Shoe. Take them off!!! Never enter a home without taking off your shoes. Most homes are equipped with a lineup of terlik (house slippers) in every imaginable size, colour and style. Remove your shoes, slip on a pair of house shoes and leave the dirt of the street behind.

Language. Turkish is a maddening language to learn. However, that said, learning a few key phrases will bring much appreciation and accolades from the Turks. Unlike the French, Turks never expect foreigners to know their language and will go out of their way to try and accommodate them.

Politics. Ataturk is the father of Turkey. Never, under any circumstances, joke, poke fun at, or in way insinuate that Kemal Ataturk was anything less than a God.

Religion. Turks are Muslim. However, most of them are the most relaxed Muslims in the Muslim world. Ataturk banned the veil, separated religion and government, and set the tone for an open-minded and liberal faith that extends warmth toward those of other religions and beliefs. Parts of Istanbul, the western Aegean coast, and the Mediterean are used to catering to tourists and their own citizens have adopted many European ways of life. The East of Turkey is more religious, but still the people are kind and relaxed.

Drink. Tea, tea, tea and more tea. In my first year living in Istanbul I was amazed to see the post office employees all come to a complete halt as the tea bearer brought each a tiny glass of hot amber tea. Now there are Starbucks and other coffee chains in Istanbul offering other forms of caffeination. In the evenings beer and raki are consumed as Turks enjoy their night.

Food. For carnivores there’s an endless variety of kebabs, stews (guvech), beef, lamb, and chicken dishes. As it’s a Muslim country, you won’t find any pork products. For the vegetarian, there are numerous mezeler (appetizers) that are all vegetarian and quite delicious. Lentil soup (mercimek corba) is a staple as is kuru fasulye (stewed white beans in tomato sauce.)

Families. In Turkey families come first. The family unit is intact and flourishing here. Grown children usually remain at home until they marry and extended families spend much time together.

Sport. One of the first questions a Turk will ask you is: “Who’s your favourite team?” They are wild about football, or as we Americans call it: soccer. At the end of a successful match it’s not unusual for people to drive around honking their horns, chanting their team’s jingle, shouting and parading about triumphantly.

Humour. Turks love a good joke. You can see them slapping their hands together, one hand rising up in the air and saying: “Cok komic, ya?” (It’s really funny, isn’t it?). Don’t take offense. Usually Turks are laughing with you and not at you. They love to poke fun and their favorite character is Temel, a dim-witted Black Sea man who always manages to misinterpret everything.

Driving. Don’t do it unless it’s absolutely necessary. Driving in Istanbul is not for the faint of heart. Traffic is a nightmare, with cars swerving into different lanes and drivers often heading into incoming traffic. Take a bus, a taxi, the Metro, or a dolmus. Trust me on this.

Fashion. Fashion in Istanbul varies wildly. In the European streets of Beyoglu, you can find Mango, United Colors of Benetton and other international chains. A fifteen minute bus ride away, in the neighborhood of Carsamba, and you’ll find woman still covered head-to-toe in a black tent-like garb. Know your neighborhood. If you’re in a westernized section of Istanbul, normal western dress is fine. If you’re considering a foray into a more conservative area, please dress accordingly. For entrance into a mosque, women must be covered to the knees. Bare shoulders are unacceptable. Shoulders, upper arms, and cleavage must be hidden by your clothes. For entrance into most mosques, women must also cover their heads. Men cannot enter in shorts or sleeveless shirts.

Greeting. The most common greeting is a kiss on both cheeks between both men and women, or at least a touching of cheek to cheek. This is the greeting for woman to woman, man to man, as well as woman to man. So, if you’re a man, don’t get homophobic. It’s the norm.

Queuing. Basically Turks don’t queue, they bunch. My first time at the ATM machine I was totally alarmed when the woman behind me moved right up to my side, and nestled up to me. However, I quickly relaxed when I realized her motives were purely helpful. Sensing my confusion, she demonstrated how to use the machine. At banks, post offices and other offices, people tend to clump together. Lately, in the more westernized areas, banks have installed the western take a number and wait your turn systems. I kind of miss the old clumping.

Of Greatest Importance. Smile. Turks respond to a smile. The bureaucracy here is brain-numbing, the traffic is ridiculous and while wages are low, prices have become high. Despite all this keyfi rules supreme. Eat, drink, sing, dance, and enjoy! This is Turkey where enjoyment of life is the utmost goal.


One last word of warning after this insight — be careful of the stereotypes! Whilst you can always draw a thread of similarity between the nationals of a country, the extent and size of that thread may vary widely!


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