We have been living in Turkey for almost a year now. Wow, it’s been the longest in one place since the moment we left the US. And during this time we managed to notice many interesting facts about Turkish culture, beliefs, and Turkey as a country in general.
In this post, you won’t really find historical or geographical facts of that type “Turkey is located on two continents”. My facts are about food, customs, and why people do certain things. And why some other things are the way they are.
I hope knowing these facts will help you understand the country better and adjust to various situations when needed. If besides the facts you’d love to learn some helpful tips, don’t miss my travel tips for Istanbul.
Interesting Facts About Turkey Culture & Country in General
There is a Different Perception of Time in Turkey
If you are used to the hustle and bustle of the European or American metropolis then in Turkey you will immediately notice a different perception of time. Istanbul is the only exception where life doesn’t differ that much from life in a gigantic city. But the more inland you go, the more difference you’ll see.
Turks for the most part are taking it slowly. They can be drinking tea for hours while talking about life. And, if you are used to doing everything quickly, you will not be able to adapt immediately to the new pace. And it is kind of useless to rush the Turks in any business.
If someone is telling you “I’m on my way!”, it doesn’t mean that they will be right there where you are soon. It means that the person is moving in your direction but he/she can also stop for lunch, make a few calls along the way, and probably even sit down for a quick cup of tea.
Do not take offense at this cultural difference. This is how many people live and it’s part of their culture.
Turks Are Very Emotional
Another fact about Turkish culture is that Turkish people are not afraid to express their emotions, to speak loudly, to shout in the market, and to show love for their children and others. In two words – they are very emotional and expressive.
They can easily protest over something or just be too passionate about the football match (I bet you’ve seen on TV crazy Turkish soccer fans). Also, Turkish people can be affectionate towards the children of others, patting a child on the head, talking to him, offering a treat, or smiling and waving.
Tourists do not easily understand Turkish expressions of emotions, being somewhat judgemental. Too much hospitality and openness sometimes seem to overwhelm.
However, remember that’s part of Turkish culture and the nature of Turks. They don’t show off or obtrude themselves. This is just who they truly are. Don’t let it scare you off or make wrong assumptions.
Turkish People Are Incredibly Clean
Cleanliness is an important component of Turkish culture, as well as a part of Islam. This is a requirement for everything a person comes in contact with: food, clothing, personal items, and especially bathrooms.
The house may not be new and rich, but it will be always clean and washed to shine. In our travel experience, Turkey is one of a few countries with the cleanest Airbnbs and hotel rooms.
The same rule applies to parks, beaches, train stations, streets, and playgrounds, even those places where admission is free. In the smallest roadside eatery or the poorest looking street food stall, you can eat without a doubt and not be afraid of the cleanliness and quality of the prepared foods.
Even these days, with the pandemic, Turkey manages it very well because the majority of people are totally crazy about hygiene and disinfection.
But There Is No Driving Culture, Sorry!
Unfortunately, Turkey is not the only country where people don’t follow any driving culture. In Ukraine, where I am originally from, you have to be extra careful on the road as a pedestrian and as a driver. Georgia’s driving culture is about the same.
Turkey is very similar in that sense. Turks drive cars very fast and often aggressively. Many times they also don’t care about the red light or a crosswalk. Here, you can go with only one style of road crossing which is a “kamikaze-style”. The point here is that you need to walk super fast across the street in a few centimeters from passing cars. Crosswalks, traffic lights… What’s that? No, Turks haven’t heard about those.
Seriously, you need to be careful when being on the road, no matter if you are driving in Turkey or crossing a road as a pedestrian. We learned from the first days here that before crossing a road even on a green light we have to look to the right and left a few times.
If crossing somewhere with slower traffic, walk at an even pace, head in a straight line, and look at the incoming traffic. It will either flow around you or stop when seeing you crossing. If you are just standing and waiting for someone to yield, you may never cross that road.
Turkish Tea is a National Drink That People Drink All the Time & You Have to Try It Too
In Turkey, it is impossible to imagine a day without a glass of tea. Or it is better to say not a glass of tea but a good teapot. Because usually even dubious tea fans drink tea here three or four times a day at least.
Moreover, it is customary to drink tea not after a meal but during, or just have it like a can of soda or a cup of coffee throughout the day. Tea is everywhere and you can have it literally at any time. Even in parks and near the sea, there is always someone walking around with a thermos and selling tea in paper cups to passersby.
By the way, making tea is also like a ritual. It’s not just a bag of tea from the store put in hot water. It takes some steps and time to make a tea that will taste right. You can even find a separate book about the process of making tea in Turkey (which, by the way, grows in a beautiful Karadeniz region in the east of the country).
Oh, and when someone is offering you tea in Turkey, it’s usually a treat. In Turkish culture, it is impolite to refuse to have one.
Smoking is Part of the Macho Culture
Another fact about Turkish culture that not many people understand is about smoking. Turks smoke a lot. Like a lot, a lot. I have the impression that probably every man here smokes at least one cigarette a day. Men smoke, women smoke and even some local cats smoke too, haha. Unfortunately.
For a long time, the harmful effects of tobacco were not made public, the level of stress pushed people to buy cigarettes that are very cheap to this day. Also, somehow Turks begin smoking as early as 12 years old believing that it is proof of manhood. Others choose to smoke to deal with the stress of exams at schools or unemployment.
Thus, if you will be visiting Turkey, don’t overreact to smoke everywhere and don’t expect it to be like in many places around Europe or in the US. Accept it as part of the culture and be ready that people will be smoking all over the place.
Note: if you have been to the Balkans, for example, Bosnia & Herzegovina, then you should know that smoking in Turkey is as common as there with the only difference that in Turkey, it is forbidden inside the buildings.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk is Second After Allah
Another cultural fact about Turkey is related to the founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who was also the first president of the country. This great man in just 15 years (from 1923 to 1938) managed to create a strong, developed, and modern Turkey, the one that we know today.
Wherever you go, you will see the portrait of Ataturk. After Allah, he is in the honorable second place, and for non-believers even in the first. And the main unspoken rule about Ataturk is not to say anything bad about him. Period.
Yogurt is Not a Snack, It’s Part of the Meal. Eat or Drink It.
Over time, after living in Istanbul for many months, we learned that yogurt here is not a snack or dessert but an addition to food. People eat (or drink) yogurt for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They consume it to cool down on hot days and quench the thirst.
Yogurt here is very different from yogurt most of us know from grocery stores. It’s not sweet and comes as Ayran (yogurt mixed with water and salt) or plain extra creamy, extra rich and fatty yogurt. This yogurt tastes so good and helps with digestion.
We got so used to it that now Mark is eating cheeseburgers with Ayran and I am even loving my soup with yogurt on the side.
Turks claim, by the way, that it was they who came up with yogurt about 1500 years ago. You can also find sweet fruit yogurt in the stores but it is not very popular here and is usually expensive since it’s imported from outside.
Don’t be afraid to order yogurt with your meal in Turkey too.
No Lockers in Stores, Be Ready
Don’t be perplexed and confused when walking into the store with a heavy bag and not finding a locker.
Grocery stores in Turkey as pretty much any other store (besides IKEA) do not have any storage boxes or lockers. Do you have a bag or backpack that you’d like to drop near the entrance before going shopping? Forget about it. You can walk with a dozen bags with groceries from other stores or with a huge suitcase and no one will tell you a word.
So yeah, don’t go to the store with a bunch of other things in hands.
Interesting Fact About Barber Shops & Hairdressers
In Turkey, for the most part, only men work in barbershops and provide services to men while women work as barbers in salons and offer services to women. And what’s interesting, you’ll find way more barbershops for men than women. Because Turkish men devote a lot of time to their looks and visit barbers more often.
So if you are a woman who needs a short haircut, in Turkey, you don’t really go to a male barber. Find a female one. And if you are a man who wants a long hairstyle, you don’t really go to a salon where only women work.
I remember how everyone was staring at me and giggling when I went with Mark to a barbershop just to wait for him while he was getting a haircut. I was the only woman among all the guys and it felt weird. And I could tell they didn’t feel comfortable with me being there.
In tourist areas for foreigners, it is sometimes possible to find the service of a unisex hairdresser.
Turkish People Like to Keep Shoes Outside the Apartment – Why?
In many countries in Europe people take off shoes when entering their homes. They usually keep them in a closet or hallway, or somewhere near the door.
In Turkey, it is customary to take off shoes before entering someone’s house or flat.
That’s why often the area outside the door looks more like a real shoe store than the actual entrance to a home. And what’s interesting, no outsider ever takes those shoes.
Turkish people believe that they shouldn’t be taking up extra space in the apartment and pollute it with dust and dirt from the street (especially in wintertime). If there is plenty of room for shoes on the stairs or just outside the door, why to keep them inside at all.
Not Knowing a Language is Not a Barrier (For Some)
A funny fact about the communication with Turkish people as a foreigner is about the language.
If you don’t know a word in Turkish, and the Turk doesn’t speak any of the languages you know, but he wants to explain something to you, the language barrier will not come as a problem for him/her.
He will just try to explain everything in the purest Turkish language, using some gestures and not paying attention that you don’t understand a word, ha. That’s actually more common here with older people and people from villages but it can also easily happen anywhere else.
So take it easy when someone on the street or grocery store keeps talking to you even after you said you don’t speak Turkish. It doesn’t matter! Language is not important, it’s all about the emotions and how open you are. Although a lot of people will quickly load a translator on their phone to help you out.
Alcohol Here is Allowed As in Europe But It Is More Expensive
Turkey is one of a few Muslim countries where selling, buying, and consuming alcohol is allowed by law. However, there is one thing. Alcohol, although not prohibited, is expensive, and going for drinks with friends can cost you more than having all three meals during a day.
The cheapest local beer like “Efes”, for example, in a grocery store costs around €2. In a bar, the same beer will go for about €4-5.
Wine and other alcoholic drinks are more expensive, even in big cities. The price for a glass of good local wine in a restaurant starts at €3-€4. Local wines in Turkish traditional villages cost less than in a store and that’s an amazing reason to visit.
Prices For Food Surprise (But That’s Not What You Think)
Eating in Turkey is cheap but only if you go with certain foods and drinks. Fruits and vegetables are low-priced but surprisingly good meat and fish are incredibly expensive.
I always thought that after arriving in Istanbul we would be eating seafood and fish on a daily basis. But it turned out to be the opposite. I am not sure why but with four seas around Turkey has pretty expensive seafood. A kilogram of shrimp costs around €8 at the market (and much more at the store) while two average-sized fishes between €6-€7. Salmon costs between €15-€20 per kg.
But meat is also expensive. For example, prices for one kilogram of beef start at €10.
So if you are wondering if you can eat in Turkey on a budget, yes you can. But it all will depend on a meal plan. To understand better how much things in Turkey cost, see my guide to prices in Istanbul. It will give you a better idea of what to expect.
Too Much of Plastic Everywhere & Almost Nonexistent Recycling Culture
Unfortunately, another fact about Turkey (which is common in many other countries) is about the recycling of plastic. The expression “recycling” is confusing to many and causes a lack of understanding. Not many people in Turkey are concerned about separating plastic from organic waste. Or about using less plastic in general.
The main problem is not only about recycling but the fact that everyone is overusing plastic not thinking much about the culture of convenience.
In a store, each product (even the one in a package) is put in another bag or plastic and then in another plastic bag at the exit. If you buy cheese or sausage, it is usually put on a plastic tray and then wrapped in another layer of plastic and then in a plastic bag. Just too much, you know.
Whenever you are in Turkey, please, show by your own example how to reduce the usage of plastic to a minimum if not at all.
Have you been to Turkey? Could you add any facts about the Turkish culture of your own?