Every country has its own unique traditions, and Turkey is no exception. As a holidaymaker or first-time visitor, it’s likely you’ll be unaware of many social customs or norms. Nor would anyone expect you to be.
However, it’s always polite to learn a little about the place you’re travelling to. And if you fall in love with Turkey and plan to return, either as a tourist or to live here permanently, you’ll naturally want to know more.
The Turkish people want you to love their country and will welcome you with open arms, so enjoy the experience and take the opportunity to learn. While there are inevitably cultural variations across such a vast nation, these are some of the traditions you’ll experience in Antalya province and the surrounding area.
Nazar Boncuğu – the ‘Evil Eye’
One of the most instantly recognisable symbols of Turkish culture, you’ll see the blue eye everywhere from jewellery to hanging from cars’ rear-view mirrors. It’s believed to bring good luck and protect people against just about any ill that could befall them.
The nazar boncuğu (nazz-ar bon-ju-u) is often built into the wall above the door of a new building, or into a step outside. It’s a traditional housewarming present so, when you buy your villa in Alanya, don’t be surprised to receive at least one to wish you well.
You’ll also find many shops give tiny eyes that can be pinned to your clothes as a gift when you make a purchase, and it’s arguably the most popular souvenir bought by holidaymakers.
Always Have Meze on Hand
Whenever you visit a Turkish home, you’ll find small bowls of delicious morsels quickly appear and you’ll be urged to eat. The Turks pride themselves on their hospitality and would never dream of welcoming a guest without offering refreshments.
Similarly, be prepared should unexpected guests arrive at your home. Meze (mezz-ay) is nothing more than a selection of small dishes, so it doesn’t need to be complicated. While there are countless delicious recipes, a bowl of olives, some hummus or plain yoghurt, and some sliced tomato and cucumber will more than suffice. Serve with a basket of bread and a pot of çay, of course!
Be a Good Guest
Still on the subject of hospitality, there are a couple of things to remember if you’re invited to a Turkish home for dinner. The first is to take a gift for your host as a token of appreciation for their generosity. Often, this can be cake or dessert, or perhaps a bunch of flowers. Avoid taking alcohol, unless you know your hosts well – many Turkish people don’t drink for religious reasons.
Once you have eaten, don’t rush away. If you leave early, your hosts will think they haven’t pleased you. Be prepared to settle back and talk into the night as you enjoy copious glasses of çay (or perhaps rakı), and plates of sliced fruit with honey, cheese and nuts. Saying goodbye will take time, too. You’ll be entreated to stay longer, to enjoy one last cup of coffee or sweet. When you finally get up and go into the hall to slip on your shoes, there will be further conversation, kisses on each cheek, and discussions about when you can do this again.
Respect the National Pride
Turkey has a rich and varied history, and there are few nations that display such a fierce pride in their heritage. You’ll see the Turkish flag everywhere, as well as statues and images of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk – founder of the Republic of Turkey and its first president.
Whatever their differences, the shared love of their country brings Turks together on countless occasions. Atatürk is known as ‘the father of Turks’ and most are keen to explain what makes their nation great.
Giving Gifts At Weddings
Turkish weddings have several distinct elements – for example, a religious ceremony can be conducted separately to a civil one, and a lavish photoshoot will be held on a different day altogether. If any of your Turkish friends are getting married, you’ll likely be invited to the big community celebration where friends and family gather for music and dancing.
While it’s customary to take along a gift in most western cultures, in Turkey things are much simpler. Traditionally, gold is given because it never loses its value. These days, its more common for guests to pin money to sashes worn by the bride and groom to help them as they start their life together. There’s no expectation as to the amount – give as much or as little as you feel comfortable.
Cover Up At The Mosque
Visitors are welcome at most mosques outside of prayers, especially in areas with lots of visitors such as Antalya, Side and other Mediterranean resorts. While Turkey is a secular country, the majority of the population is Muslim and it’s important to be sensitive in their place of worship.
Women should cover their heads with a scarf and not wear skimpy clothing – ideally, arms and legs should be covered. For men, long trousers or shorts that cover the knees are acceptable.
There May Be Water
On leaving someone’s home after a visit, you might be surprised to see them pouring water behind your car. It’s done for luck and to wish you a smooth journey, especially if you won’t be seeing each other for a while.
As they do so, they will say ‘Su gibi git, su gibi gel’ (Soo gibby git, soo gibby gell) – it means, ‘Go like water, return like water.’
Thinking of Making the Move?
If you’re considering moving to Antalya province, or buying a holiday home you can rent out, we’d love to help you. Take a look at our website for our current portfolio and information about the area and get in touch if you have any questions.