Visiting a Turkish Home
It is a true honour to be invited into a Turkish home. The Turks love to entertain and while the locals are more than adept at inviting themselves into another’s house, for foreigners, it is the ultimate peek into the culture and traditions of Turkish life. The Turks are incredibly tolerant of anybody who is unfamiliar with their cultural customs, in fact they will probably find your ignorance endearing! However, the more prepared you can be for this incredible experience, the better! Here is our guide to visiting a Turkish home.
Bring a Gift
The Turkish people are incredibly hospitable. If you are fortunate enough to be invited into a Turkish home, you will be looked after in so many ways; from their warm welcome and copious amounts of food and drink, to a party atmosphere and making you feel like you are a part of the family from the word go. Whether it is a part of your own culture or not, you should arrive at a Turk’s front door with a small gift. While their hospitality would never show it, it would be frowned upon for you to arrive empty handed.
Turkish delight, traditional Turkish cakes, another sweet treat or a gift from your own country or culture are completely acceptable. Failing that, you can never go wrong with a nice bunch of flowers.
You’ll Pass the Kitchen on Your Way In
Anywhere in Turkey outside of the large cities, a traditional Turkish home will have an outdoor area where dining can be enjoyed al fresco. With the warm, temperate climates that Turkey enjoys, it is no surprise really. The dining table is the one place in a Turkish home where family and friends come together and they are always keen to enjoy the good weather. As you arrive at a Turkish home, there is every chance that you will be greeted by the ladies of the house, working tirelessly around an outdoor kitchen, often the centre piece of the property.
Much of the very popular Turkish cuisine requires a stone or wood fire oven to be cooked in, and the easiest place to assemble one of these is outside. Most will be used on a daily basis to make bread in the morning, or to cook meat for the evening dinner. Many Turkish families also use their own produce to add to their meals, such as fruit and vegetables, possibly even a chicken, so the easiest place to prepare these foods is outside.
You Will Be Kissed
It doesn’t matter if you are a close family friend or a complete stranger, male or female, you will be kissed as you are greeted; once on each cheek. While you will be forgiven for not knowing Turkish customs, they are something that should be embraced! It can be perceived as rude to extend your hand to a Turkish man, particularly one who appears to be a devout Muslim, so always wait for a hand to be shown to you first. If you are expected to shake a hand, make sure you get a good grip and shake firmly, as anything else can be perceived as a sign of weakness. Elders are always respected by kissing their right hand, then placing the forehead onto the hand. In theory, you should always greet the elders first and then greet each person as they are closest to you. However, it is more likely that the Turks will greet you first, with great affection, so embrace the kisses, kiss back and enjoy the moment!
Leave Your Shoes at the Door
After you have been so warmly greeted by your Turkish hosts, you will be handed a pair of slippers or house shoes. At this point you should remove your own shoes and add them to the pile of unworn shoes that sit outside the entrance to the house. The Turks never wear outdoor shoes inside their homes. The main reason for this is to keep the house clean and to avoid the transition of bacteria into the home. Your shoes can pick up around 421,000 units of bacteria and toxins on the streets, including E-coli, meningitis and pneumonia! If you want to stay as healthy as possible, keep those shoes outside! Shoes also transfer dirt from the outdoors onto clean floors, which just adds work to a busy woman’s day; 98% of dust found in homes is tracked in from the outside.
There is also an old saying in Turkey that if you walk on a cold floor without protection, you will catch a cold, which is why a Turkish family will have a collection of slippers for their guests.
Cleanse with Kolonya
If you have spent any time in Turkey, you will be more than familiar with the fresh scented, lemon ‘kolonya'. Bottles of this magical perfume is kept in every house and restaurant in Turkey and is used to refresh oneself in the midday heat and as a cleaning agent. It is usually made from water, alcohol and lemon juice, sometimes with an added mixture of flowers or tobacco extract. Once the liquid has been added to the skin, such as your hands or face, the alcohol evaporates quickly, drawing heat away from the skin, leaving a cool and refreshing feeling. ‘Kolonya’ also has antiseptic properties and has been used medicinally in the past, even as a mouthwash. It can also be used as a cleaning agent and has even be said to reduce the itiching of mosquito bites!
You will be offered the lemon ‘kolonya' as you arrive, to wash off your journey and to help leave germs outside of the house. You will probably also be sprinkled with a little ‘kolonya’ after each course of your meal and before you leave too! You’ll certainly be smelling fresh by the end of your visit.
Turkish homes are usually very simple places. With the intention of keeping the place very clean, you will find that the decor is minimalist, with very few trinkets and knick-knacks, which tend to attract dust and dirt. What Turks do use to splash a little colour around the home is the ‘kilim’, or Turkish carpet. Most homes are built with stone floors in an attempt to prevent the building from soaking up too much heat in the summer months. Stone or marble floors are also much easier to keep clean. To add a little warmth in the winter, families began to lay carpets made from silk or wool on their floors to keep their feet warm. The better quality carpets, the richer the family and royalty who lived in palaces would commission the finest and largest carpets.
What was once a village art form, quickly became a commercial trade as Europeans wanted to take their own Turkish carpets home with them. Today, you can buy an awful lot of knock off carpets made of cheap materials, but inside a Turkish home, you will be witness to the real thing, many of them worth hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Their weave, design and colours can identify rugs and carpets as coming from a particular region of Turkey and a closer look will reveal traditional motifs such as tulips, animals and flowers which act as an homage to Turkish culture. Admire your hosts’ carpets, they are the treasure of the household!
Copious Amounts of Food
No matter what time of day, if you visit a Turkish home, you are sure to be greeted by the mouthwatering smells of food being cooked. The Turks love their food! They plan dinner at breakfast, and talk about breakfast at dinner and they snack throughout the day; they never go hungry. Bread is baked in the morning and is available all day and meal times are traditionally a family affair, but everybody is welcome. In smaller villages, sometimes the whole population will descend upon one house for dinner. If you have been invited into a Turkish home, do not eat for a day before as you will be fed copious amounts of food, no matter the time of day.
Turks do not take no for an answer. If they want to feed you, they absolutely will and you can never be full enough to them. This goes back to the country’s enjoyment in being hospitable; they love their food and they want you to love it too. In fact, tell a Turk what your favourite meal is and there will be two or three dishes of it waiting for you at the table and yes, you will have to devour the lot! Mealtimes in the Turkish home are a social event. Before and after the meal, you will find the women in the kitchen working hard to prepare and cook the meals and of course to clean up afterwards, while the men sit gossiping in the lounge area with their cigarettes and bottles of rakı. Everybody will congregate around the table for dinner, or if a lot of guests are present, food will be served on the floor as the eaters surround the platter and help themselves.
There is Always Tea
Mealtime or not, one thing you can be sure of is that a cup of delicious and refreshing Turkish tea is always on offer. You would not be amiss to think that your delicate tulip glass is magically refillable as you always seem to have a full glass when you are in the company of Turks. Turkish çay is prepared in a double kettle, one standing on top of the other. The bottom kettle is filled with water to boil and tea leaves are steeped slowly in the top kettle, with the heat from the water boiling below it. As a result, a pot of tea is always on the go and you will rarely be asked if you actually want a glass of tea, you will simply be presented with one, before, during and after the excess of delicious food you will be given!
Turkish Soap Operas
The Turks love their soap operas and all time seems to stand still when they are broadcast on television. If you happen to be in a restaurant at the time, you will find the waiting and kitchen staff huddled around a television to be shocked and awed at the latest soap opera goings on, and in the home more so. You may find the television on in the background without the sound, but if you are lucky enough, you will be able to watch an episode yourself, with a running commentary from your hosts! The soap operas are colourful, exciting, decadent and occasionally controversial and will make a great conversation point over dinner afterwards.
You Won’t Be Able to Leave
Traditionally and culturally, the guest decides when to arrive and the host decides when you leave! As the Turks hate to appear rude, leaving as a guest can end up being a long and drawn out affair as they are reluctant to let you go. You will most likely be offered just one more cup of tea. Perhaps some Turkish delight, maybe you need a grand tour or you would like to meet the family chickens? You will be offered a doggy bag of food for your journey home, or even a quick smoke before you leave. There will be conversations about your best route home, who should take you or your safest options for walking. The Turks will try to squeeze every last ounce of gossip in before you leave, as though they may not see you for many months to come. Most of all, they just don’t want to appear as though they can’t wait for you to leave!
On the other hand, it is considered impolite for your hosts to ask you to leave, so use some common sense here and make sure that you excuse yourself early enough if you are a guest in a Turkish home; consider that it may take you an hour to get your outside shoes on and there will be more kisses!