Turkish Society and Culture
Islam is the religion of the majority of Turks, although the state is fiercely secular. Islam emanated from what is today Saudi Arabia. The Prophet Muhammad is seen as the last of God’s emissaries (following in the footsteps of Jesus, Moses, Abraham, etc.) to bring revelation to mankind. He was distinguished with bringing a message for the whole of mankind, rather than just to a certain people. As Moses brought the Torah and Jesus the Bible, Muhammad brought the last book, the Qur’an. The Qur’an and the actions of the Prophet (the Sunnah) are used as the basis for all guidance in the religion.
Among certain obligations for Muslims are prayer sessions held five times a day: at dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset and evening. The exact time is listed in the local newspaper each day. Friday is the Muslim holy day, although this is not practiced in Turkey. However, most males will attend the congregational afternoon prayer. During the holy month of Ramadan, all Muslims must fast from dawn to dusk. Fasting includes no eating, drinking, cigarette smoking or gum chewing.
Etiquette and Customs
Meeting and Greeting
- When meeting, shake hands firmly. When departing, it is not always customary to shake hands, although it is practiced occasionally.
- Friends and relations greet each other with either one or two kisses on the cheek. Elders are always respected by kissing their right hand then placing the forehead onto the hand.
- When entering a room, if you are not automatically met by someone, greet the most elderly or most senior first. At social occasions, greet the person closest to you then work your way around the room or table counter-clockwise.
- Greet people with either the Islamic greeting of “Asalamu alaykum” (peace be upon you) or “Nasilsiniz” (How are you? pronounced na-sul-su-nuz). Other useful phrases are “Gunaydin” (good morning, pronounced goon-ay-dun), “iyi gunler” (good day, pronounced ee-yee gun-ler) and “Memnun Oldum” (pleased to meet you).
- Gift-giving has no real place in business relationships or etiquette. Relationship-building and the like will usually take the form of dining or sight-seeing trips rather than lavish gifts.
- However, if a gift is given, it will be accepted well. It is always a good idea to bring gifts from your own country, such as food stuffs or craft items.
- Be aware that Turkey is a Muslim country. Before giving alcohol to anyone, be 100 percent sure that they drink.
- The only time you would need to give any great thought to gifts would be if you were invited to a Turk’s home for dinner. The most usual gifts to take are pastries (especially baklava) and decorative items for the home, such as ornaments or vases. Flowers are not usually taken to a host, but can be if felt appropriate. Ask a florist for advice about what is best to take. If the host has children, take some expensive sweets or candy.
- Most business entertaining will take place in restaurants. Turks enjoy food, and mealtime is for relaxing and engaging in conversation.
- The protocol of Turkish hospitality dictates that the host always pays for the meal. The concept of sharing a bill is completely alien. You may try and offer to pay, which may be seen as polite, but you would never be allowed to do so. The best policy is to graciously thank the host and then, a few days later, invite them to do dinner at a restaurant of your choice. It may be a good idea to inform the restaurant manager that under no circumstances are they to accept payment from your guests.
- Evening meals may be accompanied by some alcohol, usually the local tipple called Raký (pronounced rak-uh). It comprises a few courses with the main dish, which is always meat- or fish-based, and is accompanied by bread and a salad.
- Turks smoke during meals and will often take breaks between courses to have a cigarette and a few drinks before moving onto the next.
- Tea or Turkish coffee is served at the end of a meal, sometimes with pastries. Turkish coffee is a national drink and should at least be sampled. It comes either without sugar, a little sugar or sweet. Turkish coffee is sipped and allowed to melt into the taste buds, so do not gulp it down as you would instant coffee. Never drink to the bottom of the cup as it is full of ground coffee and tastes awful.