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Feature Photo: Alaskan Dude Photo: laszio-photo

You’ve heard about the endless glasses of tea, the kebabs and how to haggle in the bazaar. But if you really want to get under the country’s skin, here are ten less commonly known things about life and culture in Turkey.

1. Not all Turkish men have mustaches

This Turkish stereotype is remarkably persistent .

While you might see members of the older generation sporting a mustache, young Turks are more likely to be clean-shaven.

2. There aren’t any camels

In Turkish holiday resorts it’s not unusual to see a couple of camels lined up strategically outside the tourist attractions, waiting to be photographed. Like apple tea, someone discovered that tourists like them. Turkey doesn’t have a desert, and it doesn’t have any (native) camels either.

3. The official language is Turkish

The only official language of Turkey is Turkish, although other languages spoken by minority groups include Arabic and Kurdish.

Turkish is part of the Turkic language family; similar languages are spoken in Azerbaijan and Central Asian countries such as Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Turkish is not related to Arabic, although the two languages have some words in common. Although most Turks are Muslim, they are not Arabs.

Photo: mawel
4. Every meal is a barbeque opportunity

Breakfast, lunch or dinner: the grill can be used at any time of day. Picnics are also popular in Turkey and the portable mangal , barbeque, usually comes along.

There’s also a whole restaurant format devoted to the barbeque: called kendin pişir kendi ye : cook it yourself; eat it yourself. At the table you’ll get a pre-heated barbeque and a plate of raw meat. The rest is up to you.

5. Turkish soap operas are huge

Local studios churn out dizi , soap operas, at an impressive rate. Almost every Turkish region has its own soap opera. Most socializing in Turkey is done at home, and watching soap operas is a favorite pastime.

Turkish soap operas are not only popular inside the country; they are also watched throughout the Arab world and Central Asia. These shows have even been credited for an increase in Arab tourism in the country.

6. Turkish people are extremely hospitable

If a Turkish person invites you to his house after you’ve known him for half an hour, don’t panic.

Turks are incredibly friendly and hospitable and as a misafir , guest, you are highly valued. Many will consider it an honor if you accept an invitation to visit them. Once inside, you will be plied with food and strong black çay or Turkish coffee.

7. Turkish people are also very inquisitive

A typical conversation with a Turkish person you’ve just met might go something like this: “What country are you from?… Are you married?… Is your husband / wife Turkish?… Do you have children?… How old are you?”

Photo: jikatu

If you come from a different culture these might seem like very personal questions. Compared to people in U.K., the Turkish people I know are much more comfortable talking freely about personal details, even with someone they don’t know well.

8. Wearing a headscarf is forbidden in public buildings

This means that a girl who wears a headscarf cannot attend university. Some find ways around this, such as by wearing wigs. In other places, wearing a headscarf is purely a matter of personal choice. The proportion of women wearing a headscarf varies depending on which city or even which part of town you’re in. Interestingly, a recent study by ESI showed that while most Turks think headscarf wearing is on the rise, the percentage of Turkish women who cover their heads actually decreased from 73% in 1999 to 64% in 2006.

9. Like Tarkan? There’s more where he came from

Like soap operas, Turkish pop music is popular throughout the region. Other homegrown musicians to look out for include Sezen Aksu and Öykü & Berk, who are pioneering their own brand of Turkish flamenco. For something a bit edgier, try Orient Expressions or Mercan Dede.

10. Don’t mention Midnight Express

I asked a couple of Turkish friends about the questions and stereotypes they encounter most when they travel outside Turkey, and this is possibly the one that makes them cringe the most. The screenwriter of Midnight Express has apologized for the film’s negative portrayal of the Turkish people, but Turks feel they have to explain to the world that you shouldn’t believe everything you see at the movies.

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About The Author

Lucy Chatburn

Lucy Chatburn lives in an industrial town in West Turkey. She has previously lived in France, Spain and Italy and has travelled in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. She loves learning languages, exploring different cultures and hunting for the next barbeque opportunity. She also edits PocketCultures .

  • kathy

    Thanks for your story – I’m really looking forward to going to Turkey after reading a few of Orhan Pamuk’s books

  • Lucy

    Hope you enjoy it Kathy. Obviously I’m biased because I live here, but I think Turkey is an amazing country to visit.

  • maryanne

    Thanks Lucy! After 6 years in Turkey (a country I’m a huge and nerdy cheerleader for), I often cringed before reading travel articles about the country. Your piece didn’t include any of the dozens of frustrating misconceptions and stereotypes that are far too often included. Lovely. Again, thank you.

  • Lindsay

    If you’re a couchsurfer, Turkey is one of the best countries for it. It’s so true what you have written, their hospitality is beyond amazing. I’m staying at their place for free, and they are taking ME out to dinner, they won’t let me pay for anything even when I insist. And inquisitive is an understatement!

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  • Jeffrey

    This is great! My grandmother is Turkish and I would love to visit Turkey someday, and it’s true, the pop music is HUGE.

  • Catherine

    Thank you for this, Lucy – it’s obvious you actually Iive in Turkey because you’ve broken though so many stereotypes. I’ve lived in this misunderstood country for 12 years now, and have only grown to appreciate and love it more over those years.

  • Slava

    How ture – Turkish soap operas are HUGE! Last year they took over Bulgarian television by a storm, and relpaced all the Latin American productions. Almost everybody is hooked on them (especially sweet old grannies) and I was amazed to learn that people take trips to Turkey only to visit the old mansion where they film the soaps! My granny says they are so popular, because, since we are neighbours, Bulgarians can relate to Turkish life better. I really enjoyed your piece, Lucy, very true representation! I am hoping soon to find more time to explore Turkey – it’s so close, yet, there’s always something on the way!

  • LeahStunts

    Beautiful article, I loved Turkey and cannot wait to visit again.

  • ayhan

    Whenever you want we would like to see you in Turkey. Welcome

  • Tuna Ozcan

    Thanks Lucy.
    I ve read a lot fo articles about Turkey and i guess none of them visited Turkey. When i read them I was thinking “which country I am living in” or “is there any other Turkey that I dont know” .

    We have everything I guess. History, best of food, music, best of beaches, sun, snow, skiing etc.
    We have cities that s alive 7/24 like Istanbul.

    thanks to you for this article about misunderstood country.*

    * thanks to Catherine too :)

  • syahirah

    Hello everyone.. :)
    can somebody tell me what should i buy at Turkey?
    My family & I are going to visit Turkey next month.. so, any idea??

    btw, im Malaysian.. so, i have no idea what should i get from there..
    Somebody can help me out?? Thank You! :)

  • Tuna Ozcan

    I suggest you turkish delight, baklava, sütlü nuriye and künefe for desert (there are many delicious turkish deserts)
    doner, şiş kebab and kumpir for food. as a muslim country all foods and desert are safe to eat.
    carpet and silver for gift
    which city you will go to ? probably istanbul. if it is istanbul i can help you more.
    what to see . mosques as you are muslim. kız kulesi at the sunset. bebek-ortaköy those places where u will eat kumpir . there are more things you can do or buy but those should be first prioraity.

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  • Vince Verbatim

    Yes, all these information is extremely true except one of them:

    Öykü&Berk are not that popular in Turkish music now :)

    And one more thing:

    Girls who wear a headscarf can attend university now after new regulations.

  • Tuna Özcan

    Duman is the best music group and teoman is the best singer in Turkey :)

  • Nowogard

    Great Article. Me and my wife are going to Turkey in June.
    We are both very excited, and cant wait to explore this wonderful country. 

  • Liz Cameron

    Hi Lucy,

    I would love to reblog this post on my own website – about Turkish-American cross-cultural marriage (with full credits, of course).  Would  you be open to that?  You can reach me at ecmaclean (at symbol) gmail dot com

    Thanks for considering my request! :)


  • Judith T. Helfer

    Alan sent us this. Can’t wait till November when we can check it out for ourselves. Judith T. Helfer

  • Mubashara Sandhu

    I like turkisy lanuguge.

    • rumi

      hi everyone! i m from turkey.. thanks for all good things what you said about my country.. and this article 90% true, also something has changed in here. if you need any help or wonder more about us, u can contact me ;)

  • Mubashara Sandhu

    I like turkish cellebrities.

  • Kelvin Llagio

    I love Turkey.

  • Becky Bebina

    Want to go to turkey

  • Darko

    Lovely Turkey. Love! Greetings from Prilep, Macedonia.

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