Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Turkish Customs

We do not wear shoes in our home and take our shoes off when visiting other homes. NO one wears shoes inside a home. We are careful not to point the bottom of our foot towards another person while sitting. This is considered extremely rude behavior. Women usually do not cross their legs when sitting, but men do.

There are many blessings that friends and strangers give to each other. If we meet a stranger's child, we bless the child. When eating in someone else's home we bless the cook and the cook blesses the guests. We bless the wallet of the person who bought our meal at a restaurant. We bless someone who has a new haircut. There are many more. Blessings abound in this culture.

Relationships are much more important than schedules. Often, no notice is given ahead of time from visiting friends. They will just show up at our door. A visit may last late into the night. Children don't seem to have bedtimes. 12 and 1am is quite normal.

Often, especially in village homes, everyone eats on the floor around a short, flat table. We eat from the same serving dishes (and pray we don't get ill). We do not have our own bowls. In the city, folks are more modern and use dining tables, although, we often share food from the center of the table. Bread is served at every meal.

Women do all the cooking and cleaning. They often do most of the outdoor work around the house as well. When a woman is serving a meal to guests, she usually doesn't eat, but watches plates and refills constantly.

If someone visits while you are eating you should insist that they eat with you. You absolutely cannot eat in front of them.

We kiss our friends on both cheeks and hug both sides as well when greeting one another. (This has become such a habit for us that when we visit America, my husband kisses his male friends and I kiss my friends' cheeks. We often get strange looks.)

Tea is served in thin, small hourglass-shaped glasses and is steeped a long time in loose leaves from the Black Sea area. People drink it all day long sweetened but never with milk.

When my children meet an elderly person, they kiss that person's hand and press it to their forehead as a sign of great respect for their age.

Guests should be seated by the host far away from the door and in the best seat in the house.

We only speak Turkish when not at home.

We must dicker for almost everything we buy because the items are usually overpriced.

We can't find basic food you may take for granted. We have to make our own peanut butter and get very excited when we can find M&Ms or chocolate chips. Often, the flour we buy is stale, the rice has worms, and the cheese is old. The eggs are sold unwashed with manure on them. Once, after eating most of the jam in a jar, I found a large beetle at the bottom. Loose bowels are a fact of life here. Only the most basic food can be found. We make everything from scratch.

People in larger cities, however, have a better selection than we have here and most everything can be found for a price.

Women do not look at a man's face or smile at strangers. You must look through them.

Turkish homes are extremely clean, but most people throw their trash on the ground when outside of their home. Families are perfectly content picnicking in the midst of a trash-covered field.

Drivers do not pay much attention to the painted lines on the road. They often straddle them while driving. Passing on curves is very common.

Strangers love to come up to someone's child and hold, pinch or kiss them. This is considered very normal in this society. Even young men will stop a stranger and beg to hold the child. This is a very sweet tradition. We do not fear for our children as much as people do in the west.

Our home is filled with Turkish rugs. Once or twice a year, we take them outside and scrub them on a cement slab while on our knees along with several other ladies. Afterwards, we drink tea together and rest.

Often, men relieve themselves along the side of the road. Little boys just stop and do this while playing. It is our job to turn our heads. I still have a hard time with the fact that they scratch their private places in public. Public toilets are holes in the floor. Toilet paper is not generally used. (No, I will not say anything more about that subject)

Children are not disciplined AT ALL until they enter school. They truly run the home.

Mothers feed their children by hand until the child is about six years old. They often do this by following the child around the house with a spoon and bowl of food coaxing him to eat. Fat children are desired, so food is given to them throughout the day.

So what do you think?


  1. Anonymous7.3.07

    How very interesting.

    What a wonderful opportunity for your children to gain understanding of another culture. .

    If only more children from the insular West could gain that same understanding.

    in Australia

  2. I actually envy you and your children in many ways. American children in the states are so spoiled, even my girls. There are just so many things that we take for granted.

    Perhaps you have addressed this in another post somewhere, but I am interested in knowing how your family arrived in Turkey? What was it that brought you there, and do you think that you will always live there or outside of the United States?


  3. Sharron7.3.07

    I think I am very spoiled and that I need to pray for you more often!! :)


  4. Christine7.3.07

    Very interesting. I like the whole no shoes thing (although flylady would disagree) also the hospitality and fellowship sound wonderful. Not sure I'd like eating in a field of garbage, or males urinating whenever. I also cannot imagine not disciplining my children until they were school age. We are still working through issues with Littlebit because he had no discipline until he was 3.

  5. Anonymous7.3.07

    That was great - I read it out loud to my family. It lead to some great discussion. I love the respect for elders. Your right, we fear here. At least this Mom does. And the sanitation would be overwelming I would think. I would be in constant prayer - "Oh Lord have mercy on us!"
    Here's a question - How often do people shower? From what I know - we shower a lot here in the US.
    I really enjoy when you share about your life in Turkey. Thank you.

  6. I'm always fascinated by a peek into another culture. I loved the part about not pointing the bottom of your foot at someone. I'm sure if I were to visit Turkey I'd be unknowingly unbelievably rude to people. Thanks for the peek into Turkey~

  7. This was a wonderful post! My husband was in the Navy in the early to mid-80's, and he went to Turkey. He said that one night he and a bunch of the guys off the ship went to a Turkish restaurant. The waiter came over to Chad and started manipulating his head from side to side. DH had no idea what the waiter was doing, but all of a sudden he jerked Chad's head to one side and his neck cracked with a loud POP! I tease Chad and tell him that the waiter singled him out because he looked 'uptight'! LOL Is this a normal thing for a Turkish waiter to do??!!
    Chad also has many interesting photos from Turkey...I think he was somewhere called Antalia (???). He entertains us with stories such as the one above, and he also bought a very heavy Turkish blanket that we still use quite often.
    I plan on having DH and the children read this list. It's very eye-opening to compare Turkish culture with our own. Very different!
    Thanks for sharing!
    Have a great day!

  8. Thank you, Linda, for a peek into what life is like for you in rural Turkey. You just can't get those tidbits in a basic "A Day in the Life of Turkey" book. I definitely love the importance given to respect for others. I often feel like I'm swimming upstream here in America insisting that my children have manners and use them at all times. As someone who likes to greet everyone, I would have a very hard time with not even looking at others as we pass. Is this considered disrespectful, an invasion of privacy, or other? I can see the problem of man/woman interaction due to their religious and cultural practices, but I'm not sure I can see the rational for same sex encounters, especially since it sounds like relationships are important and visitors are always welcome in the home.

    The insight to discipline is interesting. I was a pediatric RN before my eldest was born and worked in a hospital where it was not unusual to have patients from the Middle East for transplants, chemotherapy, or other treatments that they didn't have access to over there. I was not surprised that the children (this was a four and under floor) were disrespectful of their mothers, but very much so that they were just as bad if not worse for their fathers and other male relatives. They were treated nearly like royalty by all. Since many had siblings with them who were treated the same, I don't think the treatment was just because of the child being sick. This makes a little more sense now.

    I, also like Kim, am curious how you found yourself in Turkey. You have mentioned your husband is a translator and I've always wondered if you all began in Turkey because of that and grew to love it. We have several friends who had the opportunity to work live abroad with their families and once they did their comments are nearly always similar-they love the life they can lead abroad and don't ever wish to return to the US other than for visits.

    It must be fascinating to be able to be a part of cultures East and West and constrast, compare, and combine them. Thanks again for sharing!!

  9. Wow Linda! How interesting. I didn't know any of that! I'm so glad you shared that with us.

    I posted an entry about my daughter's improved handwriting and included a picture from this morning's copywork. I would love for you to visit and let me know what you think (when you have time) Here is the link:

    Hope you are having a great week and enjoying your new home.

  10. Hi Linda,

    I enjoyed this post very much. It is fun to see into other worlds. I have travelled quite a bit myself and always enjoy comparing the differences. I too have some questions.

    Do you do things at home more American (ie discipline, meals, toileting, etc) or Turkish?

    Thanks for the little window into your world.


  11. This is fascinating! The amount of respect that is shown to each other is so lacking in our society. Although this would be a bit odd if implemented in our culture, it does make me realize we need to show more respect for our guests, elders, and others in general. The sanitary issues would be a stumbling block but every situation has it's sacrifices and I'm sure the benefits of being exposed to the Turkish culture outweigh the drawbacks. What a beautiful life experience you are living with your children!

  12. This was fun to read- reminds me much of life in India. I do miss squatty potties; I thought, that at least in public places, they were so much more sanitary. Well, at least when people didn't miss the hole!
    I do miss being in a culture where hospitality is valued so highly.
    I've enjoyed your last few posts although I haven't commented. (I often just read them in my inbox and don't make it over to your site.)

  13. very interesting.
    Thanks for sharing it:)

  14. This was so interesting, Linda! I'm glad you posted it. I am going to read it to the kids (and show them the pictures of your "ridiculous children" too-- I'm sure they must be my kids' kindred spirits!)

    I really appreciate the emphasis of relationship over productivity as well. That is something I am trying to instill in myself, and it is very hard going.

    We used to have some Polish neighbors who were so kind to the children, always giving them candy and little toys. We got to have dinner at their house one evening, and the mother brought plate after plate full of food into the dining room all evening long. I couldn't believe all the food. She didn't sit down until almost midnight, when her family finally prevailed upon her to take a cup of coffee (very strong, made with grounds in the bottom of the cup) and sit at the table for a few minutes.

  15. Ah, your post reminds me so much of a family I worked with (Kurdish). The mother was so offended that I never brought my children with me (I was there to supervise visits between them and their child who had been removed from the home).

    The tea, homemade yogurt, homemade flat bread, being served food continually (from the communal dish). The family had a table some organization had given them, but they didn't seem to know what to do with it. Mostly, it was just extra storage space, and the mom even rolled out her bread on the floor.

  16. Here's a few quick answers to your questions. I'm in a hurry today. We have company.

    I don't speak about my personal life very much on this blog but you can learn a little more about us from reading the following post and look in the comments area, too.

    Americans shower VERY often! Folks here don't shower nearly as much. We used to have college students sleep on our couch quite often and they never used our shower, never brought a toothbrush or change of clothing. (girls included)even though they knew ahead of time they would be sleeping over. I would have to air out my house thoroughly after they left!

    We eat TUrkish food in our home regularly but no, we don't discipline the Turkish way. We have a turkish toilet as well as an American toilet. (Yes, we use toilet paper! :-) We don't discipline our children the Turkish way.

    Picture in your mind: Late night visitors and and their unruly children. Whoo! Sometimes, that is difficult for me.

    I enjoyed your comments. Thanks for sharing your interesting experiences. They sounded very 'Turkish.' (even the Polish family)

  17. oh. my.

    Some things familiar (We don't do shoes in the house in Alaska, either, and I do see homes where there's no dicipline before school), but most not.

    I'm very thankful for the availability of "staples" like peanut butter, and a basic level of what I could cal hygiene.

    I suppose you did have to retrain your... tolerance-level in many things.

    I do sometimes wish, though, for a "prescribed" gesture of respect (such as you describe)for the elderly in our culture.

  18. mommaofmany8.3.07

    Fascinating! Thanks for the insight into Turkish customs!

  19. Thanks for the discussion about life in Turkey. In Israel, even among the Yekkies (European Jews), children are hand-fed and encouraged to eat. Also, everyone drinks coffee--even the kids!
    And children are treasured-everyone talks to and hugs them. They are constantly given sweets and food as gifts. Oddly enough, I felt kids were safer in Israel with all those adults concerned about them than they are here, where they are ignored.

    I miss the middle east a lot--but when I was there, I also missed certain American conveniences, too!

    Ah, what I wouldn't give for some really good Baba G'nush!
    Peanut butter was only one of them.

  20. Thank you for sharing!!! It is always interesting to learn about other cultures.

  21. I enjoyed reading this thoroughly. Very interesting. I knew most/some of it. It doesn't supirse me though. About your DH kissing his male friends in America - Esau kissed his father... It was a 'greeting' thing not a sensual thing. But we live in the 21st century. ;P

    I enjoyed reading about the children's way. King Henry the VI was purticular about his woman.

    Cambodia does a lot of the things you listed. I studied that when I was 10.

    Again, thanks for the interesting post. I will try to stop by more!


  22. chinglish16.3.07

    I like reading about other cultures. We live in Taiwan and some if not many of what you mentioned is just like here. They use toilet paper here, but don't flush it, though it is a very common sight to see men and children or grandparents holding thier grandchildren over a hole, relieving themselves....ours don't...though my ds3 thought he should be able to!! shoes off here, and I kinda like it....if they are relieving themselves outside, why would you want shoes. Many many are simliar. I am glad we live in Taiwan where we can see a broad spectrum of culture. Our kids will be able to understand others alot more.

  23. Great post! I love learning about different cultures! It is very eye opening regarding all of the differences. We are so spoiled in the US.

  24. Anonymous29.11.07

    We lived in Adana for two years and some of what you said must be more true on the villages. I found everyone extremely even more so than some of the women...and they liked to talk. Children are precious and indulged and my blond, blue eyed, little girl was forever patted, cheeks pinched, held and cooed at. We absolutely loved is a very beautiful country. Enjoy your life there. It is such a wonderful experience for your children. If the world was left to children, we would not have so much of the hate, conflicts, etc. that we have. Children are naturally accepting and don't dwell on differences as some adults do. What a shame, they grow up and change through what is taught to them. Thank you for the great pictures. It brought back many wonderful memories!
    Carol S.
    New Jersey

  25. Anonymous10.11.09

    Is smılıng bad here ın Turkey? A man asked me whıle walkıng together.

    why are you smılıng?
    Is there a problem? He asked.

    I was actually happy, walkıng home after a few drınks.

    Is smılıng offensıve to Turks?

  26. Anonymous1.4.10

    I'm Turkish so I know it for a fact that smiling is not offensive. The guy might have a personal problem or these words might be only words that he knew in English. So no worries you can smile as much as you want.