Random Things That You Will Notice While Visiting Turkey
So you decided to visit Turkey for your next vacation. You will spend your days immersed in a rich culture and a historical heritage that stretches back thousands of years, not to mention breathtaking sights and natural wonders. As you spend time in this beautiful country, you will notice certain things are done in a different way here, as well as things that are unique to Turkey. Some of these things may come as a surprise to you, especially if it is your first time in this country.
Here's what you may find interesting while visiting Turkey:
- Greeting Gestures: Although most Western greeting gestures such as handshakes and waving are also practiced in Turkey, you will notice there are some that you probably won't see anywhere else. For example, as a sign of respect, a younger individual may kiss the hand of an elder and touch it to his or her forehead afterwards. Cheek kissing is also very common among friends, including male to male.
- The Evil Eye: The evil eye is a blue, eye shaped figure that is believed to protect against bad luck or injuries caused by envious or ill-wishing looks. While some people genuinely believe in its protective powers, others merely use ornaments featuring the evil eye figure for decorative purposes. Nevertheless, you will come across this figure in houses and vehicles, on shopping bags and billboards, worn as beads, hung on newborns and more.
- Fortune Telling: During your visit to Turkey, you may see two or more people, mostly females, staring into a tiny Turkish coffee cup while one of them is talking and the rest listening as if their lives depend on it. What they are doing is fortune telling by looking at the coffee grounds that are left on the bottom of the cup. There are even coffee shops that provide free fortune telling service with the purchase of the coffee.
- Backgammon: Having originated in the East, it is not a surprise that backgammon is a very popular game in Turkey. You will see people playing it in cafes, on the beach, on their yachts, while relaxing in the grass and any other place you can imagine. You may also hear the distinctive sound made by the pair of dice hitting the wooden board as you walk around in the streets. It is a very common sight to come across two store owners playing backgammon in front of their stores.
- Convoys of Cars Honking Horns: If you see or hear a number of cars riding one after another and honking their horns repeatedly, it usually means one of the following: either someone is getting married, or someone is being sent to the army for military service which is compulsory for all males, or some little kid is getting circumcised. It is also possible to see similar sights after important sports victories, especially soccer.
- Lemon Scented Cologne: The use of lemon scented cologne is very common throughout Turkey. Rather than as a perfume, colognes are used for their refreshing sensation or as a hand sanitizer. Offering cologne to house guests is a common ritual in Turkey. In addition, you may be offered cologne after a meal in a restaurant, during an intercity bus travel or after using public restrooms. When someone is staying in a hospital, it is customary to give them a bottle of cologne as a present, instead of or in addition to flowers.
- The Holy Month of Ramadan: One of the five pillars of Islam is fasting from sunrise to sunset during the month of Ramadan. If you happen to be in Turkey during Ramadan, you may experience a lot of unique traditions. For example, you may hear people playing drums late at night, which is supposed to wake people up so that they can have a pre-fast meal called suhoor. Also, you may hear a loud cannon blast around sunset which is supposed to notify worshipers that it is time to break their fast. It is an interesting experience to be in a restaurant during this time because everybody in the restaurant will wait for the signal and then start eating at the exact same time.
- Calls to Worship Five Times a Day: Depending on your location within Turkey, you may hear Arabic announcements that are made from loudspeakers five times a day. These Islamic calls for prayers are called Adhan (or Ezan, in Turkish). The earliest of these calls can be as early as 4:00 am and the latest can be around 11:00pm.
- Tasbih: Also known as "Misbaha", these prayer beads on strings are traditionally used to count track of certain types of prayers. You may see people carrying them in their hands. Some of these people just carry these to play with it or as a fashion statement.
- Desserts: In addition to well known desserts such baklava and Turkish delight (lokum), you may come across desserts containing unusual ingredients. For example, Tavuk göğüsü (which translates to chicken breast) is a dessert which actually contains boiled chicken breast. Aşure, which is also known as Noah's pudding, contains beans and chickpeas. Both are well known and are quite popular in Turkey.
- Yogurt: Though it is usually served with fruits and mostly thought of as a dessert in the Western world, plain yogurt on its own or side dishes and beverages prepared using plain yogurt are consumed alongside main dishes in Turkey; in fact, you will rarely see yogurt as a dessert. For example, Iskender kebap, a famous meat dish is traditionally served with yogurt on the side. Ayran, a salty beverage which has yogurt as its main ingredient is extremely popular in Turkey. Cacik, a side dish prepared with yogurt and cucumber is also popular.
- Mediterranean Food: Turkey has a large coast on the Mediterranean Sea and it is easy to observe the Mediterranean influence on the Turkish cuisine. A typical Turkish breakfast, for example, will include olives, cucumbers, tomatoes and plenty of feta cheese. Olive oil has an important place in Turkish cuisine; vegetable dishes prepared with olive oil, which are served cold, are commonly included in Turkish meals.
- Tea and Coffee: Turkish tea is prepared using special two tier kettles from loose leaves and served in special thin-waisted glasses. Turkish coffee is prepared by directly mixing very fine ground coffee into boiling water, without any filtration. Turkish tea and coffee have great significance, both in Turkish cuisine and Turkish culture. Turkish breakfasts traditionally include tea instead of coffee. It is customary to offer either tea or coffee to guests, sometimes both. In some restaurants, you may be offered tea after your meal, free of charge. You may also be offered tea in barber shops, banks, business offices and any other place where you will be spending a certain amount of time.
- Barbecuing: If your visit to Turkey is during summer months, you are more than likely to see people enjoying a barbecue meal. The interesting thing is that you will notice Turkish people do not confine themselves to their lawns and backyards. It is possible to see someone barbecuing with a portable charcoal grill (called mangal) even in the tiniest patch of grass if the weather is nice.
- Cats and Dogs on the Street: One thing observed by the tourists within days of setting foot in Turkey is the abundance of street cats and dogs. Just like squirrels in North America, nobody even notices them in Turkey, except the few who feed them or briefly stop to pet them. Here's an article about the street cats in Istanbul.
- Balconies: Turkish people love spending time in their balconies and as a result, most apartments in Turkey have at least one balcony. During summer months, you can see people having breakfasts, playing board games or simply relaxing on their balconies. There are those who set up televisions in their balconies and some people even take it as far as to sleep outside in their balconies. Balconies are used for hang drying clothes and storage during winter time.