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Dealing With Culture Shock In Turkey – Some Advice For New Expats

Turkey’s unique geographic position hasn’t just made it a historic bridge between East and West, it has also helped shape a distinctive culture that blends the traditions and values of both East and West. Most of Turkey’s population is Islamic, but its people are quite different from what stereotypical perceptions of Middle Eastern or Islamic countries would lead you to expect. Turkey in many ways defines multi-cultural societies and its population is generally friendly and welcoming towards foreigners. Expats should feel particularly comfortable in Western Turkey as this part of the country attracts plenty of tourists and it is more liberal.There are plenty of cultural differences and customs however that could take some getting used to. Give yourself some time to adjust to the culture shock and make an effort to understand local customs and traditions. Learning a new language and adapting to the local culture isn’t always easy, but the locals appreciate such efforts and you will find it to be worth the effort.

Food in Turkey

Being a predominantly Muslim country, most Turks do not eat pork or consume alcohol whether they are Muslim or not. Keep this in mind when inviting any guests over to avoid any unpleasant or awkward incidents. If you know your guests well enough, you would be aware of their dietary restrictions, if any, and in other cases play it safe, by opting for meats like lamb or chicken. Alcohol is available in Turkey, but it is not sold during the months of Ramadan. During this period also avoid eating, drinking or even chewing gum outdoors!

Friendly or invasive?

Turks are warm and welcoming, but at times their welcoming nature can come across as invasive. If you so much as stop to ask directions, you may find that the person won’t just give you directions but may in fact guide you to your destination and even offer you a cup of coffee! This can be particularly hard to stomach if you come from a country where the population is more reserved and standoffish. It isn’t uncommon to get invites to what we would consider occasions for close friends and immediate family, like weddings and anniversaries and so on. Unfortunately, in their enthusiasm for social interaction, boundaries are often blurred and you could find your personal space being invaded. For this reason it is important that you strike that delicate balance between being hospitable and unavailable right from the outset.

Sexism and gender discrimination

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The biggest challenge for any expat arriving in Turkey is likely to be the gender inequality. Domestic violence is not uncommon in Turkey and as an expat there is little that you can do about it. If that isn’t bad enough, western women expats should be warned that harassment and stalking are also extremely common. Stereotypical perceptions prevail on both sides, and Turkish men often regard western women as being promiscuous and loose. As a woman, it would be best to avoid going out alone, especially if you are in the eastern parts of Turkey. If you need help, some expats even suggest that you only ask women for help and recommend avoiding male policeman as well!

Conversational Pitfalls

In every culture there are certain issues that can set tempers off and can get people riled up. Tread lightly and avoid bringing up such sensitive issues when in conversation with casual acquaintances. In Turkey, this would mean that you need to steer clear of any conversations that concern Kurdish and Armenian minorities.

Driving in Turkey

Be prepared to have drivers honk at you, tailgate and flash their lights at you for absolutely no good cause. Driving can be quite a nightmare here, as the concept of road discipline is almost non-existent. Lane discipline, stop signs, silent zones and speed limits are all blatantly disregarded and you will even find yourself faced with oncoming traffic when you are on a one-way road or are driving on the correct side of the road! Always be alert and watchful as vehicles can suddenly swerve to the side or turn without signaling and they may even pull up to the curb or stop in the middle of the road to pick or drop someone off. What’s even worse is that vehicles overtake from either side and will often try to overtake you, even while you’re overtaking the vehicle in front of you!

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