How To Be A Considerate Tourist When Visiting Turkey

Turkey, the land of the breathtaking landscapes of Cappadocia, sandy beaches of the Mediterranean coast, and thriving cities like Istanbul, attracted over 45 million international visitors in 2019. If you're planning to be among those who flock to the country, it's time to brush up on your Turkish etiquette to make sure that you have a positive impact on this culturally rich country. Considerate tourism is in.

First, a little background on Turkey. The culture is not a monolith but rather a vibrant tapestry woven with threads of ancient traditions, conservative values, and warm hospitality. Turkey sits at the crossroads between Europe and Asia, meaning the cultural influences are broad and diverse. 99% of the population is Muslim, which has an influence on social etiquette and how people dress.

In February 2023, Turkey and neighboring Syria experienced a powerful earthquake that left millions without shelter and lacking basic necessities like food and clean water. Almost 50,000 buildings were also left too damaged to enter. Turkey experiences earthquakes on a fairly regular basis, so sadly, this likely won't be the last. If you visit Turkey, be mindful that the people you meet may have been affected by the 2023 earthquake or another one, and consider making a donation to a local charity if you can.

Dress to impress (the locals)

How you dress in Turkey matters. Many Turkish people are used to foreign visitors and have lived and worked abroad, and so are used to how people dress in less conservative countries. However, you can show your respect for the culture by following some basic rules.

Firstly, swimwear is for the beach, not the street. This is not Florida during Spring Break. When you're strolling around town, wear a shirt that covers your shoulders and consider wearing knee-length (at least) shorts and skirts. If you're in more rural areas, longer skirts and pants are the way to go. If you visit one of Turkey's many fascinating mosques, women should cover their heads and wear sleeves that go at least to the elbows. Men and women should wear long skirts or pants. You should also wear socks as you'll need to remove your shoes.

You're also going to need to remove your shoes if you visit someone's home in Turkey. You will probably be offered slippers, but it's a good idea to always wear socks or at least put some in your bag. Slip-on shoes are a convenient choice.

Hospitality, tips, and haggling

Why are we talking about visiting someone's home in Turkey? Turkish people are renowned for their hospitality, so it's not unusual for visitors to be invited home. If you're granted this honor, arrive on time and bring a small gift like flowers or chocolates. Be aware that some Turkish people don't drink alcohol or eat pork. It is mandatory to come with an empty stomach, too, as you will leave stuffed. If you go to a restaurant to eat, you are expected to tip in Turkey. The same goes for cafes and bars, as well as in hotels or spas and other establishments where you receive a service. It's customary to tip around 10% to 15%.

Finally, are you a bargaining buff? Haggling has traditionally been a part of the culture in Turkey. You can haggle over most things in a market, or anywhere you don't see a price tag (but not for fruits and vegetables). First, don't start haggling if you're not sure you want to buy something — this is a waste of time for the shopkeeper. Let the shopkeeper name the price and then offer to pay around half and work up to a happy medium. It's not rude to haggle, though there's no need to bargain over a couple of lira. Also, keep in mind that Turkey's economy will take some time to recover following the earthquake, so use your best judgment when opting to engage in bargaining with vendors.