Turkish Etiquette for the Muslim traveller

Turkish Etiquette for Muslims

When going to turkey, many Muslims know how to respond to the Turkish norms as the Turkish people share our Islamic bonds and our lifestyles, but upon those religious norms are cultural etiquette and mannerisms.  While most Muslims visiting Turkey rely on the knowledge they already know, through Islam on how to interact with an Islamic society it is but only a good gesture to your hosts and the people you share the environment with to know a little about them and how they respond in certain social and cultural scenarios. Additionally, it’s just good fun too, to learn something new and know how to move along a people seamlessly as if you are their own. We cannot be as good as the locals, clearly, but behaving according to their customs can, in the end, be more profitable, and certainly can provide you with a good bargain.

Turkey, Tea & Me

Tea is an important, almost an integral part of Turkish society. The dervish, politicians, philosophers and the common folk of Turkey, of old, used to revolve around the tea cup. That custom has not changed much. Tea is the king of drinks in Turkey, as a devout Muslim population frowns on the consumption of alcohol. When a Muslim tourist is offered tea in a local Tea house, or a ‘chaykhana’ the first reaction should be, especially when one really does not have the time, is to politely turn down the request. The correct way to do that is to place the hand over the chest as a sign of acknowledging the respect and honour that is given by the host but then point at the watch and the direction you need to go to communicate that you are in a hurry and need to be somewhere else. If the host insists, then it is a good etiquette to agree and share a cup of tea at the tea house or at someone’s home. When drinking tea, at the host’s home do not stop with after the first cup. Have a little more tea, as this is regarded as disrespectful to stop at one. It conveys that the guest is merely there because of the insistence, and would like to leave as soon as possible.

Eating Turkish Kebabs

When eating at a Turkish host’s home, especially when the tea has been served, the host might ask you to stay for the meal. Turkish etiquette dictates that you politely turn down the offer but if the host insists and the offer is repeated at least twice, then it’s politer to stay for the meal.

It is a great honour and perhaps an obligation of sorts, to stay for the meal at a Turk’s home. When entering the house, please remove your shoes and put them on the side, both together and aligned.

Enter the home and greet everyone with an Assalam o Alaikum. The traditional setting of the dining area is that the seating is on the floor, with cushions and pillow to recline or lean on and a low table on which the food is served. In more modern homes, there is a dining table and cutlery. In more traditional homes, eating with one’s own hands is customary. When eating, use only the right hand as the left is considered unclean, especially when scooping out food from a shared bowl. Turkish tradition dictates the feet at the dining table should remain tucked under the legs or slide under the table. Feet are considered ‘unclean’ in Turkish society, so refrain from exposing them or even point them to anyone at the dining table.


The Turkish are fond of smoking but ever since the ban from the government in 2009 that prohibited the practice of smoking tobacco in public buildings, restaurants, hotels and bars the smoking of the hookah has become rare, but not extinct. Usually, smoking is frowned upon indoors in homes, but there are restaurants with outdoor awnings that are warmed in the winter that allows smokers to take a quick few puffs.

Attire and clothing

Turkey is among the first few countries that went from an Islamist to a purely secular state. This, however, is not reflected in the more traditional society of Turkey. Women are supposed to be modestly dressed and men should not remove their shirts, even near public beaches or in the market places. If women are unaccompanied by men, most restaurant or hotels have a private family area where they will be served so that they are more comfortable. The Turkish police are very active and are aware of the high number of tourist who comes to their country but is not very familiar with the culture and the norms. In any case, contact them to get guided or to dispel misadventures.

Nods, signals and hands

The common gestures that Turks communicate with, that are involuntary to them, but do sometimes confuse the tourists include the gesture that conveys ‘No’ and when something is good, beautiful or delicious. When the Turks say ‘no’, or want to negate a question, they make a ‘tut’ or a pop sound with their tongues and simultaneous move up their eyebrows. Also if the Turk adores your cooking or something that is beautiful, they usually make a mountain out of their fingers and thumb and shrug the hand up and down.

The Turkish society is proud, proper, aromatic, diverse, inquisitive and a bit conservative which is a good thing. Many foreigners, who do drink alcohol, come to turkey as well, so that they can rest themselves and withstand against their addiction. The culture is rich and has been accustomed to tourism for a long time. Mixing in them, to be them for a while, knowing how they react and then to respond to them in a familiar manner would gain you respect and an added benefit of living life a Turk, in Turkey, at least for the vacations.