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Your first trip to Turkey
The best way to make quick progress in language and culture learning is to immerse yourself in that language and culture. If you are an American visiting Turkey for the first time, this article will give you a crash course on the culture and language to help ensure your trip is enjoyable and educational. In addition to these guidelines, it may be helpful to ask for specific advice from people who are familiar with the area that you will be traveling to.
Basic pronunciation guide
To begin with, this basic pronunciation guide will help you to be able to say a few words in a generally understandable way. If you are serious about learning to speak Turkish well and want a more thorough explanation of Turkish pronunciation, check out the pronunciation topic.
For the most part, the Turkish alphabet looks and sounds like the English alphabet, but it is more phonetic, which means the pronunciation is more consistent with the spelling of words. The Turkish alphabet contains all the English letters except for Q, X and W. It also has a few extra letters that are not in English. Below is an explanation of the letters that are different in Turkish (any letters not listed are used basically the same as in English).
|Aa||Same as the a in “bar” or “cart.”|
|Cc||Same as the j in “jet” (not like the c in English).|
|Çç||Same as the ch in “church.”|
|Ee||Same as the e in “pet” or the ay in “may” (depending on the word).|
|Gg||Same as the g in “go” but not like the g in “gentle.”|
|Ğğ||This letter is usually silent, but it elongates the vowel before it.|
|Hh||Same as in English, but almost never silent.|
|İi||Same as the ee in “feet” or the i in “sin” (depending on the word).|
|Iı||Similar to the oo in “wood” or the oul in “should.”|
|Jj||Same as the s in “measure” but never like the j in English.|
|Oo||Same as the o in “no” but not like the o in “cot.”|
|Öö||Same as the ö in German. Similar to the i in “bird.”|
|Pp||Same as in English, but the ph letter combination does not make an f sound.|
|Rr||Similar to the t in “water” (for some English speakers) when speaking quickly. Not the same as the r in English.|
|Şş||Same as the sh in “shoe.”|
|Tt||Same as the t in “tin” but never the th sound like in “then” or “thin.”|
|Uu||Similar to the oo in “boot” but not like the u in “hut.”|
|Üü||Similar to the ue in “cue.”|
|Vv||Similar to the v in English, but almost like a w sound.|
|Yy||Same as the y in “you” but not like the y in “happy.”|
Survival words & phrases
Even if you are only planning to be in Turkey for a few days, it is a good idea to memorize a few words to help you in emergency situations or just to help you interact with local shopkeepers or people you meet on the street. Even if a Turkish person has perfect English, knowing a few words in their language will go a long way in showing that you care about their culture. You will be surprised how often people in Turkey will instantly love you for having spent a little bit of time learning their language.
|Hello or goodbye (middle of the day)|
|Hello or goodbye (evening)|
|Greeting to shopkeepers (when entering or leaving)|
Shopping and exploring
|Where is the bathroom?|
|How much does this cost?|
|1/100th of a Turkish Lira|
In case of emergency
|Help! (there is an emergency!)|
While some establishments in airports and touristic areas may accept dollars or euros, almost every other establishment in Turkey will only accept Turkish Lira. Also, many card machines in Turkey do not accept foreign credit or debit cards, and many small businesses are cash-only. So having some cash on hand in Turkish Lira will be important for you. The airports will have convenient places for you to exchange money, but the exchange rate will be better in areas farther away from airports and tourist sites. Don’t be fooled by the “NO COMMISSION” signs. All exchange offices make money on exchanges by determining the exchange rate.
Dress like a local
The following are general guidelines for how to dress if you want to avoid standing out too much or if you want to relate to locals well. If you are in a big city or tourist area, these principles will be less relevant, but if you are trying to relate to people in a rural or conservative area, it will be more important.
- In Turkey, people tend to dress slightly less casually than they do in the U.S.
- It’s usually considered immodest for any adult (male or female) to show their legs or feet, so it’s recommended to wear pants or long skirts.
- Sandals and slippers are not very commonly worn outside of homes.
- Women in Turkey generally wear clothes that are not form-fitting and cover more skin. Women in more conservative areas wear shirts that go half-way to their knees with long sleeves and high necks.
- T-shirts are generally not worn by adults other than college students.
- Dressy or dark-colored jeans are common for young adults, both men and women.
- Head coverings are not necessary for women except for going into mosques.
- Athletic tennis shoes are not commonly worn outside of exercising and sports.
- Bright-colored clothing is rare for men. Black, brown and other dull colors are common.
- Most people wear socks at all times.
- Turkish people generally dress with more layers than Americans do, as though the weather were colder than it is.
- If you normally wear a cross necklace or other religious jewelry, it is okay for you to wear it since most Turkish people will consider it normal for you to be a Christian if you are from America.
In general there is more distance in relationships between men and women in Turkey than in America. As with most cultural differences, this is more extreme in the rural and conservative areas of the countries than it is in the big cities. The following is a list of suggestions for interacting with people of the opposite gender in a way that is culturally appropriate.
- Avoid prolonged eye contact with people of the opposite gender.
- Try not to smile or appear overly friendly cross-gender.
- Avoid physical touch when possible. It is okay to shake hands or greet with kisses on the cheek if the other person initiates.
- Avoid talking to strangers of the opposite gender except for talking to workers in a shop or restaurant.
- Try to sit next to people of the same gender when it is convenient to do so.
In addition to the guidelines above, here are a few miscellaneous tips for your first trip to Turkey.
- Turks tend to be much quieter when talking to each other in public, especially on public transportation. Talking or laughing loudly may draw unwanted attention.
- Outside of İstanbul, many public bathrooms do not have toilet paper, so it is recommended to carry toilet paper or small packets of tissue paper with you when going out for the day. Also carry small change with you because some public bathrooms have a small entry fee of 1 TL or so.
- Be aware that many public toilets (especially outside Istanbul) are a different style that is basically a porcelain hole in the ground instead of a standard Western toilet. Most cafes and hotels will have normal toilets.
- The U.S. government recommends that you enroll with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) in order to receive updates and warnings about the area where you are traveling.
- In addition to reading the updates from the STEP program, it is recommended that you keep up with news in Turkey. Two popular English-language news sources in Turkey are the state-run Anadolu Agency and the Hurriyet Daily News.
- Before you book your tickets, compare prices on Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines for flights to Istanbul and Ankara.
Things to buy before you go
Before you go on your trip, it might be helpful to have these things on hand:
- A Turkish-English pocket dictionary or a translation app (like Google Translate) for your phone
- An outlet adaptor for your electronic devices
- A travel guide to read on the plane
This lesson is a prerequisite for:Power distance in Turkey
Instructions and correction
Using polite language
Insistence and hospitality