Survival vocab and travel guide for your first visit to Turkey


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Your first trip to Turkey

Whether you are just visiting for vacation or if you are moving to Turkey, this lesson will serve as a crash course on the culture and language to get you started. Since this lesson covers general advice for visiting all of Turkey, you may want to also ask for specific advice from people who are familiar with the area that you will be traveling to.

Basic pronunciation guide

This guide will help you to be able to say a few words in a way that most people will understand you. If you are serious about learning to speak Turkish well and want a more thorough explanation of Turkish pronunciation, check out the comprehensive pronunciation lesson.

For the most part, the Turkish alphabet looks and sounds like the English alphabet, but 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).

Turkish letters

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, elongating 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).
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 shopkeepers or people you meet. 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.

Greetings

Audio Turkish English
Merhaba Hello
Günaydın Good morning
İyi günler Hello or goodbye (middle of the day)
İyi akşamlar Hello or goodbye (evening)
Kolay gelsin Greeting to shopkeepers (when entering or leaving)

Shopping and exploring

Audio Turkish English
Evet Yes
Hayır No
Lavabo Bathroom
Bu ne kadar? How much does this cost?
Lira (Turkish) Lira
TL Turkish Lira (TL)
Kuruş 1/100th of a Turkish Lira
Bir One
İki Two
Üç Three
Dört Four
Beş Five
Altı Six
Yedi Seven
Sekiz Eight
Dokuz Nine
On Ten

In case of emergency

Audio Turkish English
İmdat Help! (there is an emergency!)
Ambulans Ambulance
Polis Police

How to get a good exchange rate in Turkey

The currency of Turkey is the Turkish Lira (abbreviated TL, TRY or ₺).  Almost all businesses accept only Turkish Lira with a few exceptions in touristic areas. Many card machines in Turkey do not accept foreign credit or debit cards or charge significant fees for foreign cards and some 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 often be better in areas farther away from airports and tourist sites.  You can keep track of the current exchange rate by searching Google or using a currency exchange app on your phone.  The exchange rate can change quickly, so it is a good idea to check it every time you do an exchange.

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 similarly to how Americans or Europeans dress, except that Turks usually cover more skin.
  • Outside of city centers and touristic areas, very few adults wear shorts or skirts that show any part of the leg, even in very hot weather.
  • Flip flops are not commonly worn outside the house except on a short walk down the street.
  • Dark colored slip-on shoes are common.  Athletic tennis shoes are not commonly worn outside of exercising and sports.
  • Women in Turkey generally wear clothes that are not form-fitting and cover more skin. Some women 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 or pants are common for adults, both men and women.
  • Head coverings are common but not required for women visiting Turkey.  The one exception is that women are required to wear a head covering in order to enter a mosque.
  • Bright-colored clothing is rare for men. Black, brown, blue and muted colors are common.
  • Most people wear socks at all times.

Cross-gender interactions

In Turkish culture, there is typically more distance in relationships between men and women than in America or Europe. This is more applicable in the rural and conservative areas of the countries than it is in the big cities. Here are some general rules to follow in order to be culturally appropriate: 

  • Avoid prolonged eye contact with people of the opposite gender.
  • Try not to smile or appear overly friendly cross-gender.
  • Don’t initiate shaking hands or other physical touch cross-gender. 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.

Additional guidelines

In addition to the guidelines above, here are a few more tips for your first trip to Turkey.

  • People in Turkey 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 2 TL or so.
  • Be aware that many public toilets (especially outside of city centers) are squatting toilets instead of sit-down toilets. Most cafes and hotels will have normal toilets.
  • If you are a U.S. Citizens, 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.

This lesson is a prerequisite for:

Power distance in Turkey

Cultural expectations
Instructions and correction
Using polite language

Israr: insistence and hospitality in Turkey

Confusing situations
Cultural blunders
Insistence and hospitality



2 thoughts on “Survival vocab and travel guide for your first visit to Turkey”

  1. These are some great tips. I will likely recommend this site to friends planning to come visit Turkey. One thing I would recommend is to make it less “American” focused, as some of the people accessing this site are from elsewhere in the world. Looking forward to exploring other content on your site.

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