21 Surprising Facts about Expat Life in Turkey

Turkish cultures and societies are very rich in terms of distinct traditions, habits, and ways of thinking or living. It is very interesting, funny or sometimes destabilizing to foreigners to witness these, either as one of the many tourists visiting each year (Turkey is the 6th most visited country in the world) or even more as an expatriate spending several months/years in the country.

We collected and listed below personal feedback and stories from some of the Abdullah Gül University’s (AGU) international members (AGU students and staff come from over 50 different countries and all 5 continents) about Turkish cultural/societal facts they found surprising due to some preconceived ideas or the contrast existing with their country of origin.

Geography

  1. Snow is not rare in Turkey and you can even ski !

“Where I am from, Turkey is mainly considered as a summer destination famous for its beaches. I was then pleasantly surprised to find good-quality Turkish ski resorts (about 10) with slopes going over 2000m“ (Emeric from France)

“I was surprised by the amount of snow that fell in the winter. A real “Winter-Wonderland”! It also snows in some Moroccan regions, but not that much. It’s really enjoyable”. (Aya from Morocco)

 Some Turkish regions get very cold in winter. Back home I had never experienced such weather. It is definitely a great new experience” (Albert from Kenya)

Abdullah Gül University, AGU, international student, Kenya, Graduate, student, snow, Kayseri, Turkey

  1. The Turkish flora is mind-blowing

“I really loved the flora of Turkey. There are more trees in Kayseri and around than in Kyrgyzstan. In Turkey, every region is different in several aspects, just like many little countries.” (Alina from Kyrgyzstan)

  1. There is no sand desert in Turkey

“Before coming to Turkey, I thought, like most of my compatriots, that I would find sand deserts with camels and caravans. I was then surprised to see that there are none.” (Fuji from Japan)

stone desert, Turkey
There a few stone deserts in some parts of Turkey, but indeed no sand dunes….

 Society & Demography

  1. Many Turkish cities are large and expanding

“When I came to Turkey for the first time, it was in Istanbul, I was surprised to see huge skyscrapers. In Germany, we have some but not as many” (Karola from Germany)

Istanbul

“I was surprised about the size of Turkish cities, In France, we only have a couple of cities with more than 1 Mio inhabitants. In Turkey there are over 10 !” (Emeric from France)

  1. The Turkish population is young

“You can’t fail to notice how young the Turkish population is (age average 30), compared to Western Europe (the average age is 42 in France). There are young people everywhere!” (Charlotte from France)

  1. Turkey is technically advanced

“I was impressed by the technical development of Turkey over these past few years. For example, Internet at home is way faster here than in Germany” (Heiko from Germany)

Food/Cuisine

  1. Turkish cuisine is rich and diverse

“I was very surprised by the different varieties of Turkish desserts. They are very delicious and interesting. We cannot find such desserts (Künefe, Baklava, etc) in Italy.” (Valentina from Italy)

 “I find Turkish meals quite different from what we have back home. In Turkey, meals such as the traditional breakfast is often served with small portions of a large variety of delicacies” (Adam from Sri Lanka)

“Food was a huge surprise to me. In Tanzania, meat as well as bread are not considered as food and cannot be eaten alone” (Habibu from Tanzania)

“I find the Turkish food very interesting. Soup is an essential part of Turkish cuisine. They have it before every meal. Soups in Pakistan are also important but used as a main meal and eaten with roti or rice.” (Hina from Pakistan) 

Turkish, soup, çorba

  1. Turkish Cheeses can be surprising

“There are many kinds of Turkish cheese. It is surprising to see that many look similar but taste very different. This can be tricky. In France, there is also a huge variety of cheese… but they look different”. (Emeric from France)

  1. Turkish coffee and tea are key cultural items

“I was surprised to discover the importance of coffee in the Turkish culture. Turkey introduced coffee to Europe in the 1500’s and coffee houses spreaded out throughout the continent.  Turkish coffee preparation is quite technical and its tradition provides strong social interactions between all members of the Turkish society” (Daniel from Bangladesh)

“I really like the traditional Turkish Tea customers and guests are often offered. Most Turks drink 10 or more cups of tea per day. 96% of the population drinks tea every day!”(Adam from Sri Lanka)

Mindset & Behavior

  1. Turkish people are very hospitable and friendly to foreign people

“The friendliness and hospitality of the Turks really surprised me. In Turkey, it is very common to get invitations for dinners at one’s home from a total stranger. Back home, I have never experienced something like this” (Hina from Pakistan)

“Turks are welcoming and friendly to foreign people. I’ve never been made to feel like a foreigner in Turkey” (Umair from the United Kingdom)

Turkey, Turkish, people, welcoming, friendly

“Turkish people are generally very warm-hearted and welcome any visitor no matter were they come from. They often have a habit of saying “No” a few times to mean “Yes”. A trivial example would be on public buses. When you offer someone a seat, I guarantee you that they will say “No” even if they want to sit there. I believe this is way to show humbleness and gratitude towards your offer” (Dexter from Zambia)

Hoş Geldiniz, Welcome, Turkey, Turkish greeting

Türkiye'ye Hoşgeldiniz, Welcome to Turkey, roadsign, highway

“Turkish people’s openness to foreigners is very surprising to me. Turks are very hospitable and pleasantly helpful. I have received many invitations for dinner and weddings from strangers” (Praj from India)

  1. Patriotism is strong in Turkey

 “I noticed that the Turks have such a big love for their country; they would do a lot for it, which is something I admire in nations” (Aya from Morocco)

“In Turkey, the thing that surprised me the most is that Turkish people really love their country. They are also very open to learning something from foreigners” (McDonald from Malawi)

“I feel that Turkish People are very proud of their history and heritage, and display it regularly. Flags are waived and anthems sung on more frequent occasions than in my country of origin” (Emeric from France)

  1. Turkish people really like cats

“When I came to Turkey, I was surprised by the fact that Turkish people really like cats. There are many in every city, especially in Istanbul”. (Sergey from Russia)

Greetings and Communication

  1. Turkish people greet each other differently

“One of the things that caught my attention was how some men greet each other by gently touching the sides of their heads together. I see that a lot.” (Azizeh from Iran)

Turkey, greeting, touch heads

“It was quite new for me to see Turkish men walking along the streets holding hands. It is quite common between friends. We don’t see this back home.” (Albert from Kenya) 

37

“I found interesting to see that Turks greet and show respect to elders by kissing their right hand and placing their forehead onto the hand” (Charlotte from France) 

Turkey, Turkish tradition, greeting, elders

  1. Turkish people use social media a lot

Before coming to Turkey, I didn’t know the popularity of social media among Turkish people. Turkey is the 3rd country in the world in terms of Facebook users” (Umair from Britain)

Turkey, social media, facebook, twitter, instagram

  1. Turkish language is rich

“ I like the language a lot. It has expressions for almost every situation. Like “Afiyet Olsun” which means “Enjoy your meal”. There are many more like these, like when someone buys something new, when someone cooks for you, when you get a new hair cut, etc. This just shows how rich and lovely this language is. “ (Fuad from Pakistan)

Turkey, Turkish language

  1. Turkish people are proud of their language and would like you to speak it more

“Language was a surprise for me. I thought that the use of English would be more common. This perhaps reflects Turkish people’s love for their language and their wish that more foreign people could speak it as well“ (Hina from Pakistan)

Keep Calm and Speak Turkish

Safety

  1. Trust and honesty is important in the Turkish culture

“I lost my wallet a lot of times In Turkey but it has always been found and returned to me without anything missing item. It is quite different from what I was used to” (Albert from Kenya)

“When I first came to Turkey, in Izmir, I was surprised to see that everybody there trusts everyone, including strangers and foreigners.” (Valentina from Italy)

Turkey, Turkish people, trust, open

Sports

  1. Team sports are very popular

“Most Turkish people are very passionate about football and usually support one of these three teams: Galatasaray, Beşiktaş or Fenerbahçe. Asking after their team’s recent fortunes will always trigger lively discussions. Basketball and Volleyball are also very popular” (Amro from Egypt)

  1. Traditional sports are also perpetrated

“I got the chance to attend an Oil Wrestling competition. It is considered as the national sport and has been practiced for over 400 years” (Emeric from France)

Turkey, traditional, sport, oil, wrestling

Celebrations & Music

  1. Weddings and births trigger big celebrations

“I was lucky enough attend a traditional Turkish wedding. Everything is organized at a larger scale (number of guests, venue, celebrations) compared to the way we organize weddings where I come from” (Emeric from France)

“Gold plays an important part in Turkish culture. It is traditional to offer gold during major life-events such as weddings, birth, and circumcisions” (Charlotte from France)

Turkey, gold, coins, Atatürk

  1. Traditional music is diverse

“ Turkish music varies a lot from one region to another. Southern regions have an oriental style. The northern regions have a more occidental type of music. “(Dexter from Zambia)

 

 

This article’s data was collected by Hina Najam, AGU Mechanical Engineering student and AGU International Office Intern from Pakistan.

You can read an article about Hina’s life at AGU/in Turkey here.

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