Turkey Cultural Awareness
1. Country Overview
As a reason of its geo-politically strategic location straddling the continents of Europe and Asia, Turkey has long been seen as a hub of commerce and cultural exchange. The land of Turkey has an extremely rich cultural heritage and draws approximately 15 million tourists every year with its beautiful Mediterranean and Aegean beaches and well-known historical sites such as Ephesus, Cappadocia, Antioch , Istanbul,etc.
The Republic of Turkey was established in 1923 following the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the World War I. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk -the founder of the Republic of Turkey- waged a long and difficult war of independence, won against extremely long odds, to establish a secular and democratic country. Turkey has been a member of NATO since 1952 and enjoys a Customs Union with the EU. It is a candidate for EU membership and accession negotiations began in 2005. Turkey has a population of approximately 70 million people, 99% of whom are at least nominally Muslim. Annual population growth is 1.06%. Ankara is the capital city with 4 million residents but the largest city is Istanbul, a world class city with a population of 11 million. Izmir, a port city on the Aegean coast, is the third largest urban center with a population of 2.5 million. The currency is the Turkish Lira (TL).
Language and English Fluency
Today the vast majority of people speak only Turkish. However, most Kurds raised in southeastern Turkey speak Kurdish and most of them speak Kurdish as well as Turkish. Turkish businessmen’s command of the English language is usually excellent, but the everyday usage of English is very limited, but it is important not to assume that everyone in a meeting is fluent in English.
Islam is the largest religion of Turkey with around 96.4% to 99.0% percent of the population being registered as Muslim. Most Muslims in Turkey are Sunnis forming about 70%, and Alevis form about 25% of the Muslim population. Among Sunni Muslim presence in Turkey there is a small but considerable minority of Muslims with Sufi heritage and affiliation. Christians (Oriental Orthodoxy, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic) and Jews (Sephardi), who comprise the non-Muslim religious population, make up 0.7% of the total. Turkey is officially a secular country with no official religion since the constitutional amendment in 1924.
If you are invited to a private home, you will experience the traditional hospitality. In general, the building-up of a personal relationship is of great importance for business success in Turkey. Turks prefer to do business with people they know and respect. And already in at the beginning of a business relationship prefer the Turks to negotiate face-to-face. Appointments, which are necessary to make, should be done 2-3 weeks in advance. Try to avoid the Turkish holidays in July and August, and the Islamic holidays, when you schedule your meetings. Prepare copies of all documents and presentation material. If possible, in two languages; both English and Turkish. Be well prepared for answering detailed technical questions during your presentation.
Cultural Similarities and Differences
Similarities and Differences with Arab countries
It is important to keep in mind that both the majority of population in the Arab world and Turkey is Muslim. There are also differences between the various Muslim sects. But, Turkey includes more non-Muslims than any Arab country and Islam is not written as the religion of the country in the Turkish constitution as it is in Arab countries’ constitutions.
Religion plays a much more important role in business and in daily life both in Arab countries and Turkey. However, the difference in Arab countries is that the entire country shuts down several times a day for prayer but in Turkey, only the prayer on Friday lasts longer and keeps people from their daily work.
Both most Arabs and Turks will not openly disagree with you or say no to something. Instead they will allow you to save face by seeming to agree when they don't and this can lead one to think that he/she has an understanding when in fact he/she doesn't.
When it comes to body language, both Arabs and Turks tend to say a lot more with non-verbal communication than people do in the west and understanding this can be a challenge. Other things like personal space are also issues which are similar between the two. Arabs will stand much closer than people do in the west when they talk
The attitudes towards food of Turks and Arabs are mostly the same as they are both Muslims. They don’t eat pork and do not drink alcohol. Arab and Turkish cuisine are similar since they lived together for a long time during the Ottoman Empire.
In Arab countries, dress code is generally conservative due to Islam. One does not show too much skin. For men, shorts are not acceptable in most places and he should make sure that your arms are covered at least to the elbows. Women, have to make sure that her arms and legs are covered. Beyond that, there are no other restrictions. However, in some Arab countries women are required to cover their faces when they are out in the public. Conversely, in Turkey, Islam did not affect that much daily ways of clothing. Men and women generally have a modern way of dressing. Shorts, trousers, skirts, dress and any other kind of clothing is seen in daily life. At the same time, there are women putting on headscarf and abayas due to their religious preferences. In Turkish society, everyone shows respect to the other.
Similarities and Differences with Greece
Turkey and Greece, being neighbor countries, share a great deal of their cultures as a result of the history. They lived together for over 400 years.
Traditional clothes, traditional dances and music, food culture, language even the physical appearances of the people are so much alike that it is hard to distinguish one from the other.
The exchange of populations between Turkey and Greece in 1923 brought another layer of exchange between these two countries. People who used to live integrated had to move away from their lands.
Things they share are food and even the names of the foods. The language is similar for cuisine and also for navigation.
In both countries open air markets are still of high importance both for the local people and the tourists. Bellowing for goods, bargaining for them is almost the same in the two. Even some of swear words are same.
The main difference is religion and the attitudes towards the religion. In Turkey most of the population consists of Muslims while in Greece it is Christians
In Greece people can do whatever they want, wherever they want for their religions. While in Turkey there are some laws that stricken the ways people wear according to their religions.
Another major difference is the daily schedule of people. To begin with Turkey, it is really strict. Even at 6 o’clock in the morning markets are open and they close really late at night. People start to work for government departments at 8 in the morning and they work till 17.00 o’clock with a break between 12 pm-13 pm. While in Greece the working hours of civil servants is 8 hours although some services are not open to the public for 8 hours but less. At 02.00 in the afternoon they are closed for the public. In the private sector the number of working hours varies from 4 (part-time work) to 8 (full-time work) or more (10 or over 10 in certain occasions). And the famous “siesta” breaks during the day overall Greece is between 14pm-17pm.
American Spending Culture
Turks have co-opted many American behaviors and interests, From sports (basketball), to food (hamburgers, steaks), to entertainment preferences (US music, Hollywood movies), and even language (American English). and are getting more westernized.
It might manifest differently, but some Americans and Turks have trouble with saving money. Turks tend to have credit debts due to credit cards. And they like to spend and shop, which can be observed from the fact that there are 310 shopping malls (?) across the country.
Business Meetings and Negotiations
Punctuality is vital! The traffic is normally heavy in Turkish cities, so you ought to estimate some extra time. Do not arrange meetings too close on the same day, as meetings often last longer than expected.
What is important for you to know is that the first meeting is more social than business related. »Business is personal« in Turkey, and they wish to learn to know you. It will be extremely rude if you insist that your Turkish counterparts must get to the point. The ability to listen and show patience is two qualities that the Turks appreciate highly. You may be asked about your family and interests, cultural and historical questions about your home country, and sports.
In negotiations you should not be too tough, as the Turks appreciate a calm and friendly atmosphere. Do not start with giving a price they cannot bargain. Ensure your proposal clearly will demonstrate the mutual benefit and profitability. If any of your counterparts leans his head backwards while he closes his eyes, it might mean »no«.
Turks tend to stand close while conversing, as they don’t require personal space – backing away is seen as being rude. Maintaining eye contact is important as it is seen as a sign of sincerity
Business Dress Etiquette
You are expected to dress professionally and conservatively. During summer, a shirt with trousers and no tie is acceptable. Typically, men are expected to wear suits, and women should refrain from wearing tight-fitted clothes or exposing their legs and arms. Men wearing shorts is not acceptable either.
Gift Giving Etiquette
Dining and sight-seeing trips are common when building business relationships, but gift-giving is not normal. However, if a gift is given it is always accepted well. Gifts from your own country such as food or craft items are always a good idea.
The National holidays may affect your travel plans, so it is wise to know when they occur. These days offices and banks are closed. The list is provided below:
The Islamic holidays may affect your travel plans, so it is wise to know when they occur.
Two of the most important Islamic holidays (and national public holidays) are Kurban Bayrami and Ramazan (Ramadan). Notice that offices, banks and shops in Turkey always close mid-day on the day before a festival, and are closed 4-5 days. This »half-a-day extra« is called arife (preparation). Islamic holidays begin at sundown and ends at sundown the next calendar day.
Kurban Bayrami: The most important Islamic religious festival of the year, and a 4-5 day public holiday. Following the Hijiri Calendar, the date varies from year to year; December 2007 and 2008, November 2009 and 2010. Domestic and international travels are intense in Turkey during this festival since it is also the time for Pilgrimage to Mecca.
Ramazan (Ramadan): During the Ramazan, the holy month, all Muslims must fast from dawn to dusk. Fasting includes no eating, drinking, gum chewing, or cigarette smoking. Restaurants are less busy than usual during the holy month of Ramazan. In 2014 will Ramazan be in July.
Muslim Population Surprises
Muslim men attend prayers at mosques between 12-2 pm on Fridays. This might not be the best time to schedule meetings.
Muslim employees may need to excuse themselves for about 20 minutes during office hours to perform their daily prayers. This shouldn’t disturb day-to-day work or scheduling of meetings.
A Muslim will typically refrain from going to a restaurant which serves pork and/or alcohol.
Productivity levels tend to drop during the fasting month.* If there is an event held at a bar/disco/pub, most Muslims will generally decline to attend.* If the events are being held at a hotel or a mall-based establishment, chances of Muslim attendance are better. Places like Zouk or Telawi Street Bar (single solo premises) have lower chances of Muslim attendees.
Some Muslims refrain from completing any tasks or employment that promotes liquor/rave parties/gambling/bidding (example: websites that promotes Hennessy VSOP). The best way to approach this situation is to simply ask if they are comfortable completing an assigned task. They might not say anything unless asked, and being open with issues like these will forge better understanding and foster positive morale between the management and Muslim employees.