Friday, March 30, 2012


Inevitably in every persons time living abroad, there comes those AHAH moments, and there are those where you are left scratching your head, mouth gaping.

Turkish culture is one of the most beautiful in the world. The hospitality is honestly unsurpassed in any country. People here go out of there way to help foreigners, and not for a payoff or a benefit. Turks are generous almost to a fault! They give and give. And there is beauty in the honest help they provide. The list could go on and on for pages.

But at the same time, living in this culture for a time, there are certain cultural nuances that one simply cannot get used to.

Understand it? Yes. 
Accept it? Yes. 
Laugh at it? Usually 
Appreciate it? Probably not! 
Get used to it? Never

The one thing here that I honestly cannot really get, really accept or not get upset by? The custom Turks have of telling you how they feel about your personal appearance, personality or general person. Including but not limited to:

You didn't sleep, did you? Your eyes look dark with big bags.  
Your clothes aren't very nice today. 
You look fat today. 
What happened? You look awful! 
Did you mean to dye your hair that color? Do you like it? It looks strange. 

I always blush. I always get flustered and I always am hurt by it. I had an incident this week with a Turkish friend. I honestly was at the end of my patience for comments like these. When his comment hit a quite sensitive note, I just sighed loudly, said a "really?!?!" and walked away, afraid of what might come out had I stayed. Two minutes later I returned and talked to my friend. "Are you upset?" he asked. Yes! I blurted! In my culture, that is SO rude. Now you must know, this guy is a favorite of mine- a great guy and has a genuine good heart. He is the epitome of caring and kind, and he's been nothing but helpful to me all year long. Suffice it to say, he was shocked. Literally shocked.

In Turkish culture, there is honestly nothing rude with remarks like these. It is completely normal, acceptable and accepted by those who receive it. Everyone says things like this, quite often. It was quite a shock when I explained to my friends that this is highly inappropriate in American culture as small talk. In Turkey, telling someone they look awful is a way of striking up a conversation. This is probably the one thing, I cannot wrap my mind around. The one sensitive thing that I cannot get used to.

Any Turks out there reading this, care to shed some light on this culture difference?
Different opinions out there?


  1. After 31 years, I'm still am not used to it. My neighbour's opening comment to my gorgeous 19 yr old daughter is usually "you're too fat - don't you want to find a husband?" One of these days I'll flip and send him flying through his roses.

  2. Hi Sarah! I stumbled upon your blog today and have been reading and enjoying your adventures from the beginning :) I'm a Turkish woman and I can understand why you may feel bad about receiving such comments. Although there are rude people in Turkey too ( like in every country ), if these comments are made by a person like your friend whom know and believe to be a nice and caring person, they usually are made out of genuine consideration and wanting to help. When someone asks us "How are you?", we usually reply with "I'm fine, thank you", out of politeness even if we are not fine because we don't want to bother the other person with our problems or make his/her mood go down, etc. I think your friend probably saw you and felt that you were a bit down/tired, etc and he thought that you wouldn't tell your problem or why you didn't sleep well so he added " you look awful" after "what happened?". It probably means that " I can see that you didn't sleep well/ you look sad/ you look tired and there must be a reason to it. You can't deceive me by saying ok. So tell me your problem which you clearly have and I will try to help you get over it". In fact, Turkish people usually don't say such things to complete strangers but only to the people whom they consider as friends and people they care. Usually a person wouldn't care about the looks of a stranger. There is another aspect about the Turkish culture: If you are a guest, you are a part of the family, whether it is a family you are staying with, a neighbourhood you live in or even the whole country and your safety/happiness/contentment is our responsibility and we take it very seriously :)If you are sad, we want to cheer you up; if you have a problem, we want to fix it; if you are not eating healthy, we want to try to stop you; if you are single, we want to match you with a nice decent guy :) I know, especially the last one sounds rediculous but I guess you got my point. We treat our family members the same way ( a bit rude ). I remember my mother yelling to me saying " what did you do to your hair? Your hair color was gorgeous and now it's in shit color!" when I had bleached my hair without using a base that the hairdressers use before dying with blonde color and really my hair color became something between brown and orange, like a "shit" :( Another reason of those comments sounding rude especially when made to a foreigner can be because of lack of sufficient English vocabulary to express their thoughts in a more polite way, i.e "you look bad" may not be about your looks and can mean "you look as if you are feeling bad" or "you look a bit down" or " are you feeling bad?", etc. I hope I was able to give you a little insight about how we think, feel and act towards people we care. I wish you a pleasant stay in Turkey :) Have a good day!

  3. Thanks for your insight! I am starting to understand, just maybe having some trouble accepting it at times! It still catches me off guard. Thank you!


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