Skip to main content

About Turkey

by: Loes Husain-Cornelissen
Currency              Lira                       
Capital                 Ankara, although Istanbul is the largest city                              
Time Zone          TRT = UTC +3                       
 
In this profile our experts have compiled the most important information for you to start doing business in Turkey. The country profiles are meant as a general introduction and are linked to other documents from the platform that go much more into the details of each culture.

Overview

Geert Hofstede’s analysis for Turkey shows a culture profile that is typical for the Eastern Mediterranean. Next to that, Turkey’s language and history have created a specific cultural set, in spite of the size of its population and its vast area. Yet, there is strong evidence that there is a clear difference between the West and the East in cultural terms.  “The Euphrates used to be the Roman border and that river still is a border. East of the Euphrates another world lies with different, unwritten laws” (1
 
The Hofstede research was conducted in Istanbul and Ankara. The scores below are a reflection of the culture of the Western region, and where evidence points to a different position of the Eastern regions, it is added.
 
Turkey’s position on Power Distance is on the high side, implying that Turks prefer a society in which hierarchy is clearly set and observed. There are significant differences in power and wealth, and people in the lower strata of society accept this. This also accounts for the high number of self-employed people: they prefer to be their own boss rather than to work in a company in a strict hierarchy under someone else.
In Eastern Turkey, power distance is significantly higher than in Istanbul.
 
Turkey is a collectivist country, implying that family and long-standing friendships are the glue to society, but also your religious affinity, the village or region you come from and your ethnicity. Where you come from and where you belong to, determines your identity and the way people will treat you.
Eastern Turkey is far more collectivist than Istanbul, and it is obvious that group affinity is a major factor east of the Euphrates.
 
Turkey is strongly uncertainty avoiding, which we see in its high concern with rules, regulating social behavior, controls, reluctance to accept change and high respect for expertise. Clarity is key and may at times come across as black-and-white thinking to foreigners.
 
Turkey is slightly more Feminine than Masculine, indicating a preference for quality of life, harmony and cooperation, as opposed to striving for achievement and success. Success is nice, but the road towards it, should be pleasant and harmonious.
 
Turkey is slightly short term oriented, like Malta and Greece. It is more long term oriented than its fellow Muslim countries, though. We can see this score on Turkey’s emphasis on the past, but also in the flexibility of Istanbul and the seashore regions to adapt their traditional ways to welcome tourists.
 
Also with respect to indulgence, Turkey is in the middle. People feel to a certain extent that they have control over their lives, and that joy needs to be an essential part. Yet, in combination with the very high uncertainty avoidance, we see that in business one needs to behave seriously. When there are many uncertainties, Turks, and especially Turkish women, can become gloomy.
 

Some cornerstones of Turkish culture

Turks are a hospitable and proud people. Don’t be surprised if you are invited into their homes, although the invitation should be expressed three times, and you should decline twice. Building a relationship is paramount, so do take the time to meet informally with your business partners and enjoy meals and outings together.
 
Islam is the major religion, with around 90% of its population practicing it. Even in major tourist areas on the coast, religious duties are taken seriously. There are large groups of Christians of all denominations, notably in Eastern Turkey. People will not appreciate it if you announce yourself to be an atheist or are critical of their faith. You will be considered a “Gavur” and may be excluded from social life.
 
Turks are proud of their country and its long heritage and will eagerly tell you about it. They love their country immensely and stand ready to defend it when they feel it is attacked in a discussion.
 
A big motivator for SMEs is their drive to be their own boss and to use their ingenuity to establish a thriving family-company. Frequently, the investment for a start-up is earned in Northern Europe. These family companies tend to endorse a long-term perspective, and it may not seem rational to you at first sight why someone would abstain from making a quick profit now, unless you see it from their longer-term perspective to build an income for future generations.  
 
Women in business are a common feature in the Western region, but less so in the East.
 

When in Turkey

Good to know

  • It is good to have an intermediary who can assist with planning appointments and assist in interpreting Turkish culture and language.
  • Punctuality is relaxed; although as a foreigner you are expected to be on time.
  • People prefer relaxed conversation before and after business. Business and private are often mixed and your partner may have various business talks going on at the same moment.
  • Titles are important and should be included on business cards. When greeting Turkish people in a professional setting, formal forms of address should be used. When you have forgotten someone’s name, it is perfectly okay to refer to him or her using the title: Doctor, Mühendis (Engineer), or Bey (to man ) or Hanim (to a woman).
  • Alcohol is available in many places, although you give a good impression if you do not consume it if your business partner does not. Women should refrain from drinking alcohol in public, and both sexes should avoid it in the Eastern region.
  •  Do not table subjects such as politics or minorities yourself, but if someone else brings it up, listen interestedly. Be aware that politics and minorities are an explosive combination in Turkey, and a conversational topic that can run quickly out of hand.
  • Be aware that Turks are very capable readers of your mind and will notice a negative judgment immediately, even if you do not pronounce it.

Body language

Loud talking and energetic gestures are not uncommon and do not imply imminent disaster. Turks tend to express themselves quite extrovertly, to the point that foreigners may think they are angry. This vehement expression, does not mean you can be blunt or direct. Indirect and tactful communication, especially in the Eastern regions, is considered more polite.
Man-to-man: Greet your potential business partner with a firm handshake.
Man-to-woman: wait for her to offer her hand first. If she does not offer her hand, bring your hand to your heart and nod slightly as a sign of respect.
Woman-to-woman: Apart from shaking hands, more touching occurs and the distance is very close.
Always greet the eldest person first; Turks hold great respect for the elderly.

Dress code

Business is a serious and formal matter and should be treated as such. You should avoid coming across as too frivolous and smiling, even if you have already developed a personal relationship. Dress up, polish your shoes, show you are important and a successful businessman.
 
Woman should, in business situations, cover their knees and elbows. Only when you see other women dress up more daringly, for example at a social event in Istanbul, can you relax the standard. Check with the local women. In the Eastern region, women should dress conservatively at all times, although they are not obliged nor expected to wear a headscarf.
 
Shoes are taken off when visiting homes or mosques, so do take care to wear a good pair of socks.
 
Keywords to describe Turkish culture:
 
Family/pride/entrepreneurial/respect for the elderly and hierarchy/loyalty
In the West: adaptive to new ways and opportunities

Doing business in Turkey can be challenging because you need patience. Turks do not like to be rushed nor pressed to take a fast decision. If you are under time pressure because of HQ back home or because you need to catch your plane, forget it.
Decision-making is an intricate process in Turkey.  You will need to meet with several people and convince them that you are an honest and reliable business(wo)man plus a pleasant person, before they trust themselves to take the risk to introduce you to the higher level where the decision-making power lies.
Expect to be subject to a thorough negotiation process, be prepared to compromise and, very importantly, to pay back in one way or another, those who introduced you to the level higher up.
In that respect, do not promise things you cannot live up to. Be prepared that people may ask you to help a son or daughter study in your country.

Experts Recommendation

  • It is paramount to build good relations. Only after a strong bond has been forged, can there be trust and can business be conducted quickly and pleasantly. Invest heavily in time to forge this bond. But never forget that, in general, the first loyalty of Turks always lies with their family
  • Often, the first meeting is just meant to get to know each other, and it is unusual for decisions to be taken.
  • You can discuss religion, but only if you are genuinely interested. Turks are excellent readers of someone’s mind and they will detect rejection and judgments immediately, even if you do not express them. Have an open mind towards their religious life.  It can be a bridgehead to building the relationship, if you enquire about Ramadan. Express your interest in joining for a day or more, or sit in on an Iftar (the first meal when the sun goes down).
  • Should your Turkish business partner pay you a business visit in your country, then make sure (s)he is never alone. Plan outings, dinners and touristic trips. Assist in making arrangements to meet his/her family while in your country.
  • Good conversation topics: history, children, food, football, music, literature (ask about famous Turkish authors), poetry and arts.
  • Bad conversation topics: politics, Daesh, refugees, minorities, why your country is better.
  • Turks are able readers of your mind. Pack a negative message carefully in nice wordings. A blunt NO is impolite.
  • As a man: do not discuss women or try to approach them. For women: do not give the Turks any excuse to think lowly of you. Take care of your dress and manners. This is even much more important in the Eastern regions.
  • Your network is your gateway to successful business. Treat them well.
  • Accept that the bureaucracy can be horrendous, be patient.
  • As a foreigner, never try to bribe someone. You do not know who, what, how or when, and you run a big risk.

Dimensions

As mentioned before, there is a clear divide between the East and West of the Euphrates. The Hofstede research has been conducted in the West, but there are strong indications that the East has a more hierarchical orientation, is more collectivist, more short-term oriented and has a more restraint culture.
 
The summary below is ONLY valid for the Istanbul and Ankara region, and the tourist area on the Mediterranean coast (such as Izmir and Antalya).

Power Distance

Turkey scores above average on this dimension, 66. This means that Turks respect the elderly and hierarchy in a family, at school or at work. In the bureaucracy, it is important to know who can decide and who can introduce you to that person.  The same goes for business negotiations. A sign of power is listening. A good powerful person listens carefully to all parties and takes a benevolent, fatherly decision. Learn how to play the game to be respected as a powerful person by carefully observing and asking.

Individualism

Turkey, with score of 37, is a collectivist society where people are proud to belong to their family and groups of long-standing friends. Turks belong to intricate webs of loyalties that are difficult to grasp for outsiders.
Great efforts are made to build relations with you, a foreigner, as you are a guest in their country. You will never be alone and everyone will take great pride in showing you around, or taking you for dinner or an outing. In a restaurant everyone in the group will offer to pay the bill. You should equally insist on paying.  
This collectivist attitude makes Turks capable readers of clues to whether you are happy or displeased. If you come from an individualist society, such as Northern Europe, you may not be aware of your non-verbal behavior and the signals you send out and that are picked up by the Turks. In other words, be aware that you are an open book to them.
Bluntness is not appreciated, try to get your message across with tact, diplomacy and by being indirect. Turks need only half a word to understand.

Masculinity

Turkey scores 43 on this dimension and is a Feminine country. This means that people value harmony and quality of life over achievement and success. While it is important to Turks to achieve a goal, it is equally important to consider what one receives from the process of achieving it. Establishing and maintaining friendships make the goal worth attaining it.
We also see this in their love for poetry and literature, the beautiful things by which people surround themselves, by a caring attitude towards the needy, but also in the jealousy and envy that may arise when someone is singled out.
Take care not to favor one employee over another. He or she may have a difficult time among colleagues. 

Uncertainty Avoidance

Turkey scores 85 on this dimension, which makes it a highly uncertainty avoiding country.
This is obvious in Turkish society: the preference for clear-cut rules and structures, the respect for the expert: the engineer or doctor, the tendency to stick to the known and the suspiciousness of anything strange and uncommon. But also, their pendent for perfection and the stress many Turks experience in their life, which they try to release through their expressiveness, taking time to enjoy a good meal and football. Smoking is another way to get rid of the stress caused by uncertainty.
Turks highly appreciate it if you are structured and accurate. You might be surprised that this is not reciprocated, but high stress and the many demands of the people around them, may make it next to impossible for Turks to live up to their own inner standards of perfection and structure.

Long Term Orientation

With a score slightly below average of 46, on this dimension, Turkey has a preference for principles and steadfastness over flexibility and adaption. Yet, Turkey is more long term orientated than its Muslim neighbors, and they certainly embrace a pragmatic attitude if that works best for all in the long term. We can observe in this fast growth of tourism in spite of the very different lifestyles of many tourists.
In business, Turks will look for consistency in your behavior and the information you offer, but are also prepared to accept a different truth if they see a long term win-win situation.

Indulgence

Turkey scores 49 on this dimension, which is just on the restraint side. Turks can feel very happy and enjoy life, and certainly in the Istanbul area people feel they have control over their lives and experience a certain liberty from social obligations. However, Turks may become gloomy and depressed in times of uncertainty and in the face of ambiguity. Family and friends form an important ingredient to the happiness of Turks and, when for whatever reason they do not have a harmonious connection with them, Turks may become cynical and pessimistic. Life is certainly more restrained in the Eastern regions where social obligations are to be observed.
 
In connection with this, business is a serious matter and to be treated as such. Frivolous business people are not taken seriously.

For a more detailed analysis on the Cultural Dimensions, and how Turkey compares to other countries, please visit Hofstede Insights’ Country Comparison tool.

 

References & Interesting Links

1. Volg de Wolken: Marcel Kurpershoek, Uitgeverij Augustus, 2010, ISBN 9789045704500
 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkey