Things you’ll only know if you grew up Turkish

No matter how hot the weather outside is, a day doesn’t pass by without a glass of çay

From unique melodies of (roughly) 6,500 languages to countless delicious menu items, every culture has its own beauty to offer the world.

While we all have entirely different upbringings there are certain factors and influences that everyone in a collected culture or country can relate to. For me personally, I definitely did not have a traditional Turkish upbringing as I spent most of my childhood in South Africa and Australia. However, my parents still strived to ensure that I never lost track of my heritage, language and culture within our household.

These are a few of my favorite (and amusing) things I learned from my Turkish background.

Great Britain has nothing on our tea drinking

It’s a big part of our culture. According to Quartz statistics from 2014, the average Turkish citizen consumes nearly seven pounds of tea per year, and it’s no surprise given how amazing Turkish tea tastes.

Turkish tea/Rize tea is a variant of black tea consumed without milk. It is appropriate for any and all occasions, and you never stop at just one. As soon as you’ve downed your last sip, the iconic curved tea glass is immediately taken back into the kitchen to be refilled.

No matter how hot the weather outside is, a day doesn’t pass by without a glass of çay.

And nothing beats a good Turkish pastry on the side like a classic white cheese simit or mouth-watering su böreği.

Did I mention we can read fortunes in dried coffee grains in Turkish coffee?


We go all out for breakfast


Image from Ahmet Erdem

We may not have the classic bacon and eggs Americans adore, but we have a variety unlike any other. Typically, rather than eating one single large meal, Turks prefer to snack on many different combinations for breakfast. A collection of cheeses (cheddar, salty white cheese, goat cheese, and/or cream cheese), an assortment of jams, honey, butter, nuts, and green and black olives serve as side dishes with bread. A salad made up of cut tomatoes, green peppers and cucumbers is also likely to be featured.

Fried eggs with sujuk (sucuk) or pastirma (pastırma), and hard-boiled prepped eggs are some classic examples off our breakfast menu.


Image from Deniz Hallik

Hosts will always question you on everything you ate, making sure you’ve tried every last thing on the table:

“Did you try my grandmother’s home-made jam?”

“You haven’t eaten any olives or cheese yet.”

“Do you need more bread? No? I’ll still get you more bread.”

While breakfast isn’t my favorite meal of the day, it’s definitely a delicious feast.

Taking your shoes off before you enter a household is a must

Most Turkish households expect guests to remove their shoes before entering, so I grew up walking around barefoot or in socks. It still baffles me me when non-Turkish friends will lay on beds with their shoes. How is that hygienic?!

I was once told by an American teacher in my High School that most Turks were “clean freaks.” I definitely agree with her after coming to Boston and getting judged for changing my bed sheets once to twice every two weeks.

And when it comes to taking off shoes in a household, young Turks know to not forget their slippers or else their moms and other female relatives will hold it over their heads forever.

From that point on every thing you complain about will be tied back to the fact that you didn’t wear your slippers that day.

Especially if you’re a girl, an elderly female in your household will tie your lack of slippers back to damaging your reproductive system.

Episodes on soap operas can last hours

Or any form of entertainment on TV for that matter.

Someone in your family is always a fan of the ridiculous and cheesy Turkish TV shows that seem to never end.

Sometimes a single episode can last up to three hours. So content runs out fast and classic plot lines are forever recycled, but hey that doesn’t stop even your dad from lounging around and watching them.

Yogurt goes on and with everything


Growing up Turkish meant yogurt was a big part of my diet and still is.

I remember the horror on my American friends’ faces when I poured it all over my pasta. Yum.

We even drink yogurt by mixing it with water and salt. It is a delicious and refreshing drink known as Ayran and is served chilled or frothy.

(Also why is it so hard to find just plain yogurt here? I’m not asking for anything fancy with jams and fruit bits, just plain yogurt.)

Sunflower seeds are an addictive snack


Once you start munching on those things, you never stop.

While watching those cheesy soap operas I mentioned, sometimes the only other noise heard in a Turkish household is the breaking of sunflower shells between teeth as everyone snacks away.

We argue over who pays the bill with friends

When you’re dragged to one of your parents’ dinner plans with their friends, without a doubt you will witness the adults trying to convince one another that they should be the one to cover the check.

This will go on for a solid 10 minutes during which time everyone’s trying to get their hands on the check to pay.

It’s serious business. Defeat is not an option as credit cards fly through the air.

Even after three plates you still have ‘barely touched your food’

No matter how much of your grandma’s food you eat she’ll never be satisfied. If you don’t gain a few extra pounds after a visit to a Turkish relative, you’re doing something wrong.


Occasionally applauding the pilot after a safe landing

Hey, they got us where we needed to go safely. They deserve a round of applause.

Everyone is superstitious to some degree

Turkish people have many superstitions ranging from the protection of an Evil Eye (Nazar boncuğuto throwing water behind someone who is traveling a distance.

The evil eye is a a blue glass bead which is said to ward off bad luck or curses placed called upon you. It is used as a decorative item in Turkish homes as well as an accessory on most jewelry. It is commonly placed on babies, brides, or students taking a serious exam to wish them luck and serve as a form of protection.

Even if you’re not superstitious you still don’t want to challenge these notions in case they’re true.


I’m always prepared

People are not too knowledgable about your country when you travel abroad

Turkey is an extremely exotic and gorgeous country but sadly many people don’t realize this. The media’s generally biased attitude towards Western culture news over Eastern culture news results in a lack of information about the countries being portrayed.

I’ve encountered many people who did not know of the country’s existence, it’s location in the world, and/or had a false perception of it entirely.

“Do you ride camels to school?” is a common question Turkish international students face. And no, we don’t.

People will also struggle to identify where you’re from. I once had a guy come up to me and ask me what the weather was like in Venezuela, simply assuming I was from there. This notion was then confirmed by two more people, on separate occasions, that guessed I was from Venezuela or had some hispanic background.

However, non-Turkish citizens who have Turkish friends are soon able to recognize Turkish names and faces. We tend to grow on people like that. Over time many of them come to realize just how interesting our country really is.

And last but not least…

No matter what happens in life or where you go, you’ve got Turkish family and friendship bonds like no other. The best thing I learned from my Turkish background is how to love and be loved in return.


Thinking of home when I’m far away