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I Don’t Like Turkey…Yet

In all my years travelling I’ve never really come across a place I didn’t like.

I think that’s changed.

Turkey.

When I landed in Istanbul, I didn’t really know what to expect. I’d heard in passing conversations that it was an amazing city and there was a lot to see there, but I hadn’t really researched it in any real depth. I was simply going to land, explore, and see what the city gave me.

I ended up spending four nights in Istanbul before heading west, knocking off the major sights while eating my way through the city. The Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, spice market, Istiklal Street, Kadikoy, all while eating as much Turkish food as my stomach would allow.

The city itself was stunningly beautiful. Lots of little alleyways and coffee shops hidden amongst cobblestone streets, a deep history to explore, and a cheap and functioning public transport system to get you anywhere you needed to go. Regular ferries carted people between the Asian and European sides of the city for only a couple of dollars, and the food was delicious, just as I’d expected.

What let the city down was my interactions with the local people. During my limited time in the city and the rest of the country, I found the Turkish to be quite an insular community – not hostile in any way, but just a bit cold and stand-offish. It can be easy to quickly disregard this as plain unfriendliness, so I wanted to dig a bit deeper to understand why I was getting this vibe.

Over my remaining days in Turkey, I spent most of my time closely examining my interactions with the locals. I found the Turkish often fell between two extremes – while some showed extreme friendliness and kindness, the others were so dismissive it was as if they were offended I was even talking to them.

One example was the man sitting next to me on the ferry, who I hadn’t spoken a word to, buying a handful of fridge magnets off some kid and then insisting I take one as a souvenir of my visit to Turkey – a completely random act of kindness that I was quite taken aback by. On the other hand, there was the guy at the bus office who gave me a look that just said “f*ck off” the moment I walked in and refused to talk to me, and his colleague who I had to practically beg to sell me a bus ticket.

Unfortunately, I had many interactions in line with the latter. There was an indifference about them, a feeling that they really couldn’t care less that I was a visitor in their country. And of course, I never expect anything more than that. In their country, they are welcome to treat me however they please. What I still couldn’t figure out though was, why? It’s typical of most countries to welcome foreigners and try to give a positive impression of their country, but this didn’t seem to be the case in Turkey. Why?

At first I assumed it was the lack of English spoken. Almost all locals I interacted with weren’t able to communicate in basic English, even those working in tourist-related areas, and the ones that could were people who had made the conscious effort to seek out and study the language. Perhaps I’d confused unfriendliness with them simply avoiding English interaction with foreigners. Once I learned a few Turkish words, even simple things such as “hello” and “thank you”, people did seem to warm up considerably.

There was bit of a chicken and egg scenario here. Did they not speak English because they didn’t care to learn about the outside world, or did they only seem that way because they couldn’t speak English? Who knows.

My next observation was that the coldness came almost exclusively from the men. I’m no Adam Levine, but the women were always extremely friendly and helpful whenever I interacted with them. If I asked questions at the restaurant, they did their best to explain. If I asked for directions, they pulled out their phones and tried their best to help. If I asked the men, they shook their heads or shrugged their shoulders and waved me away. As I walked down the street, I noticed various men give me the glare or a suspicious once-over. What was going on here?

One interesting experience was on my bus out of Istanbul. We’d just been served our snacks and drinks, and once the guy in the seat next to me had finished he casually placed all his trash onto my tray table, folded his table up and went to sleep. I was so shocked that I started laughing. Had we been in New Zealand I would’ve kindly placed the trash back in his lap and smiled, but I’ve learned on the road it’s always wise to tread a little carefully. Besides, he did in such a blasé and casual way I started wondering if maybe this was just normal behaviour in Turkey?

In the end, I just put it down to a symptom of the culture. Turkish people in general seemed to be very direct, no-nonsense and in-your-face, and I just accepted it as the way it is. It wasn’t something I could really figure out in my short time there, and probably never will.

Funnily enough, my fellow travellers seem to fall between two extremes as well. Some were churning through all the sites at light speed so they could just leave the country as soon as possible, while others were in love with Turkey and were trying to extend their stays. As one girl put it, “I just need to see Cappadocia and then I can get the f*ck out of here!”, while another girl had spent 20 days in Istanbul and was already planning her next trip back.

For me, travel has always been about the people. The most magnificent city in the world is nothing if it does not have warm and interesting people to create the kind of energy and community that a city needs to be great. And while I never really felt unsafe or threatened in Turkey, I never felt very comfortable or welcomed either.

To be fair to the Turkish, these are all generalisations from a very short visit, and I did come across many friendly and welcoming people during my time there. For every bus driver that rolled his eyes at me, there was a waiter or waitress who did try to show some warm Turkish hospitality. Like I said, a case of two extremes, and it made for an interesting visit if nothing else.

I ended up cutting my visit short and actually missed out on a lot in Turkey – Pamukkale, Cappadocia, the beach towns in the south and a bunch of other famous sites. But in a country where I never truly felt welcome, seven days felt like long enough.

Have you been to Turkey? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Note: If you’re planning a trip to Turkey, don’t let my observations stop you. The country itself is beautiful and Istanbul is certainly a must-see city, unlike any other I’ve ever seen. There’s also a good chance your experience will be completely different to mine. Go with an open mind, explore and enjoy! (the food is incredible, too).

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37 thoughts on “I Don’t Like Turkey…Yet

  1. That’s a really interesting read! I was in Turkey through April and whilst we did encounter people like you mentioned, I felt like I had a great time overall. We spent 5 days in Istanbul and definitely came across people of both extremes and it was the place where we encountered that the most but I think I would put it down to being the big city and all.

    When we explored the smaller towns, nestled in the country side (Goreme in Cappadocia, Pamukkale and even Antalya, although that’s a still a big city), I found the people to be very kind, open and helpful. Goreme was actually our absolute favourite place we visited in our 2 weeks. Maybe that’s to do with me currently living in Cyprus where the ‘Zero F**ks Given’ attitude is very ripe and I deal with it on a daily basis. I’ve probably become very accustomed to it to the point where I don’t pick it up in other countries anymore, and the people who are friendly and helpful stand out more.

    To me, the most interesting interaction in Turkey was down in Antalya where it was the first real time I noticed some of the men didn’t talk to me directly, or even look at me whilst speaking, instead they directed their entire conversation to my boyfriend. Regardless whether I was speaking as well. It was quite a strange experience, but an eye opening one. That’s not to say those men were nasty, they were actually really friendly and chatty, just not directly to me!

    1. Interesting. It wasn’t hostile for me either, just unwelcoming. I’ve experienced similar attitudes in places like China and France but definitely not to the same degree. But an interesting thing to experience nonetheless.

  2. Hi Bren,

    I came across your post totally by chance and, as a Turk, feel somewhat ashamed by how you were treated by some of the locals here. It upsets me that the guys in the ticket office were downright rude to you; I do think it has to do with the language barrier to a certain extent, but still, for a nation that is knowns for its hospitality and friendliness, I am sorry to hear you had it enough and decided to cut your stay in Turkey short.

    Personally, I’ve rarely heard foreigners complaining about Turks being rude to them; this is not to say I don’t believe you or you were exaggerating. Maybe someday in the future, you’ll pay my country another visit and run into friendlier and more helpful people.

    I have read not only your posts on Turkey but many other articles you’ve written and I have to commend you on your amazing writing skills and interesting stories. I will continue following your posts.

    All the best!

    1. Hey Murat, apprecite you stopping by to read some of my stuff. As I hinted in the title, I may indeed stop back for another visit someday. I did meet some friendly Turks too, so it wasn’t all bad.

  3. P.S. The incident you experienced on the bus is totally unacceptable and I have never seen or heard of such a thing before. What an asshole indeed. Had I been there, I’d have told him to fuck off, actually.

      1. I’ve been to Turkey so many times and I can assure you that its not a uncommon thing to happen to you. I have to go Turkey for business and I hate it. Every time i get on the plane i get bad feeling. And so many people getting scammed and lied to there.Its almost impossible to create a long lasting business relationship. I’m not even going to start on their arrogance and self involvement

  4. I went to Turkey last year for the first time and I am unlikely to go back. Mostly because of the people, which is very sad but clearly not uncommon!! Being a female in Turkey is obviously a bit different and being a fellow kiwi I really wanted to tell the guys who touched, whistled, stared at me to FUCK OFF but I didnt, I had no idea what they would do, after all they were treating women disgustingly so I assumed they were capable of worse things than what I experienced.
    Oddly enough I have met a few Turkish people (men and woman) in London and they have all been nothing but nice!

    1. Hmm, seems a common experience and it’s a shame for such an otherwise beautiful country. Glad you got out without incident 🙂

    1. In a country I’m familiar with, sure. But in very foreign countries, especially a place like Turkey I tend to tread a little more carefully. Like I said, maybe this kind of thing was normal there?

  5. I’m sorry to hear baout your experience Bren. It is a surprise and very out of character I think.

    I have been to Turkey but only to Istanbul and the people couldn’t do enough for me. They were very helpful when I lost my way in the souk (don’t we all) and were respectful enough not to hassle me too much. My taxi driver even came with me as the taxi couldn’t go down the very narrow road, and made sure that I got in safely. Perhaps those people had an off-day or were just not thinking.

    It has happened to me but only once in 15 years of travelling when I found some people to be extremely rude for no reason at all! I found that to be the case in Singapore. All the expats were excited to see a new face in town but the locals were cold and pretty unfriendly, but what can you do? Dust it off and move on. It’s their loss. 🙂

    1. Thanks. Yeah, I wasn’t there long enough to make a strong verdict. But this was my experience nonetheless. If there is a next time, let’s hope it’s different.

  6. As soon as I get off the plane I went to Tourist Information and as always I was happy to be there and I approached to the information desk and the guy say…what are you laughing to! which very surprise me… I just wanted to know how much does a taxi to my hotel should cost to know the average of cash to withdraw from the ATM .. and the guy again said.. here taxi drivers are kind and they are not going to chat you… well… the price should be 25TL and the fist taxi driver wanted to charge me 50… so I did not accept.. the second taxi driver were kind and accept to put the meter. He couldn’t speak any English but I show the map on where to go and there were no problem. Once at the hotel I ask for some money change (small banknotes) to pay the taxi and the gut at the hotel give me but he did not have enough so he said he will give me the rest back… forget it… I lost that money.. the guy was not there the next day and nobody knew about it.
    The rest of my time in turkey was great. Food, architecture and people

  7. Hi, Bren! I am so sorry you had this experience there… I am not Turkish, but I know quite a lot about them, and as far as the modern Turks aer concerned – mostly good stuff… There is, however, this other side of the national character, which has its roots deep in its history, and which I strongly dislike… Well, maybe you will want to consider it yourself: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racism_in_Turkey#See_also

  8. Dear Bren,
    It is really confusing for me to read how you consider your experiences in Istanbul. Your thoughts are quite useful for me personally, partly because I have been visiting this country for more than forty times, mainly coastal areas, and I have never been relying on a contact or and kind of assistance of a local person, so I am quite inexperienced in this kind of relations with the locals. That is why I am truly amazed on the reactions you are mentioning. Part of the explanation might be the fact the country is developing too fast during the last decade and most probably could not cope with some minor side problems such as lack of smile, hospitality or just kind approach. The city of Istanbul itself is overcrowded and people are obviously and mostly stressed which causes reactions you are mentioning. However if you visit another regions, the countryside you would probably see another part of the national character of these people, and I hope it would be a real one with proper kindness and respect. At the same time your impressions are not quite uncommon for visitors coming from a more organized parts of the world. Truly hope you could find a reason to come back to Turkey and have a chance to see its better part.

  9. “I found the Turkish often fell between two extremes – while some showed extreme friendliness and kindness, the others were so dismissive it was as if they were offended I was even talking to them.”

    Your problem here, you can’t distinguish Kurds from Turks.

      1. I’m tempted to suggest from your uneducated, ignorant and disrespectful comment that you must be Kurdish but as most Kurds I have met are decent people I guess you must just be racist filth.

      2. fatih, you caveman, go grow your mustache to show how macho man you are and leave kurds alone. They6have suffered enough from fascist turks like yourself

  10. You’re right about the cold people in metropol Istanbul.As you can see abow , they’re also a big amount of people don’t like “other” people …We did’nt like the generally of the people there and moved with my husband 9 years ago to a smaller city in the south cost of Turkey.Here it’s more better with people:) I can reccon you small places in Mugla totally in nature not to much far to eachother and without a big mass-tourism : If you stay in any boutique hotel in Dalyan, maby you wanna stay there for your life,like lot’s of tourist did in the end(my friend “Kaptan June” as an example) You can travel around a lot from there and it will not end.There is so much to see.Pls just google the area:)…About Yuvarlakcay river,Koycegiz lake,Sarıgerme or Iztuzu beaches,Dalyan Channal with ancient rock tombs, Kleopatra beach island ect ect…XXX

  11. hey bran! dont bother!
    youre so right turkish being extreme with their attitude, even locals, we all live by it! i am living in europe since 6 years and i can tell that over here there is a particular way to behave. however in turkey, it is not the case, even i am most of the time, getting confused and finding myself thinking about what have i done wrong, that this person treated me that way, when im back every 4-6 months or sth. so in general i think, turks are quite moody and persons of different values on a hugeee wide scale, be it culturally, religiously or personality-wise. next time try it out, with like-minded locals on couchsurfing or so! 😉 indeed cant tell you were wrong with your assumptions though, as being a insider-outsider local for a time. cheers!

  12. I know this post is pretty old now but my experience closely resembled yours. I am at the airport now ready to leave but not without one more rude waiter who seems to hate his job of actually waiting on people. I’ve been here four days and I can’t tell you how many eye rolls I’ve gotten from service. Some people were ok, no one would get the title of friendly except one uber driver. It is a beautiful city, not sure if I would com back to Istanbul however.

  13. That’s so bizarre that you had such a negative experience in Turkey. My very first stop on the beginning of my around the world trip was in this country. I spent a whole month there, fell in love with it pretty quickly and returned three more times. Yeah, I got involved with some shady Turkish dudes, but my overall experience with the Turks was that they are some of the most hospitable humans I’ve ever met. 30+ countries later, I still feel that way. I think you need to see some of the smaller tourist towns on the coast and your opinion on their hospitality will change. Istanbul, like any large city can be unfriendly. If you do decide to go back one day, hit me up and I’ll give you tons of suggestions (There’s waaaaaaaay more to the country than IST and Cappadocia!).

  14. Turkey? NEVER AGAIN! Bren, I cannot agree more with you. By far, Turkish people are the most insular and inward people I have seen in the whole world. They hardly know anything about anything out of Turkey, especially men are nasty and unkind, almost all people I talked to are brainwashed, that Ataturk guy is a perfect example of a personality cult and you can see fascism in every aspect of Turkish people’s lives. Extremely rude and intolerant people.

  15. I am American and visited Turkey last summer. I hated it all the way, from day one. Unbelievably rude people. Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Antalya all unkind rude people. I completely agree with Maurice and Bren about exaggeratedly insular and hard-headed folks in Turkey…and yes, that Ataturk or whoever that guy is, is a major source of brainwash. Take to any Turkish people about anything out of Turkey, they just don’t know, they don’t care either. Foreign languages are unheard of in this damned country. Food is too bland and kebobs are too fatty, unlike Persian kabobs and pilafs. Women are both ugly and rude. Visit Beyoglu street, the 24/7 stampede by cavemen! Abnormally unintellectual city packed with crappy low quality restaurants they call lokanta. Turkish people cannot even read their ancestors writings on the museums walls. They don’t even care to learn. Gosh, I can go on and on. I will never ever get back to Turkey. Interestingly I never hated any other country so much, from Africa to Pakistan to Vietnam. Turkey, despite its fairly attractive Mediterranean ambiance, is exceptionally disgusting thanks to its unkind rude brainwashed ignorant insular people. I don’t wanna see one more Ataturk statue anymore in my life. I hated Turkey but anyway, try it for yourself.

    1. hi ronald, the reason the nowdays turks csnt read theirs “ancestor” writings is because they all were ancient greeks. Otoman turkish occupied those greek lands and consider them as theirs. Cappadokia, canal kale, antalya, bodrum etc some of the places where you w8ll find all these ancient Greek monuments, theaters etc with Greek writings. And they don’t have the decency to say that are ancient Greek and not Turkish.

  16. I have thought Turkey is a nice place to live since you are a western creature and have some money in your pocket. Actually you could still taste the real rudeness and pure bastard attitudes if you were in an hospital, a crowded bus/ bus stop, driving your car in traffic or anywere people are close to each other. Dont think that they are not hospitalizing btw. If you were a turkish, you would be insulted and hate 10 folds to be there

  17. Actually i feel with you. I didnt feel like i was in any threat, but i felt like they where extremly rude and uneducated in how they should interact with other people. They definitively need to learn especially how to threat the guests to their country. I do speak and understand Turkish wich can be annoying sometimes, because the way they are “Nice” in english and talks about you in turkish without any reason is shocking. I really used to love turkey, but after many visits with some new hopes every times i lost hope now. Maybe they just feel the right to be ignorant towards other.

  18. Hi, I just stumbled across your blog and I actually found it interesting to read, as I felt like I could relate. My two sisters and I went to Turkey last year July. We went to marmaris. Absolutely beautiful landscape and loads of things to do and loads of things to see. However, we got this vibe that there were two types of people (like you had mentioned), some of them were over friendly and some of them were just downright rude and found everything hilarious (even the coop that had happened was funny according to them). We got along with many Turkish people, but we did feel uncomfortable the entire time, and I felt as if though they were very dismissive of us and weren’t being very welcoming. I am a British born woman of south Asian descent, and I have never experienced racism in my own home country of England, let alone in another country. However, on our second last day, all our fears came true. We travelled out to a little village in marmaris and we were in a shop looking at us some souvenirs with the intention of buying. The shop keeper came out and told us to “get lost, dirty P**i’s”. We were absolutely gobsmacked. We just could not believe what we had just heard. Such a rasict and derogatory term. Felt like a slap in the face. This had never happened to us before, and for it to happen while we were on holiday was so upsetting and so humiliating. We just wanted to go home that day. It was such a horrible thing to have happened. We were in so much shock, we couldn’t even speak back to the guy. It just dampened my mood, and I just couldn’t help but think that this is how some Turks think of tourists who are of coloured skin. I just felt so sad, and embarrassed of what had happened and of the country itself. Thankfully we were nearing the holiday when this has had happened. I dont think I’d ever go back to Turkey after what happened, I felt as if though why should I spend money in a country where it’s unappreciated. I’ve told my friends and family what had happened, and everyone was just as shocked. What a nightmare of a holiday!

    1. Really sorry that happened to you. Honestly that can happen to you anywhere, but I know what you mean about there being an uncomfortable energy there. I felt the same way. Hope you’ve had better experiences since then!

  19. Turkey is a lovely country with an amazing history and cuisine i have been there many times and it is so idiotic to generalise people in Turkey there are good and bad people in everywhere also i had experienced extreme racist and rude people in the western countries also super ignorant people especially in the USA but i do not generalise people because i am not an idiot

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