Doing Business in Turkey
Turkey is a vibrant amalgamation of two unique cultures, reflecting a diverse collection of ideas, beliefs and values as an inheritance of the Ottoman Empire that had sovereignty over the Middle East, Asia and some parts of Europe. It collapsed at the beginning of the 19th Century, just before the Republic of Turkey was established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Crossing both European and Middle Eastern boundaries, Turkish society is patriotic and proud of its ancestry and achievements.
The rapid modernisation of the country combined with its traditional values, makes Turkey a fascinating market for foreign businesses, albeit one which requires an understanding of its cultural design to secure business success. Turkey is among the world’s leading destinations for direct foreign investment perhaps due to its location in the middle of Europe and Asia. There is access to the wider markets of Europe, the Middle East, the Black Sea region and the Turkish speaking republics in Asia. For thousands of years, this region has been a commercial centre connecting the East and West.
With a services sector constituting almost 60% of its GDP and a public procurement market of over €30 billion, Turkey offers immense opportunities for European companies in development projects from which they should get higher than usual rates of return. In addition, Turkey is among the 20 biggest economies in the world. Furthermore, it is an unsaturated market in almost every category of consumption goods, ranging from fast moving consumer goods to high-end technology.
Turkish is the predominant member of the Turkic language family, which in turn belongs to the West Oghuz language group (whose members also include Azerbaijani and Gagauz). It is the native language of around 67 million people residing mostly in Turkey but also in Germany, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Macedonia.
Until 1928 the Turkish language was written using a version of the Arabic alphabet. During Attatürk’s reign and as part of his cultural reforms, Turkish began to use the Latin alphabet which many felt was more suitable, particularly to transcribe Turkey’s eight different vowels. In 1932, the newly formed Turkish Language Association tried to prevent the usage of Persian and Arabic loanwords in Turkish nby replacing them with sometimes ancient Turkish counterparts. This resulted in an often vastly differing vernacular between the older and younger generations of Turkish speakers.
The modern Turkish alphabet consists of 29 letters. A B C Ç D E F G Ğ H I İ J K L M N O Ö P R S Ş T U Ü V Y Z
ç as in Check ı (i without a dot) as in Wireless ş as in Croatia
ğ as in Mercy ö as in Verb ü as in Parachute
Turkish people are always delighted to hear a few greetings in their own language such as:
- Günaydın! [Guniyden] = Good morning
- iyiakşamlar! [iakshimlir] = Good evening
- Güle güle! [gula gula] = Goodbye
- Teşekkürler [tasakkurlar] = Thank you
- Lütfen [Lutfan ] = Please
- Affedersiniz [iaffadarsenes] = Excuse me!
- Evet [avat] = Yes
- Hayır [hiyer] = No
- Şerefe [sharafa] = Cheers (but only when you raise your glass in a toast while in a pub or in a restaurant).
- The accepted dress code for business discussions is a suit for men and fashionable clothes for women.
- In Turkey, meetings are arranged by early appointments and visitors are expected to arrive on time. If the company or the person that you have appointment with is in the one of the big cities like Istanbul, you should allow some time for travelling to arrive on time as there are 2.5 million cars in Istanbul which means traffic jams are normal, especially in the winter.
- The common greeting is handshaking, but in some occasions you can also expect to be kissed on both cheeks. Handshaking takes place both at the beginning and the end of the meeting.
- You should address your Turkish business partners with their title and family name, but you can expect to be asked to call them by their first name fairly soon.
- Most members of the Turkish business community have a good command of English but it is a good idea to bring an interpreter.
- After arrival, it is important to not to jump directly on the business issues as Turkish people would like to hear about you and your thoughts about Turkey, e.g. you can talk about cities that you have been or you would like to been in Turkey.
- Turkey is the one of the countries where the power distance in business or governmental departments is high. This means that in most cases, especially in 100% traditional Turkish companies, an employee is expected to keep the distance between his/her superior and him/herself. For instance, unlike in a British company, an employee in some traditional Turkish companies usually can not make casual conversations that are not related to business. However, in internationalised big Turkish companies managerial structure is much more flexible and different from traditional Turkish companies.
- Elders are highly respected in Turkey. If you are seated, rise to greet them when they enter a room. When being introduced to a group of men, shake hands with each one, starting with the one who appears to be oldest.
- After a meeting, guests are usually served with delicious traditional Turkish coffee and Turkish delight or chocolate.
Most business dining will take place in restaurants where you can find wide variety of traditional Turkish cuisine. For Turks, the meal is a time for relaxing and engaging in some good conversation, perhaps about football.
Before the main course, you will often be given some starters called meze [maza] in small plates over all the table, you help yourself to these while drinking alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages.
Evening meals may be accompanied by some alcohol, usually the local tipple called “Rakı” [pronounced as “rak-uh”]. The main content of Rakı is aniseed and grape and it is drunk best with starters such as cheese, salad and tomato. As a main course, seafood, especially fish, is the best complementary of Rakı. Keep in mind that Rakı is a rather strong (45% alcohol) national alcoholic spirit that is usually mixed with icy cold water (1/3 or half of the glass) and ice cubes before drinking. After mixing, it gradually turns into milky white colour; that is why it is called “Lion’s milk”. Here the word “Lion” symbolizes the “courage” and “milk” symbolizes the colour. If you are not comfortable drinking Rakı, you can ask for traditional Turkish beers or fine Turkish wines that are definitely worth trying.
Turks like toasting their glasses while saying “Şerefe [sharafa]”, meaning “Cheers”. Some Turks smoke during meals and will often take breaks between courses to have a cigarette and a few drinks before moving onto the next. Let them know if you are disturbed by the smoke; they will not take it personally.
After the meal, drinking Turkish tea and coffee is a must. In most cases with tea or coffee, traditional desserts like “baklava” or “Turkish delight” are served. Turkish coffee is very strong and served in 3 options such as plain (sade), with a little (az Şekerli), a medium amount (orta Şekerli), or lots of sugar (Şekerli). Bear in mind, however, that if you want to drink coffee not to drink the bottom part that is quite strong and considered a useless part of your coffee. Milk is not added to Turkish coffee but is generally offered with instant coffee (Nescafe).
One of the most important rules of Turkish hospitality is that in most cases if you are invited for dinner, those who invited you pay the bill. Even if you offer to pay the bill, they will insist you do not do so.
In most cases those who pay the bill, also leave the tip.