Turks are famous for making one welcome. You will find that the
majority of people you meet will be friendly and courteous to strangers,
whether they're foreign or not.
As a tourist you'll find yourself offered tea by almost anyone who
is trying to sell you something. It's not rude to refuse and in
most cases it's probably not a pressure sell tactic, a lot of people
are more than happy to talk to you about where you're from, what
you do, whether you're married ... If you're comfortable in a shop
and fancy looking at the stuff that's there then have a tea. This
is common sense stuff anyway.
If you find yourself invited to a home, which happens quite a lot,
especially if you're out of the main resort areas, then you can
probably play it by ear. It's more usual to take pastries, chocolates
or flowers than something to drink. In the average Turkish home
you will be treated as an honoured guest, as is any visitor, and
it's an opportunity that shouldn't be turned down.
The Turkish Bath
The tradition of the Turkish bath extends far back, to a time before
Turks had reached Anatolia. When the Turks arrived in Anatolia,
they brought with them one bathing tradition, and were confronted
with another, that of Romans and Byzantines, with certain local
variants. The traditions merged, and with the addition of the Moslem
concern for cleanliness and its concomitant respect for the uses
of water, there arose an entirley new concept, that of the Turkish
Bath. In time it became an institution, with its system of ineradicable
For the Turkish bath was much more than just a place to cleanse
the skin. It was intimately bound up with everyday life, a place
where people of every rank and station, young and old, rich an poor,
townsman or villager, could come freely. Women as well as men made
use of the "hamam", as the bath is known in Turkish, although of
course at separate hours.
From the individual's
point of view, the hamam was a familiar place from the earliest
weeks of life right up to its very end. Important occasions during
a lifespan were, and in some township still are, celebrated with
rejoicing at the bath. The newborn's fortieth day, the brides bathing
complete with food and live music, and the Avowal are instances.
The latter requires some explanation, for it involved the custom
common in Anatolia of making a promise or vow, contingent on the
fulfillment of some important wish. The celebration of this in the
hamam was arranged and paid for by the person fulfilling his vow,
and was open to one and all.
The hamam ceremony of mourning, on the other hand, was far different,
but also widespread. The Hospitality bathing was simply the taking
of one's house-guest to the hamam for a wash. Then there were the
Circumcision, Groom's, and Off-to-the-Army bathings, and others
besides. As we see, the whole culture of a people had the Turkish
bath as one of its important nexuses.
Naturally, there was a range of equipment associated with a hamam
visit, and until recently one might count from 15 to 20 articles
in the bundle which a woman brought along with her :
- The "pestemal" (pesh-te-mahl), a large towel fringed at both ends
and wrapped around the torso, from below the armpits to about mid-thigh
, as the woman made her way to the "kurna" or marble basin.
- The pestemal would be striped or checked, a colored mixture of
silk and cotton, or pure cotton, or even pure silk ;
- A pair of wooden clogs or pattens, in Turkish "nalin", of which
there were many varied types. Carved exquisitely, these pattens
kept the wearer's feet clear of the wet floor. They would be embellished
in a number of ways, most often with mother-of-pearl, or even sheathed
in tooled silver. They might have jingles, or a woven straw sheath,
or be appliqued with felt or brass.
- The "tas", or bowl for pouring water over the body, was always
of metal. Weather silver, gilt or tinned copper, or of brass, the
tas always had grooved and inlaid ornamentation.
- One finds a soap case of metal, usually copper, with a handle
on top like a handbag, and perforated at the bottom to allow water
to run out. Not only soap goes into such a case, but also a coarse
mitt for scouring down the skin, a webbing of date-palm or other
fibers for lathering on the soap, and combs both fine and broad-toothed
made of horn or ivory.
- Tke "kese" (keh-seh), that rough cloth mitt carried in the soap
case, not only scoured the dirt out of the pores, but served to
deliver a bracing massage. The soaping web, on the other hand, was
specially woven out of hair or plant fibers.
- A small jewelry box is often included, and depending on the region
will be of silver, copper or wood, sometimes covered with wicker,
felt, velvet or silver. As she undresses in the hamam, the woman
will remove her jewelry and place it in this box.
- There are three towels for drying, one to go around the hair like
a turban, one around the shoulders, and one around the waist.
- The hamam carpet would be laid on the floor, then another cloth
spread over it. Indeed, the name of the latter, "yaygi", contains
the Turkish root for Quotspread". The woman would sit on the mat
so formed to undress, and it was here that the bundle itself would
be placed. After each trip to the hamam the spread would be washed
and dried, then folded away in the bundle until the next time.
- An inner bundle cloth was made of cambric, which can be repeatedly
- The outer bundle on the other hand, heavily embroidered, might
be velvet, woolen or silken weave. In any case, it is always showy,
suitable for the uses to which it is put on feast days and other
- The mirror was an indispensable item in the bundle, its frame
and handle often of wood, but sometimes of silver or brass.
- There might be a bowl for henna, which the woman would fill on
arriving at the hamam. Aside from the color it lends, henna is considered
to strenghten the hair.
- A very small container, made of tinned copper, was used to mash
up an eyebrow darkener known as "rastik", especially popular with
those of fair and auburn hair.
- There is another box, this one for "surme", for the lids.
- Attar of rose in a bottle, the bottle in turn kept in a wooden
case, and inevitably found in the hamam bundle: No other perfume
was considered proper for the newly washed body.
Bride's Bath (Gelin Hamami)
- For the bride's visit to the hamam there was a distinctive costume
for cold days, a vest and pair of loose trousers (the "shalvar")
made of fine felt cloth. This gift from the family of the groom
would be worn going to and coming back home from the bath on that
- Another item of wear, again worn on the day of the bride's visit
to the hamam, was a silken robe, open at the front and much like
the Japanese kimono. The collar, the sleeves, and the front borders
were all embroidered. In this ornate robe, the bride would sit on
a kind of throne in the tepidarium of the bath, and the candles
would be picked up by maidens and young women. The bride leading
the way, the procession would march behind a woman beating a tambourine,
around the hamam pool. Soon the voices of the maidens and young
women would be heard in song as, candles in hand still burning,
they did the circuit of the pool again and again. At some point
the birdal veil would be producted to cover the birde's head, and
then came the wishing, as unmarried girls tossed coins into the
pool in hopes of getting the husband they desired. Even today these
deeply rooted customs can be observed in the rituals of the Turkish
- A head covering of sheer white muslin, its edges bordered with
"oya" crochet work, also emerges from the bundle. A woman will have
several of these to her name. They are tied over the hair before
leaving the hamam, to take up any remaining moisture.
- In the towns, as opposed to the cities, there was a specially
shaped carrier called a "kirdanlik" which word might perhaps be
rendered "the grime-time bucket". Into it went soap, washcloths,
clogs, and the pouring bowl, while the hamam bundle went on top.
On reaching the bath this carrier would be used as a pail to work
up sudsy water of bathing. This kirdanlik was also used in the men's
The Turkish bath was also, in its own way, a beautician's school
where one learned and practiced care of the body and hair, the donning
of make-up. And it was here that women, kept almost exclusively
indoors, could best relax and enjoy the freedom of a day to themselves.
The fame of The Turkish bath, then, resides in its bringing together
many dimensions of the society's culture to create a new phenomenon.
The hamam has long been an institution in Turkey, with a deep-going
social character that is capable of shedding light on many aspects
of Turkish life.
This is a typical item, a specialty of this region you should take
home as a souvenir. It's called the Boncuk, the Little Magic Stone
that protects one from the "Evil Eye" (pronounced "bon-dschuk").
You will see this blue glass piece everywhere here in this area.
But what is behind this superstition?
In a shortened version we will try to explain. Once upon a time
(yes, it starts like in a fairy tale) there was a rock by the sea
that, even with the force of a hundred men and a lot of dynamite,
couldn't be moved or cracked. There was also a man in this town
by the sea, who was known to carry the evil eye (Nazar). After much
effort and endeavor, the town people brought the man to the rock,
and the man, upon looking at the rock said, "My! What a big rock
this is." The instant he said this, there was a rip and roar and
crack and instantly the immense and impossible rock was found to
be cracked in two.
The force of the evil eye (or Nazar) is a widely accepted and feared
random element in Turkish daily life. The word "Nazar"
denotes seeing or looking and is often used in literally translated
phrases such as "Nazar touched her," in reference to a young woman,
for example, who mysteriously goes blind.
Another typical scenario. A woman gives birth to a healthy child
with pink cheeks, all the neighbors come and see the baby. They
shower the baby with compliments, commentating especially on how
healthy and chubby the baby is. After getting so much attention
weeks later the baby is found dead in his crib. No explanation can
be found for the death. It is ascribed to Nazar. Compliments made
to a specific body part can result in Nazar. That's why nearly every
Turkish mother fixes with a safety pin a small Boncuk on the child's
clothes. Once a Boncuk is found cracked, it means it has done his
job and immediately a new one has to replace it.
Coffee-houses ("kahve") are very specific to Turkish people. Even
the smallest village has at least one "kahve." In old times men
used to smoke hubble-bubble pipes ("nargile") while talking about
the matters of the day. You can still smoke "nargile," but only
in some of the coffee-houses. If you ever had a chance to see a
"kahve," especially in Istanbul, do not hesitate to spend some time
in that lovely, authentic place.
During your visit you will Mosques (cami). You are welcome to visit
except during prayer time and on a Friday, as this is Muslim Holy
day. Always remove shoes before entering the Mosque. Ladies should
cover their head, shoulders and arms, a skirt can be worn but be
sure it at least covers the knees. Male or females should not wear
shorts. Some of the frequently visited mosques will loan you a robe
for a small fee if you are not suitably dressed.
If you should go to visit a Turkish family in a village you would
also take your shoes off, and the custom is to kiss the elder's
hand and bring it to your forehead. This will be very much appreciated,
especially coming from a foreigner. Don't do a lot of kissing and
hugging with a person of the opposite sex in public. These actions
are consdered rude and offensive. Pointing at someone or blowing
your nose are also considered rude. Topless sunbathing is forbidden.
You will find the modern Turk welcoming and friendly. Almost without
exception you will be greeted everywhere with "hosgeldiniz" (welcome)
and later you will be asked a barrage of questions about yourself
and the world. "How much do you earn?" "How much did such-and-such
cost in your country?" "Do you have to go into the army?" "What
other countries have you been to?" All these questions should be
treated as only a genuine curiosity in you, and not an offensive