(in Borat voice) "Hello"

Istanbul Travel Blog

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There's really only one way to properly greet people in Turkey: with a kiss on each cheek.  Except this isn’t your froo-froo high-society, ‘hello dahhling’ cheek kissing; it’s done by everyone, everywhere (the only exception being devout Muslims).  I’ve seen big, hairy Turkish men who make Borat's producer Azamat look eminently smoochable in comparison peck each other in greeting.  To keep things simple, it's been pretty much standardized: there are always two kisses, almost invariably starting with the right cheek, and men generally shake hands first and then lean in...  But there's room for variation as well, namely in whether you actually pucker up and/or make the smoochy noise.  It's perfectly acceptable to simply touch cheeks, and in some circles you touch foreheads (i guess more like temples) instead, which is supposedly a slightly nationalistic / right-wing gesture.

All of this is so ingrained in Turkish culture that it's not even really a conscious thought, and some of the Turks I've met who haven't studied in the US were surprised to learn that it Americans don't generally kiss each other on the cheek, and to do so with guy friends would be considered a little ahem... strange.
    Turk (astonished):  "So how do you say hello to your friends?"
    Me (as if this was a question I never expected to be asked): "ummm... you just say 'hello', or a lot of times you shake hands, or I guess sometimes hug..."

So although I've now gotten used to it, in my first few weeks in Turkey the fact that I was a foreigner led to some slightly awkward moments when I said hello to someone and shook their hand, followed by that little pause - not dissimilar to the end of a date - where we both gave each other the 'so... are we going to kiss?' look, and either leaned in, or let the moment pass...
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photo by: Memo