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Doing Business in Turkey A Cultural Approach

Onur SAKA

Table of Contents

Doing Business In Turkey – A cultural perspective

2

The Culture; Magical Diversity

2

Business Practices and Etiquette

3

Business Attire

4

Business hours, holidays

4

Meetings

5

Communications and Negotiations

5

Business Food Protocol

6

Doing Business In Turkey – A cultural perspective

The Culture; Magical Diversity

All perspectives of doing business, business etiquette, and business culture lie within the culture of that county. And culture has a lot of elements that also build it including the part of the world where the nation lived, languages they have spoken, neighbors they have trade with, and the religions they have embraced. Like all the factors that implied to our DNAs from our first molecules, the culture goes back a long way in time and it is influenced by countless facts. And Turks have been influenced from abundant factors throughout their long history and created a rich and diverse culture. Their first appearance in the history is in the Central and Eastern Asia with long time neighbor China which had remarkable influence over the culture, education, military and economy. After thousand years Turks had left this region and settled in the Middle East region, Crimea and Anatolia. The mixed belief of Shamanism, Hinduism and Polytheism has replaced with Islam through this migration, and the neighbors became Persians, Arabs, Greeks and Slavs. Following this diverse environment, the Ottoman Empire was the zenith of consolidation of the cultural diversity. The present-day Republic of Turkey, which succeeded the Ottoman state in 1923, is a bridge country that spans Europe and Asia. The nation was modernized primarily by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk starting from 1923. As he transformed a religion-driven empire into a modern nation-state with a strong separation of state and religion, the culture evolved, but most importantly the ruling of religion over businesses, laws, economy, government and education have replaced with modern standards. Because of the different historical factors defining the Turkish identity, the culture of Turkey combines clear efforts to be "modern" and Western, with a desire to maintain traditional religious and historical values. Some of the remarkable fundamental values of Turkish culture are benevolence, hospitality, justness, keeping word and trustworthiness. These basics of the culture can be observed in daily practices and human behavior in business environment. On the other hand, popular culture, corporate culture and the framework created by legal system effect business environment significantly. This article is to tell you about the cultural dynamics of business environment.

Though the small and conventional businesses such as small markets (bakkal), coffeehouses (kahvehane), boutiques, tailors, shoemakers and confectionaries are still a part of the culture, the

Figure 1. Grand Bazaar - A Unique Example to the Traditional Marketplace
Figure 1. Grand Bazaar - A Unique Example to the Traditional Marketplace
e c u l t u r e , t h e Figure 1. Grand Bazaar

modern industries and sectors including communication, banking, IT, automotive and retailing stand for the significant part of the economy. Turkish GDP is composed of agriculture by 8%, industry by 22% and services by 70%. And a significant portion of companies have a Westernized business culture or global corporate culture and the Turkish legal system is based on civil law and in compliant with the European laws. All these features characterize a familiar business environment for the European and American businesspeople; nevertheless, evaluating Turkish culture with Hofstede’s value dimensions can give more clues. Turks score high on power distance, uncertainty avoidance, and moderate on individualism and masculinity. High power distance shows that the less powerful members of organizations, say employees in a company, accept and expect that the power is distributed unequally, which leads to the acceptance and not questioning the orders by bosses and top management. On the other hand this information is useful in doing business with Turkish businesspeople; making a meeting with the top management is always better than beginning from the first step. High uncertainty avoidance shows that the Turkish business people avoid acting and taking responsibility in uncertain situations and are not tolerant to ambiguity. Moderate score on individualism is probably a result of the combination of the traditional and western culture. Furthermore we can say that Turks are more emotional, high-context and indirect.

that Turks are more emotional, high-context and indirect. Figure 2. Hofstede's Value Dimension for Turkish Culture

Figure 2. Hofstede's Value Dimension for Turkish Culture

Business Practices and Etiquette

One word to describe Turkish culture is ‘colorful’. The modern business environment presents a lot of options; you can do business with an all women managed company, you can have a meeting in the highest skyscraper of Europe and you can taste the traditional Turkish food as well as best Italian, Greek and Asian food. Most of the foreign business people hesitate doing business in Turkey or with Turkish companies, but a meeting with a successful business in the major city Istanbul, will be very similar to the one in New York. Let’s begin with the basics.

Business Attire Business attire in Turkey is conservative compared to the American culture; business people wear suits most of the time and there is almost no exception in a corporation. Similarly, women wear professional outfits. The exceptions can be wearing a shirt with trousers and not wearing tie especially in summer and options can vary regarding the relation with the Turkish party. But, a casual outfit in an executive level meeting or wearing shorts or short skirts will be inconvenient in this conservative business culture.

will be inconvenient in this conservative business culture. Figure 3. Most Prominent Businesspeople of Turkey and

Figure 3. Most Prominent Businesspeople of Turkey and Their General Look

Business hours, holidays The working days are from Monday to Friday, the businesses are closed in weekends, but the retailers, shops and restaurants are open every day of the week. Other than this regular schedule, there are several holidays in Turkey which the businesses across the country stop: January 1st is New Year's Day, August 30th is Victory Day and October 29th is Republic Day. These days are official holidays and it is forbidden for an employer to require its employees work. Islamic holidays will fall on different dates each year due to use of Gregorian calendar instead of Hijri calendar of Islam world. Ramazan (Ramadan) is the month in which all Muslims fast from dawn until dusk. During this month people continue to work, there is no difference in the schedule except the fasting. People who do not fast avoid eating in public and consuming alcoholic beverages in this month. Ramazan ends with the festival known as Ramazan Bayram which is a three days holiday. The other major Islamic festival, Kurban Bayram is a four days holiday. These holidays must be considered prior to schedule a meeting, because whole nation celebrates them.

Meetings First of all when making an appointment for a meeting, begin communicating at least a week prior the desired date. Turks are usually punctual but they are not so well-organized and they make most of the work at ‘last minute’. After the appointment, it can be useful to double check it on the day of the meeting. Turkish business people do not like to make their guest wait, so being on time is important.

When meeting for the first time and if a long term business is planned, building relationship and trust are very important factors. Turkish people are commonly suspicious; before they meet you, they mostly make a research about you and your business. Nevertheless, they care about trusting each other and harmonized partnership. Politeness is an appreciated behavior in Turkish culture like most of the other nations. When meeting with Turkish counterpart, they will be kind and hospitable. A professional attire, smiling, and direct eye contact are preferred when talking with a Turkish business person, which make a good first impression. In addition, taking and giving business cards, more importantly, giving attention to them is assumed as an indicator of respect and care, though this process does not require any specific behavior or rule like giving with two hands or any kind.

In the first meeting giving a small gift will be welcomed by Turkish counterparts; Turkish people like to give and receive gifts. In business environment, these gifts can be small souvenirs or specialties of your own culture. This gift is perceived as a thoughtful and kind manner. Other than this type of small gifts, expensive gifts may perceived as graft; especially bribing government agents is a major crime. Though Turkey can be considered a relatively corrupted country, legal system forbids these types of practices strictly, so attempting it will mostly cause very unwanted results including banning you from making business and even imprisonment.

In the meeting, actually in every type of meeting in Turkey, the head of the family, the chief, leader or president whatever you call, sits top of the table and they prefer the most trusted or reputed people near them. And the counterpart, in business meetings mostly, sits facing him. These rules are not so strict, in a more casual meeting you can simply ask where ever you want to sit and in a more formal meeting you can simply ask where to. Finally, listening carefully, giving the attention, and sitting straight are important in meetings.

Communications and Negotiations Cultural profile and communication styles are factors that influence both general communication and negotiation process. Turkish culture is a high context, indirect and emotion based culture. Surely, leading companies follows a corporate and universal culture, but the dimensions of culture always stays in the core of a person’s character. For a successful negotiation process, trust and relationship is essential in the first place. Bargaining is a part of the culture; bargaining for possible positions are usually welcomed, but bargaining for extreme positions is usually perceived frivolous and disrespectful and can jeopardize the relation. Also, Turkish people are usually suspicious, in addition to or maybe as a result of their indirectness and emotional approaches in businesses. So, a goal oriented, precipitant and direct approach can undesirably impress them out of favor. Other than that, general rules and framework of the negotiations apply; a significant portion of Turkish companies have made business with foreign

counterparts and also the young generation business people are very interested in global environment and very culture sensitive.

Business Food Protocol

When it comes to food, there are unlimited options in Turkey. Food is an important part of the culture, so you will mostly find yourself in a restaurant after the meeting. There are thousands of restaurants from traditional atmosphere to the most luxury and from traditional specialties to Mediterranean, Thai or Japanese.

Following a formal business relationship, the restaurant will be high class; there are several famous restaurants that are especially host business people and their guest. And these types of restaurants have a very large menu including all world cuisines especially, Italian, French and steakhouse. Turkish people likes to host guests and consider it an important issue, so they will most likely present you some options to choose, if you like to experience new tastes, Turkish food is a great option, otherwise no matter where you are from you may find your local foods or similar, just ask for it. On the other hand, in Turkish culture, guests do not choose food or place, host arranges everything, but prior to go to a specific restaurant you may kindly mention your food preferences.

restaurant you may kindly mention your food preferences. Figure 4. Restaurant Located Near the Bosphorus Turkish

Figure 4. Restaurant Located Near the Bosphorus

Turkish people prefer to have breakfast wıth their families, so it will be mostly a business dinner. They prefer to join dinner by themselves without their families. But, if you have a long term relationship, you can join with your family. Families are very important in Turks’ lives, so it can improve your relationship.

The restaurants usually have modern interior with ambient, jazz or classical music playing. If you prefer to live a traditional ambience and experience you may request your desire; Turkish people definitely like to introduce their culture. At the restaurant, you will find everything familiar; all restaurants have tables and chairs, guests are leaded to their table by the waiters, you choose your food from the menu, beginning from appetizers, continuing with entrée and deserts (finalizing with Turkish coffee). In the restaurant you may sit next to the leader or boss to build a closer relationship. Dinners are always more casual than meetings, and it is a great way to know each other better. It is welcomed to drink alcoholic beverages in a business meeting, unless you are doing business with religious part of the community. Some

people in Turkey do not consume alcohol due to religious prohibitions. Your Turkish counterparts request you to drink wine or other alcoholic beverages if they consume them; otherwise they prefer other non-alcoholic beverages. And if you are with those with strict religious view, drinking alcohol in spite of them is mostly unwelcomed. As a result, only toasting is possible if you are with ‘alcohol consumers’, and first toasting starts with the host’s request. After that, you can toast for something, but remember, drinking too much and getting drunk is highly unwelcomed in a business environment. If you like strong drinks and want to try something new, you may want to try Turkish Raki which is a traditional alcoholic beverage made from anise. In addition, smoking is forbidden in any kind of closed space including all restaurants, though smoking is a common habit in Turkey .So if you want to smoke, you can ask for the proper place and it will be totally welcomed.

Figure 5. Toasting Turkish Raki
Figure 5. Toasting Turkish Raki
it will be totally welcomed. Figure 5. Toasting Turkish Raki And a last point; at restaurants

And a last point; at restaurants the host always pays the check. This is almost a common rule in Turkish culture, you may try to request to pay, and they kindly thank to you and reject your offer. On the other side, when you host them in your country they may expect the same manner from you.

In conclusion, Turkish culture is a unique and rich one which gives several options and presents new experiences. The business environment and legal system is very Westernized and adjusted with European systems. And there is a large area in the culture that has universal norms and values and the companies with international operations are mostly operating on corporate culture. In fact, this is a significant advantage for doing business in Turkey; you may find the very familiar, global business environment with many cultural touches and it will be truly enjoyable.

Onur SAKA 9/5/11, Los Angeles