Turkey is a large country situated at the crossroads between Europe and Asia. Its geographic position between these continents has exposed Turkish society to both Eastern and Western influences – from the Eastern Mediterranean and Eastern Europe to Central Asia and the Caucasus. As a result, the culture hosts unique blends of both traditional and modern conventions as well as religious and secular practices. Indeed, Turks continue to negotiate their identity as some of the most secular people in the Islamic world.
The Turkish population has become increasingly urbanized, with the majority of people (75.1%) living in industrialized metropolitan areas. This has influenced a shift towards more cosmopolitan lifestyles. For example, it is now far more common for urban Turks to have dinner at a dining table, as opposed to a traditional floor table. Major cities, such as Istanbul and Ankara, are typically very modern and multicultural. However, many classic Turkish institutions remain very popular. For instance, local bazaars continue to be the main trading centers instead of shopping centers.
Traditional cultural practices continue to be observed in many rural areas – particularly in the Eastern regions and along the border with Syria and Iraq. Rural populations often occupy the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder and have less access to education and infrastructure. As a broad generalization, the further one moves east towards Central, Eastern, and Southeast Anatolia, the more traditional and Islamic the culture becomes.
Turkish men have increasingly adopted the styles and somber colors of European male dress. Fezzes and turbans were abolished by law in 1925, and most peasants now wear cloth caps. The famous Turkish baggy trousers, exceedingly full in the seat, are still quite common in rural areas and among the poorer town dwellers, but the traditional cummerbund and colorful shift or waistcoat are rare. Village women still largely preserve traditional attire. They wear some locally customary combination of baggy trousers, skirts, and aprons. In many areas it is still possible to identify a woman’s town or village and her marital status by her dress; village women in Turkey have never worn a veil, but they have traditionally covered their heads and mouths with a large scarf. This practice has been revived among the more devout urban women, though the scarf is often combined with Western dress.
In rural areas, each season has different tasks and activities. Except in the south and west, winter is a period of frost, snow, and social activities. Animals are often kept indoors and fed mainly chopped straw. With the spring thaw, plowing and sowing are soon underway. After a month or so of less-urgent work, the hay harvest is followed immediately by the main grain harvest, a period of intense activity lasting some six to eight weeks; everyone works, some people 16 to 20 hours a day. Most village areas contain weavers, masons, carpenters, and smiths such as tinsmiths. Some villagers go to town for craft services, and several craftsmen travel around the villages—particularly specialists, such as sieve makers or sawyers.
Most towns, large and small, nevertheless still contain markets where simple lockup shops stand side by side in rows. Usually, these are arranged by craft or wares—coppersmiths, jewelers, cobblers, tailors, motor mechanics, and so on. Retailers also are grouped by commodity. The larger towns have become increasingly westernized, with modern factories, offices, and shops. Large-scale commuting from sprawling suburban areas is typical of major cities, where it produces traffic congestion, air pollution, and strains on public transportation.