Understanding Turkey: Lack of interpersonal trust

It was one of those normal evenings during my last months in Turkey. I was laying on the couch after dinner, surfing the internet. I was basically just cruising around, went to some website here, looked up some statistics there, went back to Google, found something, went back, clicked on a link again. And then, suddenly, I was looking at some numbers that made all my scattered understanding of Turkey come together…. What was before my eyes, explained it all. There it was, in black and white… This graph:

Interpersonal trust - OECD - percentage of people expressing high level of trust in others

The graph shows the percentage of people in the OECD countries expressing high level of trust in others. As you see, Turkey is at the bottom of the list. Only 24 percent of the Turkish people in the survey highly trusted their fellow citizens. Compare that to the Scandinavian countries, where almost everyone seem to trust one and other.

But this is only the OECD countries, I thought… what about the rest of the world?

As I continued to search the internet for other surveys relating to interpersonal trust, I found this world map, and by then I was sure…

Interpersonal trust World map

…Turkey has a huge problem with trust,  may it or may it not be for good reasons. Even compared to other places in the entire world, Turkey sticks out as a country in which people’s trust of each other is surprisingly low.  To me, it does not only explain something about peculiarities in it’s society, but it also predicts future problems, not the least relating to economic development.

Lack of interpersonal trust and its consequences

In one way you can say that the foundation of any society is built on trust. To be able to do business with someone, you need to be able to trust that person. The whole capitalistic system in terms of specialization rather then self-sufficieny, is based on trust between individuals. So, what happens in a society with low interpersonal trust?

Well, you can see all the signs in Turkey…

  • Where does the extreme social culture come from? – a way to be sure where you have other people?
  • The love for the family – are they maybe the only one you can trust?
  • A tendency for jealousy – everywhere there is threats to both love and friendships

And in business and politics?

  • Shortsightedness – While you’re in power grab as much you can, feed only yourself
  • Widespread nepotism and corruption – same as above
  • Why is Erdogan personally involved in everything? – he doesn’t trust anyone else

And of course, the lack of trust easily becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The situation becomes much like the prisoners dilemma, a vicious cycle hard to break free from, like this:

I know that you will cheat me, so I better cheat you first!

For Turkey to become an advanced economy, lack of trust is not a good thing. The interpersonal trust issue will increasingly become a hinder for economic growth and development. Where there is no trust, the transaction costs are high and a nepotistic society quite effectively makes sure that niether the best individual nor the most suiting company gets the job or the contract.

And maybe not even the love within the family isn’t that great after all? There is a Turkish expression saying, Babana bile güvenme! 

It translates: Don’t even trust your father!





  1. I suspect you’d find economists and sociologists have for along time viewed this phenomena as related to the Rule of Law. For a middle class to develop economically there has to be judiciary system that they can be relied on, in terms of contract enforcement and everything that then flows from that. Investment and planning become useful exercises and you can rationally get away from the impulsive opportunism that now seems to dominate business. With an empowered middle class you can hope for a government to serve them: at some point this too becomes a problem, but at least its a step up.

    So yeah, it’s Trust. The interesting question here is Why? The culture strikes me as a bit hidebound in traditionalism (although it could be FAR worse) and hence there’s a certain complacency. I took note of your earlier post about how you missed the signs in Tunisia and didn’t want to be caught again by some incipient People’s Revolution. But I do wonder how deep the tolerance of mediocrity goes, given Turkey’s history.

    1. Hi! Yes, interpersonal trust has been widely studied, but is in my opinion used too little in the analysis of political and development economics phenomenon. For Turkey, as I wrote, I think that the distrust is the key If one wants a deeper understanding of the culture and not the least the recent political developments.

      And how deep does the tolerance of mediocrity goes?

      From my point of view it goes as deep as the mistrust to “the others” in the Turkish society. The reason why people vote on Erdogan, despite corruption and lack of democratic reforms, is because they think it is better to have a “brother”, an “abi”, ruling the country, than anyone without their conservative background. They don’t trust an “elite guy”. Look at it as a form of nepotism on a national scale. They want Erdogan because he is most similar to them, not because he is the most competent and best leader for Turkey. Voting for CHP, would naturally be impossible for most conservatives….

      1. OK. Now take your thinking and assume there is a judiciary, well-developed and strong enough to withstand someone like Recep Bey. Since there isn’t, what I observed after the recent elections was the smart graduates in their twenties preparing to vote again, only with their feet. And unlike the great unwashed now washing-up on the shores of Italy, I see these folks doing just fine in Europe or the US. Whatever they have to go through, they know the alternative is, to put it simply, legally unmanageable (meaning totally arbitrary and unmanageable).

        Said’s definition of The Others and its power goes deep, and lacking some bulwark to the contrary, a matter of practicality. Natural selection has led to a natural affinity for those “like” us (the basis for “liking,” after all), and when it goes to developing relationships, it’s the key to success, if not survival. It’s why advertisers around the world choose celebrities to sell butter or what have you, but with the ROL reliance on primordial relationships isn’t so critical, don’t you think?

      2. I wish you talked about the data behind the OECD analysis. It is very misleading to get a graphic and judge people accordingly. Trust between interpersonal circles and politics are totally different.
        Political mistrust has nothing to do with interpersonal or cultural mistrust. I am not an expert in this topic but I do know Turkey, its people and culture as one of them also as a researcher.

        Turkish people do not trust politicians that is correct. But you need to look at the political history of Turkey since 1950 to understand it. Political mistrust in Turkey is learned through politicians who didn’t hold to their promises and served as puppets to their supporter outside of the country. I will let you research and understand it better. Electing erdogan as one of us has other reasons beyond trust. He was untested new blood in Turkish politics and made his reputation as mayor of Istanbul and run the city successfully. People took that as a good manager to elect., but didn’t think about the difference between a good manager and good leader. Electing one of us phenomena is world wide phenomena and takes its highest form in the U.S. Didn’t American people elected Bush as president because he was “one of us” and he took us to wars where many many “one of us” died ? Didn’t Sarah Pelin rise to be a wise presidential candidate and leader of Tea Party with no knowledge and political experience because she was “one of us” ? Using this phenomena only, we can conclude U. S. Is a country that has no trust. United States still has many many people who do not use bank accounts and credit cards because they do not have any trust.

        Why are the professions of lawyers and pshchologist make more money in the U.S. than any country in the world? Because American people do not trust anyone to do business or any friends to talk about thier problems. That is cultural mistrust.

        If you didn’t hear about “balkal defteri – note book of corner store” idea in Turkey please check it out. To this day even in Istanbul , large metropolitan area, you can go to your corner store buy what you need and tell the owner to write it in the book and you pay monthly or when you get your paycheck. Store owner trusts that his client will pay when he has the money, client trusts that store owner will not fool him by adding to the purchases. This is trust! Trust is based on strong cultural relationships traditional and Turkish people has it.

        I would appreciate if you research your data and the topic you are writing thoroughly before you reach conclusions.

      3. All political parties in turkey want the same thing. To enter europe, to do natos bidding, and to continue americas foreign policy in the middle east.

        Turning turkey “progressive” or “liberal” will fix nothing.

        There are serious problems with the usa and nato dictating what is pretty much the west’s guy in turkey, and that is erdogan.

        But regardless of who gets the power, youd be trading a nato/usa prostitute with another. Turkey lost its independence in the name of western intersst, and with the recent events (not necessarily the plane shoy down, the whole quagmire in syria) prove it. Not a single turk would support the covert actions of nato, yet they still believe voting themselves out of their current situation will save them, whether it be erdog, chp, mhp and other.

        Here in france, i do not see any more trust anong people than i did in turkey. People in turkey mistrust their politicians more than in france, but it seems like turks dont realize that they wont vote themselves out of their troubles. Both the east and the west has an interest in turkey for its geographic location in the world and what it implies.

        I do not trust an elite guy. I will trust a honeless over an elite guy any day of the week. Elite people know nothing of the challenges of the people. Erdog is an elite guy. No one needs some politicians with dreamy unrealistic prograns like 100% free university or other. But its what we all want regardless of country.

        View at Medium.com

  2. Düsünceme göre Türkiye’deki sorun biraz daha karmasik.
    Türklerin birbirlerine güvenmemelerinin baslica üc temel sebebi var. Birincisi ülkede “hukuk” olarak nitelenebilecek bir seyin olmamasi, yani kisaca suc-ceza iliskisinin insanlari tatmin etmekten isik yili uzak bir durumda olmasi.
    Ikinci sebep , ilkine bagli olarak siyasilerin ve onlarin sacayaklarinin onyillardir süregelen ve cezalandirilmayan hirsizliklari ve dolayisiyla kemiklesmis olan “Calanin yanina kalir inanci “.
    Ücuncusu ve sonuncusu da “Türkiye ” olarak anilan bu ülkenin bir irksal homojenlik arzetmemesi. Alman, Japon, Ingiliz, Finlandiyali dediginiz zaman gözünüzün önüne gelen fizyonomi burada bu sebepten mevcut degil. Ülkedeki herkes kendini bir alt gurupta tanimlar : Selanik göcmeni, Karadenizli, Cerkez, Laz, Abaza vs. Bunun olmadigi yerde “hemserilik” kavrami devreye girer. Amerika’da, Almanya’da bir Kansaslilar dernegi, Düsseldorflular dernegi göremezsiniz, ama Türkiye’de bu vardir.

    Bu üc sebebin disinda bir de islam dininden gelen, diger inanclari düsman gibi görme patolojisi buna eklenir ve genel bir “Sevgisizlik ortami” dogurur.

    Belki de en kötüsü budur . Türkiye’de insanlar birbirlerini sevmezler. Bu özellikle Istanbul gibi homojenlikten uzak bir sehirde zirve yapar. Her gün sokaklarda sudan sebepler ile insanlar birbirlerini bogazlama noktasina gelir.

    Sonuc olarak, bu tür bir patolojik altyapi ile bu ülkenin önümüzdeki 50 yili görmesi mümkün degildir. Eninde sonunda parcalanip, tamamen yokolacak ve tarih sahnesinden silinecektir.

    1. Ülkesini bölünmeye layık gören& birisini buraya layık görmüyorum, bana düşmez belki ama siz varın övündüğünüz yerlerde yaşayın burası size fazla gelir.

      1. Yazılanı düzgün okursanız eğer bir “bölünmeye layık görme” değil, bir tahmindir orada Bora kullanıcısı tarafından söylenen.

    2. Mükemmel bir analiz. Gerçekten de sosyolojik olarak hiçbir benzerliği olmayan birsürü topluluk savaşlar, kıtlıklar ve teokratik stratejiler sonucu Türkiye’de mahsur kalmıştır ve toplumun bir ortak değeri olmadığı açıktır.

    3. What you wrote above is just a hate speech, if not a prophecy. I believe you should articulate your thoughts in a more scientific ways and with statistical means. (p.s US is not the most appropriate country to compare Turkey with due to historical and demographic reasons)

      1. Hi Orhan! What part of it is hate speech? These numbers representing interpersonal trust is not something that I made up. They come from statistical surveys in different countries of the entire word (not just US). Look at them again!

  3. Very interesting find Ola. I can’t say these results surprise me. I would observe though that there is a strange contrast in this trust issue. I have lived in Turkey & the UK and travelled around some of these more “trusting” countries. I think many people would agree that Turkish people are friendly and hospitable. They are much more likely to talk to strangers and help them. In a lot of European countries (maybe I should base this more on the UK as it’s where I’ve lived but I’m not writing an academic paper or article here so never mind), people are much more private, avoid talking to strangers and generally take much longer to get to know. I would then conclude that in this context Turks are much more trusting than the Northern Europeans who seem to appear more trusting in the survey. I don’t know that I’m necessarily disagreeing with you but perhaps the issue is not trust but something else?

    1. Trust (in the context the author uses it) and friendliness (in the context you are using it) are not the same thing at all. People are very hospitable and friendly which means very little until you do business with them and that’s where trust enters into it. Reread the article.

      1. Absolutetly right, and I think that the two phenomenons are even related. I will develop my thoughts on this in a second blogpost on interpersonal trust to be released in some days!

      2. WB, You should read Bennur’s comment up above Can’s.. She explains very well the trust of Turkish ppl with the ‘notebook of corner store’ example. This notebook is also found at the Sali pazari, weekly ‘farmer’s market’. Salesmen wholeheartedly trusting his neighbors will pay him back will let you take produce/bedsheets/etc to pay remaining balance next two weeks. If she doesn’t pay then he trusts that Allah will help. This is a major miss of the culture in this article. You would only know this if you are part of this circle of trust. To be part of it, all you have to do is simply ask. You will not meet a Turkish person who will turn you away. Trust me.

      3. Hi WB, I reread the article like you suggested. I don’t think I misunderstood what was being said. I’m not claiming that trust and friendliness are the same thing. I completely agree that in Turkey, when it comes to business & politics, people are much more hesitant to trust because there are too many people who don’t value integrity in these contexts. If you look at things relationally though, people will become your friends and invite you to their homes etc. much more easily. Why would you do these things if there wasn’t trust? If you are generally suspicious of people you wouldn’t be friendly. People in Turkey are much quicker to trust in a relational context than in many of the other OECD countries. I am merely pointing out the interesting contrast that you have a society that on one hand is very trusting relationally but on the other hand is unwilling to trust in business & politics.

    2. Trust between “fellow” poeple of a society and being friendly or hospitability is different in this context.

      I just want to raise another point of view. I really don’t remember where I have read that, maybe in Guns, Jerms and Steel. People tend to ask your hometown when you and the other “one” have to stay together for a long time. Turks will understand this, just remember your intercity coach travels. The old guy/maam sitting beside you always asks your hometown for the second or third question to you. It was said, – in ancient times before agricultural revolution and so on when people lived in clan formations – blood tie had been the only reason not to kill the other. So, asking your hometown, in fact, is an attempt to get to know you, and an attempt to establish a relation and feel safe.

      As (other) Bora has stated above, micro nationalism and citizenshipness (probably this term is weird for people who is not a Turk) is everywhere you look in Turkey. Because, we, Turks, still leave in the feudalism age. We may have iphones, BMWs, a somewhat democratic country, a strong army (I don’t know if she still is), steel factories, universities etc. whatever a modern country has in sight, but we are not an industriliazed country.

      Personally, I define industrilization as a state/level of culture and that begins with Newton’s Principia for the western world. Because, Principia ripped off the Bible, which was the base argument for both the supremacy (lordship) and defining the World. Then, the renosaince and reform had their effect, at least on aristocrats and bourgeois ending with French Revolution. For the first time in history, some ordinary people came along and claimed rights over regime without an argument of religion. This was the begining of the secularism!

      Just think, if there weren’t Principia, which had put Bible obsolete, the king would have told them that they wouldn’t rule while they were not chosen/assigned by God. Bourgeois and intelligentsia of the time did know that Bible was obsolete, thus the claim of the aristocrats over ruling was not a valid argument.

      Anyway, this historical process went on with rationalism, then, industrial revolution. Through industrial age, people fought each other with bare hands. Think of an ordinary UK citizen, probably his/her grand grand grand grand dad was killed by strikebreaker or a cop. However, another UK citizen’s grand grand grand dad was an employer who came to terms with his workers at the end of the industrial age. And, this “fighting” is not the only thing, think about working hours, living conditions, occupational diseases and risks. It seems as if, the society signed a social contract at the end of the industrial age.

      On the other hand, we have to consider the lycee education, which was an output of industrilization which emerged from the need of skilled labor, also had an effect of spreading the words of Newton over Bible.

      Then came the World Wars, the first and the second, where each western society sealed the contract again.

      On the contrary, Turkey never had an industrilization era. Kemalist movement was an attempt to fullfill this deficiency, putting the cultural aspects in the front (please refer to the definition of Kemalism by Ahmet Taner Kışlalı, where he says Kemalism is a national ideology which emerges with an independence war of an undeveloped country against developed countries).

      A considerable amount of people still believe in Quran where this belief also defines their world, existence. Newton laws or quantum theory is not an issue for them, so they are fatalists, tend to act irrational while they didn’t walk through a rationalism era. And, we can clearly define that Turkish people is not secular in fact. To make the story short, while Turkey is not industrialized,she must be in the previous era.

      So… Why would you trust others?

      In the western world, people lived stages of social “break throughs” which ended with a social contract and which rises on secularism. That historical process began with Newton and ended with WWII.

      So… Why would you trust others if you are a Turk?

      You don’t have a social contract, you don’t have basic social rules (and probably functions) between people and social groups to sustain a modern life, you don’t have bad memories of dark days like the ones in industrial age which will make you hold on to social contract.

      You are not secular, you are not industrialized. Then, you cannot trust others.

    3. Could be. But at least in some german papers and in the Spiegel there has been interviews with turks who has moved home. And most of them express the opinion, that one of the things they miss most is at that business partners are trustworthy : doing the work on time, no cheating with the way it’s done, no blackmailing = doing half the work and demand more money and so on.

  4. Agree with Bora’s excellent first and third reasons…lack of deep legal structures with fair outcomes guaranteed must be a major source of Turkey’s problems. Lack of confidence in the legal system has always been strong and presumably got stronger recently. Not so sure about his second reason, ethnic heterogeneity. Western European countries and the US are very heterogenous too. Economic and power inequalities must surely be part of the problem.
    But looks to me that without representative political structures, ability of the individual to participate, the situation has got a lot worse since 2002—a scramble for cash everywhere. Perhaps in societies where the differences between losers and winners are less extreme, there is less of a zero-sum mindset?

    1. Hi! But why the lack of deep legal structures to begin with? I will develop my thoughts on this in a second blogpost to be released in some days! Thanks for commenting. This is an interesting subject!

  5. I know it wasn’t a question of friendliness, but anecdotally (and I stress the “anecdotally”), I find that people here (compared to Americans) are more trusting and trustworthy on some levels but not on others, particularly in terms of cash theft. For example, I think people here (and by “here” I mean Istanbul– I’ve not lived anywhere else in Turkey) are less likely to steal from you in ways that a lot of Americans will more likely steal, given half a chance. If a shopkeeper accidentally shortchanges you, he/she is more likely to chase you down the street and give you your money. People give you money you’ve dropped, or dropped wallets, things like that (Americans do too, but when it happens there, it’s noteworthy). The system of passing money around the dolmuş would never work in an American big city because there would always be someone pocketing the cash if it were really crowded and he/she could get away with it. People here are also a lot more comfortable with the “I’ll pay you later” system, even if it’s with people they don’t know well or perhaps have never even met before. But I guess that’s kind of just one thing.

    I would like to know how “trust” was defined in the study.

    As for Bora’s point about trust decreasing with ethnic and racial heterogeneity, I’ll bet levels of trust are lower in the US’s and UK’s big cities, where the populations are more heterogeneous. That 49% covers quite a large area…

    1. Hi! I think you have to separate between actual criminality and perceived feeling of trust in other. Just because there are no crimes, does not mean that people trust in each other. I will develop my thoughts in response to your thoughts in a second blog post in a couple of days. Thanks for commenting and stay tuned!

  6. Lack of trust in the judiciary system is the bottom of the problem. People may never trust each other, and that is fine as long as there is a sound premise they can stand and walk on.

  7. Much as I appreciate your efforts to understand what’s going on in Turkey, I believe one shouldn’t disregard various factors that brought the country to this point and go beyond a descriptive analysis into a critical one. Why do people mistrust each other in Turkey? Well, this only normal due to the seeds of animosity that have been systematically cultivated deep inside the essence of the cultural bonds within the country. This is not peculiar to Turkey of course. Being a Middle-Eastern country, Turkey has been subject to conspirative political and economic arrangements since the end of WW2. Therefore, accusing a people of mutual mistrust is not the right approach in my view.

    1. You are so right! I am not saying that there are not valid reasons for Turks to engage in mistrust because of the country’s history. But it is all about breaking a vicious circle… the question is how? Politicians must realise this problem and try to unite instead of separate!

  8. Great article. Especially your emphasis on the link between interpersonal trust & economic/institutional development is quite valid.

    The main question is whether we can break the vicious cycle “I know that you will cheat me, so I better cheat you first”. As our people can be very innovative in deceiving even the people closest to them, I find it very difficult to trust someone myself.

    I guess the first step is to take initiative in trusting others. That is, if you think you can (psychologically/fiscally) handle to an extent the experience of finding out you’re being cheated, you can start counting on the most trustworthy people around you.

    Then if you really trust and start to count on the five most trustworthy people around you (among tens or hundreds of people you know) and only one of them cheat at some point, you’ll have a cheating rate of 20%; which most people can probably handle due to the gains from the relationships developed with the other four.

    Two problems might appear:

    1-If you can’t find anyone to trust for your specific purpose (business, friendships, relationships, etc.), try to widen your network through your like-minded friends.

    2-If you don’t know who to trust, try to complement your gut feeling with the opinions of your family & friends. Referring to their feelings will makes life easier.

  9. I would say your analysis is right on, take a look at also at the rates of conspiracy theory beliefs among the Turks. Conspiracy theories are also more common in polities where there is a lack of trust. Thank you for this piece, I will share it and refer to it.

    1. Thanks for commenting! Good point with the conspiracy theories! Where I come from, Sweden, such are almost not prevalent at all! I will take that into account in my second blogpost on the subject, to be released in some days! Thanks again!

      1. we know full well that in sweden, the swedes are incapable of formulating a personal opinion on anything. They are there just to suffer the government’s choices. Case in point try formulating a critique of mass immigration in sweden.

  10. Hi all! Thank you so much for all the critique, feedback and positive comments! I just want to let you know that I am reading everything you write here, and will gather my response in a second blog post on the subject. This is such a vast subject, and I feel that it is a better way to respond.
    Keep on commenting your thoughts and stay tuned for my response in some days! / Best regards, Ola

  11. i worked in Turkey and what you said makes me feel better , i thought that there was something i couldn’t understand . i have never felt comfortable there and no matter how faithful i was , they have never trusted me yet they wanted me to trust them; it was so complicated , hard times. ,00000and jealousy in Turkey… oh my god no matter what they have and even if you have so little ; they feel so insecure because of the little you have.

    1. Interesting that you say this! For me, it was first when I realised this trust-issue, that things fell into place, and I felt I could read and understand the culture and some peoples actions, that before did not make any sense to me!

    2. I am Turkish and I agree on your judgement about jealousy in Turkey. It is true that Turkish people are very jealous. Like you said even if they have almost everything; money, family, love, career, they can still jealous of you if you achieve something in life, even a small thing. I think Turkish people have very low self-esteem and this causes jealousy. And also this is related with trust. If you have low self-esteem, you cannot trust other people because you always feel yourself under threat because of you believe that other people are better than you.

      1. yes, 2 years i spent there and only people who go to the same mosque and know themselves for long time trust eachother. It’s a very dangerous place. For example my neigbour went to supermarket by car. He left his wife in a car. When he came back there was no car and no wife. After 2 weeks the wife was found with the car. She was alive. As it turned out 5 man took her and the car. You can imagine what they were doing with her for this time. I described only one situation but there are more like this. You can get also killed by no reason. So I was shocked when I saw this interpersonal trust. If it describes the trust between man and his wife or brother I can agree with it. But not if it presents trust between two strangers.

      2. Very, very scary story… sorry to hear! Well, I wouldn’t know much more than that Saudi Arabia is a much richer and more homogenous country than many other in the Middle East. That would increase trust, not to mention the extremely severe punishments for illegalities…

  12. “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”
    Instead of making assumptions on Turks, try questioning the system. The western capitalist system is based on mistrust. Turkey has not been successful in adopting it, and Turks are just not good at mistrust. Relationships start with trust here, and the system is not as alligned as in the West to pick up the pieces after a fall-out when people are trying to adopt the system.

    1. Thanks for commenting. This is not assumptions… it is the turks themselves that say they do not trust their fellow citizens. About the other question, west compared to Turkey, I will make clarification in a second blog post on the subject. Stay tuned!

      1. Don’t be surprised by this rebuttal. A common high handed approach in Turkey when faced with criticism of a politician is reciting this mantra.

        And most of the time, it’s used to subvert the discussion when an otherwise indefensible position is stubbornly adhered to. Intellectual dishonesty at its finest.

  13. Very interesting article and comments. Especially I find Bora’s comments (which he wrote in Turkish) quite reasonable. But beyond these reasons for the lack of trust between people, I think there are more underlying things which I would like to understand.

    In Turkey, we lost not only the trust but also the respect between people. It changed a lot during the last 40-50 years. Many people don’t have tolerance to “others” anymore. You can’t expect trust between people when they have no respect, love and even tolerance to each other.

    For me one important reason to all of these is the education system in Turkey. Beginning from the first years of school life people are forced to compete with others all through their life. Children are expected to get the higher grades, grown ups are expected to get a university degree and get high salary jobs. This is not a simple thing when you feel the pressure to be the best and beat the others from the beginning of your life. People around you always compare you with the others. This is not healthy. This leads to jealousy, lack of respect and love to others.

    So in addition to all the reasons written in the article and comments, I think it’s worth to look at the details of how a child becomes a grown up in Turkey.

  14. What a load of bollocks that! Never mind all that sociowhatever mumbo jumbo, why you are so much interested in our domestic peace is another question that should be asked and replied to. You are not Turkish, nor a citizen of Turkey, why do you frickin’ care? This is none of your business. That’s how we live and we are not going to live our lives according to some internet chart. Hit the road, dude. Sod off.

      1. What part of “it’s none of your fucking business how we handle our peer-to-peer affairs over here, just piss off and mind your own nation’s affairs” don’t you understand? It is as elaborate as it can get to me.

    1. What a perfect example of suspicious, distrustful mind you are. The article and your comments leave no room for further comment for our society.

    2. Ha, ha. But what about us who have to live with turks in our home country. It’s hard to learn them to behave.

  15. I do agree with the post, I am a Turk who lives abroad but have lived over 15 years in Turkey. It is hard to accept but there is a huge trust issue. But when that trust is established you don’t need the hideous procedures you have in western countries. However, establishing the trust takes very long and usually near impossible.
    I think the main reason behind people not trusting each other in Turkey is because some of unacceptable are actually acceptable in Turkey.
    For example, taking advantages of somebody else is widely acceptable. It doesn’t matter if that will put that person in an uncomfortable situation as long as they have a gain from the situation it is totally fine, someone lost is others win. I believe that is connected to the way people are educated in their childhood, sharing and truest to each other are not widely thought in primary school or emphased.

  16. finally, my argument has been quantified. this is so evident in turkey, from traffic to politics (esp., in the minor left-leaning parties which keep fighting with each other rather than cooperating).
    what’s strange for me was the link between the trust index and football. the two countries I really enjoyed to watch in the world cup are chile and mexico. you may say it’s just a coincidence but it’s about the style of football they play. both countries play with a high motivation and enthusiasm, compared to the ‘calm’ style of most european teams. turkey played the same way in their most recent cup (in 2008 european championship). and these are the three countries at the bottom of the trust index. I’m not sure how this has something to do with the trust index, but it may not be a coincidence.

    1. Bull’s eye! Very very good point of view.

      I have explained my hypothesis above. Simply, it’s all about the historical process of industrilization and secularism. Nations can settle a modern social contract only if they have gone through that process.

      It does begin with Newton’s Principia, however, there is another milestone: Discourse on the Method by Descartes.

      Please take a look at all those countries you have just mentioned. They donot have a sustainable system in any case other than religion.

      And, on the other hand, I want to raise another point for method, however it will be in Turkish. Corruption has always been an issue in Turkey (just like in Chle and Mexico). The translation of corruption in Turkish is “yolsuzluk”, which can be separated as “yol – suz – luk”, where the root word is yol, meaning “road, path” in English. But, “yol” also means “method”.

      So, when we get back to English content, it is clear that corruption is also being/getting out of method where the method is for the goodwill of the society. This, again, takes us back to industrialization process.

      All those nations, in fact, are not modern nations which arose with the historical process of Newton > Secularism > French Revolution > Nationalism > Rationalism > Industrialization > the spread of Principia/secular thought over low classes through lycee education. Those nations are still living in feudal age in means of social culture.

      1. in france, corruption is legalized. You keep talking about turkey and the “”””religion”””” as if it were the source of the problems. It runs deeper than that but it’s easier to find the low hanging boogeyman for the sake of the “secular” argument.

  17. You got it all wrong mate. Saying and doing are two different things. When you ask a Turk or Greek they’d say they don’t trust other people because it is considered to be a smart thing in their culture. But in reality you could be invited to a Turk’s, Italian’s, Mexican’s house the same day you met them. The list is so wrong that you can read it upside down and it’d be more accurate.

    1. copying WB’s comment above:
      “Trust (in the context the author uses it) and friendliness (in the context you are using it) are not the same thing at all. People are very hospitable and friendly which means very little until you do business with them and that’s where trust enters into it. Reread the article.”
      and if you read all the comments above, you will find some observations from both insiders and outsiders backing the index data. also, the number of unpaid bonds-senet that go to the court every year may give you some idea. just 10 years ago, checks and bonds were valid means of payment. now, checks have become extinct because of misuse and bonds aren’t accepted by most people.

  18. It’ll be interesting to read your “take 2”. You may want to mull over your essential sense of Turkish culture in light of Hofstede’s research. Here’s a starting place if you don’t know it:


    Having not looked up where Turkey fits into his framework, which would be easy enough to look up with a little more time, I’d guess it fits pretty strongly on the collectivist scale. And in many other ways it seems quite different from the Anglo-Saxon community. AND, to the extent that I just do not see Trust, per se, as the problem (if we want to go so far as to call it that.)

    I rather think this is pretty highly socialized and homogenized culture, what with all that time under Ottoman rule, where the malcontents may’ve found it easier to simply leave, allowing the gene pool to further stagnate. I’m not going to go down the eugenics road here, but most people will accept the premise that Turkey’s is FAR less diluted than some others (certainly the USA) and that, if anything, their people are more prone to be trusting than less as a reflection of their nature (based on consistent anecdotal observations).

    But, when we get into things of any significance, there is a marked inability/reluctance to commit wholesomely, arguably due to a lack of trust, but I think it’s really something else if you look closer. Like I said, I’ll stay tuned.

  19. Interesting piece, and having read a bit of the comments, I think the perspective may be a little too narrow. Maybe it is a deeper matter of cultural transition?

    After the Ottoman Empire collapsed in the 1910s, which had no strong middle-class to speak of, all its successors tried to “modernize” themselves by adapting to the then (and now) dominant Western middle-class culture. However, this culture had developed in the West over a few centuries, but in Turkey this culture was pretty much forced top-down in about a decade. (Although this may sound derogatory, I don’t see a historically better alternative, and I’m also happy that it happened.) It still seems to me like this new middle-class culture hasn’t settled down and fused completely with the ancient traditional culture it came on top of, yet. I think Turkey has been in a state of, rather volatile, cultural transition for about a century now, ever since Atatürk’s reforms/revolution(s). Trust and friendliness is existant in Turkey well enough, but this new middle-class culture of doing business and managing the society (politics) hasn’t really been fully “digested” yet by the extant culture. Maybe this is a useful perspective to approach the matter from?

    PS: I’m pretty much ignorant about the links between cultural transition, economics, historical development and trust etc. All these thoughts are off the top of my head. So forgive if any of this sounds absurd; you get what I mean…

    1. I think this is a key part of what we see. The best & brightest leave for schooling, etc, often returning with exposures to what may be the very best of Western best-practices (whose putative superiority becomes another subject). But let’s stipulate that exposure as a model: it is just too much to expect the country/culture as a whole to change, even in a generation. Give it 2 or 3…. assuming no backsliding! Having a relatively collectivist culture, I cannot help but agree with another commentator that if looked at more carefully the people may actually be MORE trusting, especially with their proven relationships, to offset a setting which otherwise offers relatively little predictability. Again and again, people have stressed to me how important their family and friends are to negotiating life, in everything from having a good Doctor to handling routine administrative matters with the government. It comes back to the strength of institutions, and Rule of Law considered in the larger sense, both formal and informal. I would submit the legal system is the key to Turkey’s progress, and to what degree it will be able to support modernity in one form or another. A deficit of personal psychological trust, if that is indeed what is responsible for those statistics, wouldn’t necessarily even be involved when it comes to matters of overall social behavior.

  20. Hey, here’s a cool application of Hofstede’s work where you can used drop-down menus to compare/contrast countries. I put Turkey next to the USA and Germany and it made some dramatic contrasts. It helps to get oriented to Hofstede’s work, but this site does that in a somewhat simplified form.


  21. Güven endeksinin nasıl oluşturulduğu hakkında fikrim yok ancak bu endekse yapılan yorumlar da kişisel gözlem ve deneyimlere dayalı olup bütünsel bir olguya dayanmıyor. Güven konusu irdelenirken kişiler arası güvenden, kurumlara olan güvene hatta kendine güvene kadar her boyut orasından burasından tutularak zaman ve mekandan bağımsız olarak yorumlanmış. Toplumsal bir analiz yapılacağı zaman o topumun genel yapısı ortaya konup ona göre analiz yapılmalıdır. Türk toplumu (Türkiye’de yaşayan tüm halkları kapsayarak bu terimi kullanıyorum) genel itibarı ile Ortadoğulu toplum yapısı özellikleri gösterir. Bu yapının en büyük özelliklerinden biri hiyerarşik yapının yani dikey toplum yapısının bariz olarak öne çıkmasıdır. Bu toplumlarda statü, para, mevki oldukça önemlidir. Örnek olarak okulun hademesi Ahmet efendi olarak anılırken müdürü Ahmet bey olarak anılır. Ahmet bey ile tanış olmak önemlidir. Çocuğunun mesleği veya mevkii aile için övünç kaynağıdır.
    İçerikten çok şekil ön plana çıkar. Bu yüzden nasıl giyindiğiniz nerede tatil yaptığınız önem taşır. Bu sizin nasıl tanınmanız gerektiğini belirler. Bu durumda çalmak ayıp olmaz ama çaldığı ortaya çıkarsa durum değişir. Ayıp denen şey toplum tarafından bilinmediği sürece sorun olmaz. Bu durum bizim reflekslerimizi dahi belirler. Örnek olarak şöyle bir durumu hayal edelim: Bir Avrupalı kadın tamamen çıplakken eve birileri girse kadın bir eliyle göğüslerini bir eliyle bacak arasını kapatmaya çalışır. Aynı durum bir Ortadoğulu kadın için oluşsa kadın iki eliyle yüzünü kapar ve bağırır. Avrupa ya da batı kültüründe kadının refleksi içerik olarak mahrem yerini gizlemeye çalışmakla belirlenirken Ortadoğulu kültürün kadını tanınmamaya yönelik olarak yüzünü kapar. Kol kırılır yen içinde kalır sözü de bu kültürün bu bağlamdaki diğer boyutu gösterir. Yani sizin itibarınızdır önemli olan ve üstü örtülmesi de doğaldır. Bundan dolayıdır ki batı toplumlarında ensest gibi konular daha çabuk tespit edilebilir ve toplumsal sorun hakkında konuşulabilir. Ortadoğulu toplumlarda bu gizlenir. Namus cinayetleri denen şeyleri batı toplumlarında göremezsiniz. Daha bir çok şey sayfalarca yazabileceğim bir çok şey batı toplumundan farklıdır. Güven konusu da öyledir. Dolmuşta paranın elden ele gönderilmesi güven göstergesi değildir zira o dolmuş içinde parayı alırsanız tanınma riski vardır. Ancak bu utanma duygusu da artık yerini arsızlığa bırakmaktadır. Eğer toplu olarak yapılan bir yağma olursa işte o zaman o kişisel olarak tanınma ortadan kalktığında hemen yağmacılara katılma başlar. Deprem yardımlarının yağmalanması buna en güzel örnektir. Bal tutan parmak yalanır, devletin malı deniz yemeyen keriz gibi laflar da kişisel olarak bir hırsızlıktan çok daha anonim olan devlete veya topluma yönelik yağmanın legalize edilmesidir.
    Yaz deftere olayı ise dar anlamda geçerli olup güvenden ziyade ufak ölçekli ticaret erbabının yöntemidir. Keza eskiden köylerde insanlar mahsulünü kapısı açık ambarlarda bırakır giderlerdi. Köyde kimin ne kadar mahsulü var herkes birini tanır o yüzden zaten hırsızlık olması da beklenmez. Zaten koyunun mahsulün çalınırsa bu başka bir köyden gelen tarafından gerçekleştirirdi. Gittikçe şehirleşen toplum bu gibi küçük kasaba davranış şekillerini de terk etmektedir. Kişi ve devlet arasındaki güven konusu daha çok ön plana çıkmaya başlıyor. Zira kişiler arasındaki güven de devletin hukuk düzeni ile belirlenmeye başlıyor. Devlet benim hakkımı kendisi gasp ettiği gibi başkasının da gasp etmesine göz yumarsa güven denen şey doğal olarak ortadan kalkıyor. Sonuç olarak söylemek istediğim eğer devleti oluşturan toplum ise ve devlet bu işi başaramıyorsa o zaman toplumda sorun var demektir. Toplum eğer yaşadığı hayattan memnunsa güven endeksi yüz olsa ne olur sıfır olsa ne olur. Çölde yaşayan kertenkele buzulda değerlendirilirse bir anlam içermeyeceği gibi bizim toplumun güven endeksini hangi bağlamda yaptığın da içeriğini anlamlı veya anlamsız kılar.

    1. From a psychoanalytical perspective, Turkey is a ‘shame based society’. How shame, and to an extent ‘honor’ which is a defunct word in the West now, functions in this society needs to be understood. Very good points!

  22. Keep in mind that ‘others’ mind different thing in different countries. Depending on where and in which language I am asked this question, I might answer differently.

    In the US, in English, the others would include mostly my friends.

    In Turkey, in Turkish, ‘baskalari’ (others) or ‘insanlar’ (people) would not include my friends.

    Yes there is a Turkish expression translated ‘do not even trust your father’. However it is not used as an advise to prepare one for life. It is, in fact, an expression of regret. Regardless of how they answer a question, Turkish people keep trusting other Turkish people, and occasionally regret it. Hence the expression.

  23. How about the adverse effects of oxytocin (the cuddle hormone, which is triggered by mostly touch, which is..well…we like to touch), which bounds you with your kin together, but makes you very suspicious about the others? I know my first attempt at a theory can’t stand the swings of Occam’s German made razor, but still need to try my chances to sell my anti-Oxytocin drug:)

  24. The immigration to the cities from the rural areas, increasing especially after 80s, forming of masses that are neither rural nor urban, survival of the fittest in an environment where moral values are very shaky since moral values are mostly acquired in a set cultural environment, then comes the rise of this class and their rule with AKP (remember what they were planning: neighbor snatching neighbor)…It’s hard to connect this to one single factor as it is always the case with social issues, but it’s related mainly to the alienation of the immigrants, and then education and education culture, the eternal Abel vs Cain duality (farmer vs. hunter gatherer/nomad, the later being more conservative and not trusting others as much), etc.

    Holy mackerel! I just wrote the greatest comment ever that can be written at 3:40 am in the morning after watching a heart attack inducer World Cup game:)

  25. I am a Turk leaving in USA and one area of trust that I see in Turkey that is missing in USA is the way people trust their kids with strangers. I grew up in Turkey in 80s and basically spent my all day playing with other kids in the neighborhood on the streets. I would walk to school alone and back since I was 6 without any adult supervision. My parents did not necessarily know all the kids or their families (but they did know most of them though, neigbors knew each other very well in Turkey in 80s) and they never worried that someone would kidnap me or do something bad to me while I was playing outside the house. Imagine in US, kids playing out without adult supervision in an urban city in USA. Everyone is scared someone might kidnap their kid, or hurt their kids. You actually have to make play dates with other parents so your kids can interact with other kids in a supervised environment. Also our parent would feel very comfortable leaving with neighbors, relatives etc even overnight. Here people would only trust a professional caretaker to do that.

  26. Sıraya girmeyi öğrensek yeter. Otobüs durağı olsun, asansör sırası olsun, trafikte olsun, Sıra beklerken arkanızdaki kişi yandan yandan önünüze geçmeye çalışır. Ya da sıra diye birşey zaten olmaz. Her yere “başkasının sırasını kapmak yanlıştır ” yazsalar o bile sorunu yarı yarıya çözer.

  27. This has been one of the most interesting and thought provokating posts I have read for a while. As a full disclosure, I am also a Turk living in US. I think there may really be a trust issue, it is not that Turks are scared that the others will harm you, you trust your friend, family, neighbor. But you rely on them too much and expect them to take care of you and your problems. As the society gets more urbanized and we have less time for others, people relying on others feel betrayed and turned down. I think Turkey is experiencing a clash of traditional collectivitist lifesytle and an emerging urbanized individualist one. And also, as it was mentioned above, education comes into the play as well. A “can do” approach whic is prevalant in US culture is almost non existent in Turkey. A lot of people overprotect their kids and create safety nets for them with the fear of failing. Also, there is this common statement made by parents to their teenagers when they want to go out “I trust you, but I don’t trust the others.” It means, “I am sure you won’t do anything wrong, but others may take advantage of your innocence and you can’t protect yourself.” It is understandable why we have a trust issue. As a generation raised by low self esteem, you always fear others will harm you in some way.

    And one final word, as a country who was screwed by politicians for a very long time, it is obvious not to trust them any more.

  28. In addition to many correct observations of the previous bloggers, I thought there is another factor worth considering. Lack of trust is a fairly new trait developed in the typical Turkish life. Until mid 1980’s Turkish people had the general understanding that if you don’t have the money then you could not afford to buy it, period! A man with a sizable debt would often be frowned upon by his peers. With the help of western bankers and investors, the society entered into a new consumers era where a person could spend beyond his/her means quite readily. As a result, many found themselves in a situation where they had to do whatever it takes to keep their new living standards which were way above their budgets.They started compromising their pride by begging their friends for help, break their promises and cheat one another in order to pay their bills. After being taken advantage of by many old friends, the society has developed this trust no one attitude, not just “do not trust your father” as one blogger has stated above but no one period.They are fairly new to the industrial life style of the west where economical,.social and judicial infrastructure is alive and well. Majority of people have tendencies to show off one another yet have unreliable jobs and unpredictable finances making the situation a lot worse. Trust has been the thing of the past, never ever to return…. .

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