Lemon Cologne – Enduring Turkish Traditions

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“… of all the traditions that say Turkey to me, the use of lemon cologne is the earliest and strongest memory I will always have. When I first came to the country back in 1990, I took long road trips on buses stinking of cigarette smoke. Despite the nicotine fug I always came out smelling of citrus. This was because after every stop we made, the bus boy walked along the aisle, proffering a bottle of strongly scented lemon cologne. By watching the other passengers I learnt to hold out my cupped hands into which he would sprinkle or indeed sometimes pour the liquid, depending on his enthusiasm and attention span.

A bottle of lemon cologne continues to be a much welcomed present from Turks visiting family living abroad, and mothers’ often pack one in the luggage of a child setting off to study in another city. When sprinkled on the wrists the aroma works as a poignant yet comforting reminder of home.

Sadly, like tea being served in real glass on the ferries, as Turkey embraces newer and more hygienic practices, in many cafes and restaurants bottles of lemon cologne are being replaced by small squares of freshness in the form of moist towelettes. Offered at the end of a meal, they still carry the same scent as before, but the solemn ritual of offering and receiving perfumed water from the bottle …”

Read the rest of this story in my essay collection Inside Out In Istanbul: Making Sense of the City where you can also learn about other everyday Turkish traditions like sunnet, buying underwear, Turkish spices and more.

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  1. I love this website. I think that the lemon cologne was way more hygienic that the tiny mini paper wet thinguist. Nothing like real water that can be dropped at the floor or dirt… wash away, no simply rubbing. And I am with you, no glass, no drink. I bring my own metal glass everyway for cheap eating places… Greetings from Chicago from a real tica.

    1. Hi Anita, I prefer Lemon Cologne too as you know, but have to say the little sachets make for great travelling hygiene. I’m never without 1 or 3 in my bag when I’m out and about! Luckily the ferries have reverted to glass again for tea, but I like your idea too!

  2. I personally dread the custom but it seems that some people like it. 🙂 On my recent visit to relatives of my boyfriend, I dared to decline it and the big aunt said, puzzled, “It’s a green tea aroma, not lemon!” 🙂 It’s just one example but I have so many memories about the cologne for sure ….

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