Turkey’s cologne culture

Anyone who has ever spent time or simply visited Turkey could easily attest to the Turks affinity for cologne, aka “kolonya“. Not to be mistaken for the fancy male perfumes regularly purchased at duty-free or designer shops, what I am referring to is kolonya, which in English is best translated as eau de cologne, but in Turkey, it truly is a whole different cultural entity.

The main difference between perfume and kolonya, which is widely popular in Turkey, is its ratio of essential oils to alcohol of which the latter can reach up to 80%. Experts these days are saying that kolonya with a rate of even 50% or more of alcohol content could serve as an excellent preventative measure in spreading viruses and bacteria. In fact, it could very well be Turkey’s affinity for kolonya that may have ensured the country remained immune to the virus crisis for so long as using this refreshing and disinfecting product has always been a prevailing tradition in this country.

The kolonya as we know it has been prevalent in Turkey since the Ottoman Empire and the reign of Abdülhamit II. While kolonya gets its name from the German town of Cologne, it’s usage in Turkish culture has always been quite unique. Though it may seem to simply be a personal care product due to its aromatics, it is so much more to the Turks who have historically also used it as a sterilizing agent and antiseptic and regularly as a medicinal product that is even dribbled on sugar cubes to aid in digestion. In practice, it is drizzled onto the hands of guests upon entering a home or restaurant, or after finishing a meal. It is offered to customers as they enter shops and especially barbershops. Even on long-distance buses in Turkey, every single person seated is given a drizzle of the ever-so-refreshing kolonya to wipe their hands and face.

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