A Cultural Divide? Expressions of Sympathy

No matter where we are in life, we will come upon a time where we need to know the language to use to express one’s sympathy for the loss of a loved one.  We will never be prepared for death. But after a loss, we don’t want to spend time scrambling to find the right words.  So here they are in both Turkish and English.

Turkish:  Başınız sağolsun
American English pronouciation:  bah•shin•iz•sah•ol•sun

There are no other words that I know of in Turkish to express one’s sympathy.  If you, my readers, know of any, please share them in the comments.  Thank you.


  • I am sorry for your loss.
  • My condolences.
  • Please accept my deepest condolences/sympathies.
  • I am thinking of you in this time of sorrow.  (Used more in writing).
  • I will keep you (and your family) in my thoughts and prayers.

I am sure there are many other ways to express this in English, but this should be a good start if you find you need to express your sympathy in words or in writing.

The Cultural Divide

Sometimes I find Turkish to be a wonderful language.  I have written this before; in Turkey, there is a “nicety” to say for almost everything.  But the big difference is how the sayings are used.  This is no different when it comes to expressing sympathy.

With the still-so-fresh passing of my father-in-law, I found comfort in this expression, “Başınız sağolsun.” Why? Because it was said to me over and over again, even though I had not lost my father, but rather, my father-in-law.  All recognized that I was – I am – family.  This is normal in Turkey.  It is considered a big loss, for the family – the entire family.

As time passed, I received messages from my foreign (non-Turkish) friends and family.  Many of the above English expressions were used.  But, if I could recall all of them and review all of the written messages, I would approximate that 80% of the expressions of sympathy or more were directed only to my husband, not me.  It probably didn’t even occur to most people that I had also suffered a loss.  So very different from the Turkish way.

I’m not judging.  I know I have done the same.  I am positive of that.  If I could go back in time, I would do it differently.  We can never do everything the right way.  We don’t even know what the “right way” is most of the time.   But for this one little thing, I will attempt to change my future.  I will offer these expressions of sympathy to anyone connected to the passing loved one.  It’s just a little thing.  It may not mean much to many.  But it meant a great deal to me.  Thank you all!

4 thoughts on “A Cultural Divide? Expressions of Sympathy

Add yours

  1. Reblogged this on Ankara Legal English and commented:

    When someone dies, it is difficult to know what to say. It is even more difficult to express your sympathy in a foreign language. This blog post from Adventures In Ankara contains the Turkish and English words to say (or write) when you want to express your condolences. It also suggests a cultural difference between how the Turks use their phrase compared to American usage.

  2. . . even with the most conservative of families where the opposite sex is concerned I have found that holding both hands of the person says and does it all – it is an act of contact/connection that has broken barriers every time. With the same sex then getting physical and embracing/hugging (without the back slapping) is much appreciated.

  3. This is insightful; thank you. Just last week I experienced my first death here in Turkey—the mother of a good friend of mine. I heard a lot of “başınız sağolsun” being shared throughout the gathering of mourners. A few people even said it to me though I had never directly met the deceased. It did serve to make me feel like a meaningful part of the crowd.

  4. I do agree with you: the Turkish way is really just right. I like the way that there is always a set phrase for these difficult situations whereas in English we struggle. Sometimes we just don’t know what to say at all!

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