Tips and tricks part 2
Go with the flow
This advice is two-fold, and I dare say perhaps the most important. Going with the flow is a very Egyptian mindset in terms that you need to adapt to changing situations, not stress over them and accept them as they come. This is especially true for traffic, the infamous Egyptian tardiness and constantly changing plans. Though it might seem frustrating (trust me, I’m a control freak so I understand), it can be very liberating to simply “let go” and adopt this Egyptian way of life (it will definitely save you a lot of stress).
Secondly going with the flow is also a way of pointing out that Egypt is not the western world. Yes it is more modern than you’d imagined, it is budding with amazing opportunities, and it has experienced a vast European influence throughout the years. However, at the end of the day it is an Arabic country through and through, with differing customs, culture and habits. Hearing stories of different experiences of my friends and acquaintances in Egypt, I came to the realization that those who were expecting a European mindset and way of life were left unhappy with the trip, while those who came there with an open mind and were willing to try new things can’t wait to go back. This is why it is so important to shed our expectations when traveling and be open to new cultures, no matter where we’re going (this is honestly the best travel advice I can give you for any occasion).
Friendly, smiling and always willing to help. Egyptians are warm and cheerful people who enjoy meeting foreigners, showing them around and giving tips on where to go, what to eat, etc.
A smile goes a long way, but what really makes a difference is being polite and throwing in a couple of Egyptian words or sayings such as “Salam Aleykum” (peace be upon you, used as a greeting), Shokran (thank you), Ma’salama (goodbye)…, etc. Showing that you put in a small effort to understand their customs and language means a whole lot to Egyptians and will help in almost any situation.
One warning though: Egyptian sellers can be very pushy, bordering with annoying so take care how much interest you show in their wares and when to be firm (but still polite).
Also a tip; if you’re visiting someone’s home as a guest take care when showing too much enthusiasm for certain decor item or similar knick knack, the host will probably insist on you taking it as a gift.
Egyptian customs and traditional practices
An Islamic country, blended with European influences throughout history … Egypt has an interesting mix of traditions and customs.
Arabic being the main language, most people speak English and French as well (you might be surprised by how street vendors notice what language you’re speaking and suddenly switch to it with ease). As the Arabic language doesn’t have the letter P, don’t get confused if they offer you a Bebsi or try to help you with barking your car … it’s an endearing language difference.
If visiting someone’s home, bring a small gift (chocolates, sweets or pastries), and small gifts for children are very much appreciated. Don’t be concerned if they simply put the gift aside, traditionally it’s deemed rude to open presents straight away (in front of guests).
Eat as much as you want but keep in mind that if your plate is empty, the hosts will keep refilling it!
Be ready for a lot of eye contact as it is seen as a sign of honesty and openness.
The elderly are very respected in the Egyptian culture, especially as the “heads of a family” so make sure to always be very respectful to them.
Kids are beloved in Egypt and it is completely normal for them to be out with parents at night (even if it may seem too late by our standards). Though children are truly cherished if they misbehave it is quite normal for strangers or friends to chastise them (the concept of “it takes a village to raise a child”).
There are a large number of mosques and churches (mostly Coptic) in Egypt, and all are deemed sacred and important places of worship so make sure you are dressed appropriately and follow the guidelines for each place of worship.
Friday is the holy day in Egypt and the day when the weekend starts, so the work week starts on Sunday…this often confuses people so it’s always good to know (which also means Thursday nights are reserved for going out, similar to our Friday nights in Europe.)
Traffic and getting around
“The traffic in Egypt is absolutely hectic”, would be the understatement of the year. I could go on and on about how there is no structure, no traffic organization and absolutely no sense in the chaos, but truly you need to experience it firsthand to know what I’m talking about.
Traffic rules do not exist, crossing the street as a pedestrian is an extreme sport and the “system” is a complete mystery to those who don’t live and drive there. Even if you happen to see a traffic light (which is a rare occurrence), a red light is deemed more as a “guideline” than a fixed rule, especially while driving at night.
It’s common to see every type of vehicle you can imagine … old cars, new cars, fancy cars, run down cars, motorcycles, mopeds, buses, minibuses (with way too many people hanging out), horse-driven carriages and literally anything and everything else in between, all meshed up on the crazy streets of Cairo and Alex.
In terms of getting around my tip is take a cab (they’re cheap, but make sure to decide on the price beforehand or you may find your wallet a bit lighter than necessary). It’s easy to get a cab as there is a ton of them and they’re easily spotted by color (black and yellow in Alexandria, blue and white in Luxor/Aswan and white in Cairo). If you prefer other options, the Uber or Careem app are definitely the way to go.
I personally avoid buses and public transportation as it isn’t the best and taxis are much more practical and very cheap.
So there you go…some tips and information that you might find helpful when visiting Egypt, or simply an interesting read. Feel free to let me know what topics you would like me to cover in more detail.