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Top Tips

Egypt - Top Tips


While it is appreciated when one is treated with respect, sometimes yelling is the only way to get your point across. Raise your voice only as a last resort and when it really matters.

Business owners and employees do not practice the concept of cause and effect. They don't understand that expatriates will stop using their services if they aren't satisfactory, or if they're being double charged. This isn't going to change, so if the produce man keeps slipping rotten fruit or vegetables into the bottom of your sack, keep looking for someone who will sell you only the best, or insist on choosing your own, and stop shopping at stores that charge twice for your purchases or ring-up extras.

Those who aren't used to dealing with the Western proclivity for punctuality, seldom arrive on time. This is particularly true for workmen. And when they say something will be fixed bokra (tomorrow), don't count on it, or that it will be fixed properly.

While there are talented craftsman who can create anything you want, workmen sent to your house by your landlord will usually not fall into that category. Because wealthier Egyptians often terrorize their workmen and household help while paying them a fraction of their worth, they get what they pay for. Your best alternative is to insist upon dealing with only one firm that repairs things by Western standards. Ask other expats who they recommend.

An Egyptian will probably be reluctant to tell you that something isn't available. They'll do everything in their power to find it for you, but if they don't succeed, to save face, they'll keep putting you off until you go away.

If you're a single woman, expect to be ignored when you want something done a certain way. As a last resort, ask a man or an Egyptian to intervene on your behalf.

It is often difficult to return anything and receive a refund. But if you deal with a reputable store and have kept the receipt and original container, you'll have a better chance.

Not my fault: to admit that one has made a mistake is to lose face. If you understand that this is a cultural norm, you will be able to deal with it.

Because most of the floors in Egypt are made from native stone, marble or granite, they can be very slippery. Before you arrive, place a bit of electrical tape on the bottom of your shoes.

Egyptians in every strata of society are nosy. They're used to living in close quarters and sharing the most minute and personal details of their lives. They have incredible memories and consider your private life an open book to be shared with the world.

Egyptians are also superstitious, and a tiny bit paranoid that someone else has put a curse (the evil eye) on them to take what they have. When you see an exceptionally beautiful child being carried by a parent, it is not appropriate to comment upon how pretty it is. Rather, one should do what Egyptians do to protect the child from the envy of a barren woman, tell the child it is ugly, lazy and stupid.

Public bathrooms everywhere but in nice hotels can be revolting, especially those for women. Egyptian women use a hose attached to the toilet to clean themselves, so toilet paper isn't always available and there's usually a puddle of water on the floor. Most restrooms have a normal toilet, but in the countryside, don't be surprised to find a floor drain instead.

Anything that's available in Cairo can be delivered to your front door. Even the veterinarian will make house calls! Year round, one can purchase fresh baladi (locally grown) and imported flowers, fruit, herbs, vegetables, chickens, lamb, veal, beef, and a cornucopia of Middle Eastern and Western breads, cheese, eggs, juice, flour, spices, cereal, and other basic food and cleaning staples. Although Muslims do not eat pork, there are specialty shops where you can buy it.

Each week more Western products, like pet food, kitty litter, snacks, cleaning products, prepackaged foods, etc. become available in Western style grocery stores, but the price is higher than it would be at home. Availability is inconsistent. When you find a product you use a lot, buy extras.

You can bring wine and liquor into the country or buy it twice a year (in limited quantities) at a duty-free shop. Many shops sell beer and Egyptian wine as well. Do not buy hard liquor at these stores as it may be the Egyptian version of moonshine labeled with a brand name.

Added 23/11/05 by Dina - Regarding the evil eye, if you see something beautiful (the beautiful baby story) say "Mashallah" and the Egyptians won't feel superstitious!

Added 29/11/05 by Brenton - Learn a little 'Egyptian' Arabic. You will be astonished at how much more can be achieved with a minimum of fuss and inconvenience by use of the native language. This is particularly true when used in local markets and bazaars, and when commuting in taxis. Egyptians respond well to even the most simple attempts at conversing in their language.

Added 4/12/05 by Sherine - I agree with most of the information. I only have two comments: one about saying the child is ugly to protect from the evil eye. This is practiced by very few people and they are usually criticized for saying it. The majority of Egyptians would say how pretty the child is but at the same time would mention the name of god along with it to protect the child. Any expat describing the child as ugly or stupid will certainly offend the parents. The other comment is about women asking men to intervene if they want something done. That was in the old days. Women are capable of saying what they want and asking for what they want.


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