“Was it something I said?”
The best of us can make indiscretions in a culture we’ve born and bred into. Adopting a foreign culture’s customs can be daunting. Locals engaging cultures via frequent tourism are more lenient, yet expect a degree of respect. You will find Egyptians share more similarities than differences with western culture. If you’re still nervous, follow our guide to avoiding common faux pas while visiting.
You will find Egyptians share more similarities than differences with western culture. If you’re still nervous, follow our guide to avoiding common faux pas while visiting.
Learn common phrases
The number one best practice for integrating into any culture is to learn their language. Fluency is not mandatory nor reasonable, yet we suggest memorizing these common phrases:
Hello – Ahlan wa sahlan
Goodbye – Salam
Thank you – Shukran
Pardon - Afwan
I don’t speak Arabic – Ma batkalemsh Arabi
Do you speak English? – Bititkalimy Englizee?
Yes – Aiwa
Stay away from Politics!
Listen. We know it’s satisfying to rub someone’s flawed political ideologies in their smug face. But how well did that go over at your aunt’s Christmas dinner? Exactly. There’s wisdom behind the adage, “In polite company never talk about religion, politics, sex, or money.” Of course, discussing money is unavoidable when conducting business. Some say the love of money is the root of evil. We say greed is a great unifier. But shame on us for talking about religion again.
A particular hot-button topic to avoid is 2011’s Egyptian Revolution. To summarize, then president Hosni Mubarak stepped down following animated public protest. Mubarak and company stood trial on premeditated murder charges, though were later acquitted.
Both sides (pro/anti-Mubarak) clashed violently and today Egypt remains divided on his deposition. The Sunni Islamic Muslim Brotherhood immediately filled Egypt’s political void but were themselves deposed by then Minister of Defense General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
Discussion concerning Egypt’s revolution will inevitably make someone’s blood boil. Bottom line is to avoid it.
Knowing your roots
Despite Egypt’s secular governing party, her constituents are predominantly practicing Sunni Muslims. Thus, many Egyptians retain conservative Islamic values. Guests need not adhere to Islamic tradition and civilians operating within popular tour districts tolerate foreign cultures. If traveling outside these districts,
please remember that revealing clothing (women), public affection and intoxication may be culturally taboo. Males should wait for females to initiate handshaking.
If you really want to get on their friendly side, learn customs including Islamic holidays. Ramadan, for example, is the celebrated ninth month of the Muslim year. Muslims fast from twilight until sunset. Fasting is a form of self-discipline practiced the world over. During Ramadan, it represents an adherents desire to seek Allah’s forgiveness. The month-long fast winds up with Eid-ul-Fitr where piety is rewarded with yummy cuisine and gift giving.
During Ramadan, it represents an adherents desire to seek Allah’s forgiveness. The month-long fast winds up with Eid-ul-Fitr where piety is rewarded with yummy cuisine and gift giving.
Coptic Christians make up a ten percent minority, though appreciate acknowledgment all the same. Like Muslims, Copts recognize a separate ancient Egyptian calendar. Coptic Christmas is celebrated on or near January seventh.
Top of the crop, baby!
Status and familial honor date back even to ancient Egyptian times. Western culture believes sons should not be punished for sins of their father and vice-versa. In Egypt, a hypothetical son’s action reflects either well or poorly on their whole family. Because Egyptian’s stake their reputation on word and deed, breaking a promise is considered a great insult. Egyptians can spend generations cultivating social and political status. Therefore, it is in your interest to regard their position within the relevant hierarchy. Do not assume you are on a first name basis when conducting business.
Therefore, it is in your interest to regard their position within the relevant hierarchy. Do not assume you are on a first name basis when conducting business.
If this comes off as classist, remember a good Egyptian host treats all guests with dignity.
Soccer AKA Football AKA Koora is Egypt’s favorite pastime. Badmouthing their national team is tantamount to sacrilege! North Americans, whether you’re visiting Europe, Asia, or Africa, it’s best you keep negative opinions about soccer to yourself. Surely, of all the faux pas to avoid in Egypt, this is the easiest?
Are you putting the right foot forward?
Body language can adversely affect your relationship with an Egyptian. In Islamic practice, feet are considered unclean. Revealing your foot soles can, therefore, be misinterpreted as a disrespectful gesture. Merely pointing your feet towards someone is impolite! Guests should always remove footwear before entering a place of worship or home.
When dining at an acquaintance’s home, be sure to use your right (clean/good) hand. Pay your host compliments and don’t be shy to ask for seconds!
And now for one final faux pas to avoid in Egypt. Everyone loves flowers. However, in Egyptian culture, flowers are saved for weddings or condolences.
Consider yourself up to speed on rudimentary Egyptian faux pas. To reiterate, Egyptian’s, especially those working as guides, are not unfamiliar with clashing cultures. We actually recommend speaking with Travel2Egypt’s private guides if you’re ever unsure about a practice. For now, share this blog post and impress friends with your worldliness.