Egypt has been one of the most culturally enriching and stimulating experiences I have ever had. Was it the Ancient Egyptian history? No, It was actually getting to know the lives of the girls and guys with whom I stayed. I spent hours and hours having amazing conversations with the new friends I made in Egypt talking about beliefs, traditions, customs, relationships, family life, social life etc. People here are genuinely hospitable and so nice and the food is amazing. The flavors I have never tasted…my mouth is watering at the thought of Hamam Mahshi (pigeon and rice with other amazing ingredients), amazing breads, and tahini dips, and yogurts.
I expected all of Egypt to be like the Cairo, Egypt, but when we left the city to go to the North Shore I was a bit surprised at the Northern compound life and the stunning beaches we visited. I knew Egypt was pretty but it definitely exceeded my expectations. By the way everyone lives in gated compounds. This is something I also wasn’t expecting.
Egypt is so traditional yet so progressive. It’s oxymoronic culture varies in each society and even within societies. Religion plays a big part in culture. It is so strong and visible in daily life where as in the States it’s not. People are more private about it and there are so many religions and customs, people tend to practice in their own ways within their smaller communities across the States.
Social life is Egypt is very important. The girls I was with saw each other every day. Spent hours and hours talking…every day. It is common to see your friends all the time, go out for coffee and smokes, and the occasional cocktail. It was actually really amazing to see the bonds of friendship and social need in Egypt. I had almost wished we had more of it in the States. I told the girls, that me and my friends make plans to see each other on occasion, and we will pick a day to meet up, whereas these girls just call each other up, say we’re going to xyz and all show up. They told me, which was actually pretty funny, that if you tell your friend you want to stay in or don’t feel like going out, people think there is something wrong with you or maybe you’re sad and depressed.
I went to a couple of clubs in the north shore area, which is something I don’t do much of in the States so it was a different experience. For what I thought to be a conservative country, it felt like Vegas and Miami beach with belly dancers on the bar, ladies wearing tight short dresses, and everyone dancing, smoking and some drinking. It was cool to hear Arabic music in a club setting, unfortunately I wish I had learned how to shake my hips before the outing. I think I managed to get some giggles out of people watching me dance :0/
I came to understand how dating works in Egypt. All of you who might have met your guy and gal at the bar or online, this doesn’t really work like that in Egypt. In order for two people to get to know each other, someone must know them. First of all it seems that everyone knows everyone SOMEHOW. So then you start hanging out in groups, going to the same places in the same social circles. Then you may go out for coffee and do some “couple” dating. Approaching someone at a bar you don’t know is not common, nor socially acceptable. The girls told me, if a guy wanted to buy you a drink in a bar or randomly started talking to a girl, it would not be normal, but creepy. Same with internet dating, when I told them about it, they thought it was the strangest thing. I kind of like this Egyptian way. It alleviates a lot of the pressure people put on each other. Then again if everyone knows you and knows all about you, maybe you’re not left with much privacy.
This part is really cool……ready….it is a whole process and series of events that occur.
On a side note, most of the girls and guys I met were younger than me (25-28) and they were almost all engaged. I was intrigued especially because in the US and maybe other parts of the world, people get married later and later. I have learned that this is because it is socially unacceptable to have sex before marriage in Egypt. Obviously some people still partake in secret nocturnal rendezvous but majority acceptance and belief is that your should wait. (Especially if you’re a woman, otherwise you’re considered damaged goods). I’m not too keen on the lack of double standard in this case….it takes two to tango you know?
So when you want to get married, you have to arrange a meeting for the parents and the couple to meet. Typically they will talk about arrangements and plans for the couple’s future. The guy and the parents typically bring a gift and this meeting has to happen the the girl’s parent’s house. Typically a man has to provide a house for the couple to live and has to give a girl a ring. Sometimes the ring is discussed but nowadays not so much. Once they both agree and settle on the arrangement then they meet again or then read from the Quran to give the couple a blessing. Then there is an engagement party. The guy then puts the ring on the girl and girl on the guy and the party starts. (its pretty much a small wedding). Then months later you have the real wedding with more people, more dancing, more food, and more festivities.
Religion and Culture
I don’t even know what to say here because there are many interpretations. What I love about the Muslim religion is the acceptance of other religions and placed emphasis on self interpretation of the Quran. If you believe something is a sin, then it is a sin. (i.e. drinking alcohol, covering up vs. not covering up, smoking). I also like the placed emphasis on giving and sharing wealth. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why Egyptians are so hospitable. Muslims are supposed to pray 5 times a day but I was told that this can mean different things. Doing something nice for someone could be a prayer in itself. For example giving money or food to someone, or being kind to someone. I like this! If we all did something nice for someone, or shared our wealth with those less fortunate 5 times a day, the world would be a much better place.
*Depending on the level of the belief women choose or choose not to veil themselves. Sometimes they can change their mind. It is acceptable to be unveiled in one’s home around their family.
*There are many delicious non-alcoholic juices and cocktails on menus in restaurants. Try some!
*Do not expect to be driving anywhere in Egypt. Rules of the road are optional. Get a car service, Uber, or taxi….many people here seem to have a driver anyway. They say its cheaper and safer.
*Music is very international…American, Lebanese, Spanish, Egyptian…but learn to move those hips before you come here, so you don’t look like a fool trying to learn in the club (like me).
*Learn to wake up late, and go to bed late. The heat is so intense noone wakes up early. Real life starts at night. (Depending on your work life….but even if you work 15 hours a day, people still seem to go out late)
*You will see people covered up at beaches, however I was informed that there are beaches where there is an evident majority of each. People tend to stick to one or the other.
*Social classes exist, are visible, and do not typically fraternize.
*There is so much to see, don’t think you can do it in 10 days. There are also different placed to visit depending on the time of year, even though it’s hot always.
*Don’t expect to cover up as much as you think you need to. I only felt uncomfortable twice. Onece, when I wore long pants to the Pyramids on an insanely hot day. The tour guide was wondering as she was melting away herself and asked me “Why are you wearing this long pants, when you go up North Egyptian girls will really show you how to wear a bikini.” There was no need to cover up. Another time was when I was at the airport leaving Alexandria, Egypt. I came form the beach in a jumper and EVERYONE was very local and very covered up. I stuck out like a sore pink thumb in a field of beige and black. So, in general terms, the location will determine how you should look.
Some Local jams:
This one is funny:
On that note…..Dear Egypt, see you again soon! My hips and my apetite will be ready for more 🙂