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Egypt: Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

by Lizbeth Pereira |

Africa, Cultural Sensitivity, Egypt

EGYPT: FACTS & STATSCairo Skyline

Location: North-Eastern Africa; Bordered by the Red Sea and Israel on the East, Sudan on the South, Libya to the West, and the Mediterranean Sea to the North.

map of egyptCapital: Cairo

Climate: Summer is hot and dry, while winters are mild in the day and extremely cold at night. Hot spring winds known as sirocco can rise up to sandstorms during the months from March to May.

Population: 80,335,036 according to July 2007 estimates. The Egyptian economy is propped up by agriculture, industry, crude oil and petroleum products. About 23% of the population are plagued by poverty which is directly attributed to overpopulation. The official unemployment rate stays at 12%.

bedouin girlEthnic Make-up: Eastern Hamitic 99% including Egyptians, Bedouins, and Berbers; Minorities 1% including Nubians, Armenians, Greeks, Italian, French

Religions: Muslim 90%, Christian 8%, Others 2%. Islam is the official religion. Evangelism is illegal, but there is considerable missionary work being carried out mainly by Protestants and the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Language: Egyptian Arabic is the spoken language while Standard Arabic is the official written form. English and French are also used in business and education.

Government: Arab Republic

egypt pyramidsTravel Issues: Visitors to Egypt require a visa and this can be obtained from the Embassies or Consulates in your country. You can also get an entry visa upon arrival at major ports of entry. Applications forms may be obtained from the airlines prior to landing in Egypt.

Health & Safety: Yellow fever immunization is mandatory. Others recommended are against hepatitis A, polio, tetanus, typhoid, malaria, and rabies. Protect yourself against contracting Schistosomiasis or Bilharzias which is caused by tiny worms entering your body through the skin, by not swimming in freshwater. If you do get wet, dry off immediately and thoroughly and change clothes.

Though crime is not as rampant as in other areas, you still have to watch out for petty thieves and pickpockets, as well as scamsters out to make a quick buck.

SOCIETY & CULTUREEgyptian Family Meal

The People: Egypt is an ancient civilization that has happily accepted modern conveniences while deeply rooted in traditional values and customs. Men and women have well-defined roles and equal importance is accorded to all responsibilities. Children are valued and brought up with deeply inculcated values. Both boys and girls take up household chores as soon as they are old enough. Boys herd sheep and farm the land, while girls learn to cook, sew and run the household.

Sailboat on NileThe Religion: Religion is a way of life and strong deterrent against waywardness. Islam is the official religion and has about 90% followers, the majority of whom belong to the Sunni sect. Christianity is practiced by about 8% and this includes Catholics, Protestants, and the Coptic Orthodox which are the majority. The Baha’i faith is also followed by a small minority, and there is a miniscule Jewish population.

Role of Family: Strong family bonds exist in extended families that include grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. The consequences of any disaster or good fortune are shared by all. It is considered a duty to stand by a family member in times of need. Elders take care of grievances between family members and they are obeyed without question.

man smoking shishaAncestors: The pyramids stand testimony to the Egyptian belief in afterlife. There are numerous festivals that attempt at bringing the dead and the living closer, marked by boisterous dancing and feasting. It is firmly believed that the ancestors, if propitiated well, could gain favours for the living from the gods.

Recreational Activities: Football is a national favorite, while boxing, wrestling, basketball, volleyball and weightlifting are highly popular too. In rural areas wrestling, weightlifting, ball games, and stick fencing are firm favorites.

Anything else important for this culture: Though not very superstitious as a rule, a belief in the evil eye is widespread. They go to great lengths to ward this off, and it is important to not try and contradict their efforts.

ETIQUETTE & CUSTOMSEdfu, Egypt

Meetings & Greetings: A traditional Muslim can be greeted with the formal Asalaam um Alaikum. A not too firm handshake while making eye contact is the best way to greet folks of the same gender. If you’re on more friendly terms, a kiss on both cheeks may be called for. This is never so in the case of the opposite gender. When greeting a woman, wait for her to extend her hand first. If she does not do so, simply bow your head in greeting instead of a handshake.

boys in egyptCourtesy: It is common courtesy to bring along a gift if invited to visit someone’s house. When inviting an Egyptian to your home, a first invitation may be declined to show respect, but the second one will be accepted gracefully. Remove your footwear before entering a home. Punctuality is highly appreciated.

Gift Giving: Gifts are offered when visiting or during feasts and festivals. For visiting a home, chocolates, pastries, or a box of candies makes the perfect choice. Do not give personal items such as clothes, jewellery, perfumes, etc. Flowers are not usually gifted. Give and receive with the right hand or both hands.

Gate in EgyptDress Code: Egyptians set great store by appearances. A neat, dignified appearance goes a long way in endearing you to the others. A good business suit is a must for men to make a good impression. Casual clothing is acceptable, and light clothing is recommended in summer. Women are advised to keep shoulders, arms, and knees covered at all times.

Dining Etiquette: Seating at a table follows a hierarchy that might not seem obvious. Therefore it is wise to wait till you’re invited to be seated. Food is eaten with the right hand. Do not salt your food at the table as this is considered insulting, especially in a home. You need not finish all the food on your plate, as a little left over indicates that you are satiated. A second helping is considered a compliment.

man at egyptian pyramidVisiting a home: When invited to visit a home, you could demur a little. A second invitation should be accepted. It is customary to carry a small gift as a token of your appreciation. Chocolates, pastries, fruits, and candies make good gifts. Avoid personal and very expensive items. Leave your footwear at the door, and wait to be shown to your seat.

Communication Style: Most Egyptians speak or at least understand English. But it is important that you speak to them clearly, enunciating each word to avoid misunderstandings. It does not have to descend to a mime show, but should be kept to a natural rhythm without artifice. Egyptians are highly emotional people and it is best to keep conversations off controversial topics such as religion or politics. They have a great sense of humor but avoid jokes of a political or sexual nature.

Egyptian Cart Boys

Dos and Don’ts: Do not gift flowers. Do not serve pork if you’re entertaining Muslims. You do not have to pay the bill or tips if you’re the guest at a restaurant dinner. On the other hand if you are the host, it is your duty to discreetly take care of the bill. Respect the prayer time schedules and Friday prayers, as well as the holy month of Ramadan when the Muslim population will be fasting from dawn to dusk. It will be insensitive on a visitor’s part to be seen smoking, drinking, or even chewing gum in their presence.

Pyramid photo by Tom@HK
Gate and Skyline by  Kris*M
Shisha photo by  simonkoležnik
Family photo by  7_70
2 Boys, Nile, Dresses by molajen
Man by Pyramids by eviljohnius
map by elicrisko ?
Bedouin Girl by
Paolo Camera
Smiling kids by mshamma

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