Egypt it is the destination of every traveler. Once in your life you have to see the pyramids and their ancient temples live. All Egypt awakens, for centuries, thirst for adventure and seas of curiosity.
But beyond Luxor, the Nile Valley, the pyramids or the royal tombs ... How should you behave in Egypt? Which are their customs, their traditions more ingrained, what is right or wrong for a tourist or a local? Let's see.
Egypt is in northeast africa and it borders Palestine, Sudan, Libya and Israel. Have a very hot weather and dry in summer and moderate winters, so if the heat scares you, it is best to go in the latter season, which, although hot, is tolerated.
It is inhabited by almost 87 million people whose vast majority profess the Islam Sunni. Today and for centuries Arabic is spoken here But before the arrival of the Arab people to Egyptian lands, the language was Coptic, derived directly from ancient Egypt.
As I said, the vast majority of Egyptians profess Islam and from their religion they derive much of their traditions and customs, from what is allowed and what is not. For example, a Muslim must pray five times a day, respect Friday as a holy day and the same month of Ramadam where they fast and only work six hours a day. Family is very important but so is honor, so the word is respected.
Social class is relevant and governs daily life but also the future that the Egyptian may have. The status of a family is not given so much by money, which matters, yes, but by its past. Social mobility is very low, so the family will always weigh more than the studies, if necessary. And not to mention the place of women in Egyptian society. Apparently it is one of the worst Arab countries to be a woman and to be a woman tourist, even if you are accompanied by a man.
Writing about the customs of different countries I realize that there are many similarities. Like the Koreans and the Japanese Egyptians bring a gift when invited to someone else's home (cakes, chocolate or candies but not flowers, because they are worth more for weddings and illnesses). Also they take off their shoes before entering. The usual thing is that an Egyptian invites someone to his house several times before the person accepts, is what the etiquette dictates, and when you are there compliments to your host should be the order of the day.
If there are children in the family it is great to bring them something and remember, gifts are given with the right hand or both. They eat and wave with the right hand as well and in a conversation talking about religion or politics can be flaky, as in the rest of the world if one wants to have the party in peace, as it is commonly said. What about the alcohol? Religion forbids it but they have no problem with a non-Muslim drinking (without getting drunk).
Above I said that it was not a good country for women and my own sister has told me that she has never felt so intimidated by a man as on the streets of Cairo. And that she was with her husband! Interaction with Egyptian women is frowned upon, at least in the street, and when it comes to entering a place where you have to line up, the women go one way and the men the other.
Needless to say that If the woman travels alone, she should be twice as careful in many things: where she walks, at what time, how she is dressed. In my opinion, the greatest and most irrational prohibitions bring the greatest dangers… On the other hand, if you want to smoke something illegal, you'd better think twice because you don't want to be caught by the police and fall into an Egyptian prison.
Egyptians are very hospitable people so they will always be offering you coffee or tea or cigarettes and it is best to accept the drinks even if you are not going to drink them all. During a conversation eye contact is important because it is synonymous with honesty and sincerity so sometimes the talks can get intense. Unlike the Asians we were talking about, it is a people with a lot of body language so hands and gestures fly everywhere, even shouting or banging on the table to emphasize ideas.
Speaking of table, when sitting on it you should wait for your host to tell you where, not send you on your own. Remember, food is taken with the right hand and always, always, you must praise the dishes even if you don't like them. Your plate should not be empty because otherwise they will fill it all the time, so the best thing to give the signal that you are not eating anymore is to leave something there, in plain sight.
Are you not going on vacation but on a business trip? The label rules a same-sex handshake and if you are a man and your interlocutor is a woman, you should wait for her to extend her hand to shake it. Not the other way around. If you don't, then a brief nod of the greeting is worth it. If there is more familiarity, kisses on the cheek are common, always between people of the same sex. Afterwards, it is a bit rude to speak to another person by name, especially in a business talk, so use titles.
When it comes to dressing, in general, Egyptians are very conservative so it is enough to be simple and elegant to make a good impression. In men, dark colors are preferred, without ostentatious accessories, and in the case of women a chaste outfit is best, a skirt below the knee and basically long sleeves.
In short: if you go to Egypt respect the customs and remember that here religion is everything. If you are a woman, be careful what you do, how you dress and where you walk.