Egypt tourism has experienced a major lull in the recent months following the country’s turmoil. However, as we recently wrote about on our blog, Egypt is Back and Even Better. Now is a great time to visit the unique country. As mentioned in our previous Know Before You Go blogs, researching cultural norms and practices of your host country is an essential part of trip planning. Whether you are already planning Egypt tours or just hoping to someday visit the Pyramids of Giza here are a few tips for being culturally responsible in Egypt.
Egyptian Society and Culture
Muslim is the dominant religion in Egypt and it plays a major role in the society’s values and practices. Muslims pray five times a day, at dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset, and evening. Also, Friday is the Muslim holy day, and therefore everything is closed. In contemporary Egypt the two-day weekend is often Friday and Saturday. During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk and work shorter days. During Ramadan, each night at sunset, family and friends celebrate the breaking of the fast. The family is of major importance in Egyptian society, and the individual is usually considered subordinate to the family or group. Younger generations are expected to show respect to their seniors, they will not raise their voice to elders and should not remain seated while an older person is standing. Additionally, an individual’s honor and esteem is directly tied to the reputation of the family.
Social class is also a major component of Egyptian society. There are 3 social classes, upper, middle, and lower, and there is little mobility between them. Social class is not only established on wealth, but family background as well.
Meeting and Greeting
Handshakes are customary between those of the same sex. Handshakes may be longer than is routine in other countries. When men and women greet each other, the woman should extend her hand first, if she does not the man should bow his head to greet her. People are usually addressed by their given name followed by a title of some kind. For example, ‘am, or uncle, is an all-purpose title for men.
Arabic is the written and spoken language of Egypt. Below are a few useful Arabic phrases:
- Hello – assalamu aleikum (Peace be with you)
- And upon you be peace (the reply to above) – Wa alekum es salam
- Goodbye – Maasalama or Salam (peace)
- You're Welcome – Ahlan wa sahlan
- Thank you very much – Shukran Gidann
- Do you speak English? – Bititkalimy Englizee?
- I don’t speak Arabic – Ma batkalemsh Arabi
- Please - Minfadlak
- Thank you - Shockran
- You're Welcome – Afwan
Egyptians are very hospitable and accommodating to their guests. If you are invited into an Egyptian’s house it is expected that you remove your shoes before entering. If you are invited over for dinner, you should bring chocolate, sweets, or pastries for your host. Avoid bringing flowers as these are usually only used for weddings or when someone is ill.
It is polite to wait for the host or hostess to tell you where to sit, and be sure to only eat with the right hand. Avoiding salting your meal, as this is considered an insult. Once you are finished leave a small amount of food on your plate or you will continue to be served. Muslims do not eat pork. Egyptian cuisine consists largely of vegetables and legumes. Common meat includes lamb, chicken, and fish. Do not drink the tap water; stick with bottled water.
Tipping is usually expected within the tourist industry. Most Egyptians that work in the tourist industry depend on tips as part of their pay. Often simple tasks will demand tips, so if you do not want assistance make that clear or you may be expected to tip someone who pointed out a very simple observation.
You should always dress conservatively to respect the culture, as appearances are very important in Egypt. Most women wear a head scarf demonstrating modesty or Muslim piety. Tourists should wear full length bottoms or capris and modest tops. Half sleeves are acceptable and in Cairo sleeveless clothing is ok. Be sure to carry a scarf to cover shoulders to visits to mosques.
With the lack of tourists and great deals being offered now is a better time than ever to visit Egypt. Egyptians are encouraging tourists to return to the country, and hotels and tour companies are offering discounts. Start planning Egypt tours now or give us a call at (866) 577-2462.