I recently read an interesting blog by a friend from college who now lives in South Korea. It’s called “Sorry if I’m rude, I’m American” and describes eleven rules of etiquette that she has had to learn (the hard way) since her arrival there a year ago. You should read it!
I’d just like to say that I’m glad that I moved someplace where they don’t have such silly rules of etiquette.
1. Driving rules in Egypt are made to be broken. Driving on the correct side of the road, and pretty much every driving rule I was taught, is more of a suggestion than a rule. Also speed limits, seat belts (we haven’t used them since we moved here), one-way streets and stops signs are all usually ignored. Unless there is a police man actually standing there directing traffic. And even then….
2. Cats have the souls of children. No kidding. When Bry first told me about this, I thought she was making it up, because she loves cats. Some Egyptians believe that when children, especially twins, go to sleep, their souls leave and enter cats. There are sad tales about what happens if said cat gets trapped or killed whilst the child’s soul is inside it. Granted, I don’t think most people are actually that superstitious now, but this folklore is still in the back of their minds when they see a cuddly feline. So yeah, there are cats everywhere and people don’t tend to mistreat them.
(You can read more about this in the article “Of Cats and Twins” by Dr. Fayza Haikal in the Journal Perspectives on Ancient Egypt.)
Speaking of souls… 3. The soles of your feet are insulting. They just are. Don’t prop your feet on tables or chairs and don’t cross your legs so that the bottoms of your feet are exposed to the people around you. I don’t know the origins for this, but I would bet that it has something to do with a past presence of camels (and their “influence”) in (and on) the streets. During the revolution, it was common to see people banging the soles of their shoes against posters of Mubarak as a sign of disrespect!
4. You must call your friends. Not only are social networks extremely necessary for survival, our Egyptian friends get offended if we don’t call or text them frequently to check up on them!
5. Don’t eat with your left hand. It’s not clean, no matter how many times you wash it! That’s just the rule. Same goes for shaking hands; the right hand is the only acceptable one. “But Brice,” You ask, “What shall I do if my right hand is actually really dirty and my left hand isn’t?” You offer them your right wrist! Or you give up on hand shaking altogether and give them a hug.
6. If you see a rug on a sidewalk, don’t walk on it! We learned this one the hard way during our first month in Egypt. People who are working and can’t go to the Mosque to pray have to pray where they are. So one thing businesses do for employees (especially during Ramadan) is lay rugs out onto the sidewalk for the employees to pray on. These rugs are supposed to be clean places to commune with God, so walking on them in your shoes will get you yelled at!
And you know what else is interesting? What is NOT etiquette in Egypt:
1. Leaving trash in public places. There is a pretty clear distinction here between public and private places. So, most people’s houses are super tidy, but there are piles of trash in the streets and on balconies. When people finish drinking or eating something, they just drop it into the street or throw it from their car. I read somewhere that this might have to do with the “Politics of Littering” and that Egyptians might be subconsciously expressing disapproval towards their government.
2. Telling other people’s children what to do. After all, we’re one big happy family right? And children can be really annoying. So tell them what’s what! (Actually, I tried this last week. The kids just laughed and called me names. Apparently I’m not as intimidating as the little old ladies that I usually see yelling at them.)
3. Late night phone calls. Egyptians don’t really sleep at night, even if they work early in the morning. So they assume that you don’t either. *Ring Ring* “It’s one in the morning and I just wanted to know how you are!”
4. And, if no one answers said phone call, you can keep calling, over and over and over, until someone does. Curse you, automatic redial!
5. Being late. Lateness is not a thing, here. (We’ve discovered this can be a bit of a downside when we schedule tutoring and they come sometimes an hour after they are supposed to, and half-an-hour or more in picking up the kids!) Other than that, this is the best thing ever. People show up hours late, and nobody cares (usually). This has been super-convenient for me, since I was doing this before I even came here.