Hello and Welcome back! Every country has it’s own idiosyncrasies and culture, but today I’m going to be talking about some things that are very common to see in Egypt, particularly Cairo, that may surprise or even shock you! All of these things are seen as very normal here, and not a big deal, but I can say as a westerner some are funny, no big deal or dangerous! So here are 10 things that may surprise you about day to day life on the streets of Cairo.
1. Taxi Hustlers
“Huh?” You may ask. What do you mean by a taxi hustler?! Is that some kind of gangster disguised as roaming about in a taxi? No, I’m relieved to tell you that it’s not as exciting as that. Taxi drivers here have a tendency, ESPECIALLY with naive foreigners, to not run the meter and tell you whatever price they pick out of their head. You can be seriously overcharged so that they get extra money in their pocket. If you don’t watch out you’ll end up frustrated and angry. The solution to this? Make sure that they have a meter and they start it as soon as you get in the car. Another option too is to take Uber which is very cheap here.
2. Security and Guns
Usually in the Western world when you see lots of security with dogs or holding guns it means that you’re in a crime scene or they are looking for someone, and it can put you on edge. Here though, every mall, food court, or public place has some kind of security that you go through. This isn’t to say that they all have guns, but you will have to go through a detector and put your bags on a belt or open them before going into a big public place. If you’re parking they also open your trunk to make sure you have nothing dangerous inside. This is really for everybody’s protection, and once you understand that, you do feel safer knowing security is nearby if anything happens.
3. Street Crossing Suicide “Inshallah”
A common belief in Egypt is that God determines when and how you will die, or your destiny. You will notice that there is less of a respect for safety and life because of this belief such as for example when driving or crossing the street. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve almost hit someone at night on the highway. Yes, they cross even on the highways. You’ll notice it too when you might see some parents with their kids parked on their lap while they’re driving, or a family of 6 or more on a moped. They don’t mind to take risks here, even on construction sights I see people just wearing crocs and no safety gear sometimes. Those are just a few ways you can see the signs of this belief, but those are to name a few.
This concept is super normal in other cultures, but to a westerner in their country, the price is just the price as is. There’s no changing it. In Egypt, in the local places, the price is often determined by the seller and can be, let’s say “adapted”. Let’s just say that they EXPECT you to bargain, and can’t even begin to fathom why so many tourists take them up on their original prices, but hey, who cares, more money for their wallet! Not in places like malls, or restaurants, but in your local markets for souvenirs, things for tourists are always four or five times the actual price. I’m not saying that even if you bargain that you as a foreigner will be able to get them down to that true price, but you can certainly get them down from what they offered you. Do some research online and on Youtube. When shopping for some things, try and get a local to come with you, or ask about how much it’s real worth is. Ask any friends from the East, India, or a Spanish speaking country and they can help you know more or less the tactics to bargaining. Heck, maybe even one day I’ll write a post about that!
5. Chiclets for Change
Yup. That’s right. You read that correctly. This is a hilarious novelty here that can be equally frustrating. For some reason, the cash drawers seem to NEVER have change. I don’t know how this happens, but it happens A LOT. Especially at kiosks and the small grocery stores. Instead of giving you your hard earned 2, or 5 EGP back, they will give you a packet of whatever-happens-to-be-on-hand, which in most cases is chiclets, Nescafe packets, toffees. 1 toffee = 1 Egyptian pound. Or if they don’t have change they’ll say, we don’t have 5 pounds, take the equivalent, you can take a bag of chips instead. This is so common and normal here, nobody questions it, but those little pounds can add up. I have a funny story about this. This happened to some friends of ours here that go to the same grocery store again and again. They ended up with A LOT of candy from this place, and they don’t really eat candy. So what did they do? After they had a good amount, when they went shopping, they USED that candy as currency to pay the store for things they were buying. Can you guess the reaction? They didn’t like it! But they said: ‘Hey, if you use these chiclets as legit currency, then so can we.’ The owners, knowing them, laughed and had a sense of humor about it.
6. Tipping for Toilet Paper and “Parking”
Now on a VERY rare occasion, very rare, these are legit jobs that people have to earn money. MOST of the time though, it’s under the table. For example, if you go to a public bathroom in one of the sights like the Pyramids or the Citadel, and you see someone holding toilet paper, and they offer it to you because there isn’t in the bathroom, I’m here to tell you that they aren’t being nice, they’ll expect money. Usually 5 EGP. My suggestion? ALWAYS, ALWAYS carry tissues, hand wipes, and hand sanitizer with you so that you’re ALWAYS prepared for this situation. Another thing along the lines of tipping is that you will see many men on the sides of the street supposedly “helping” people to park. Telling them which way to turn their wheel, when to go, when to stop, etc. Many of them have never driven and designated this little area as their “spot”. They of course expect a tip fo this unsolicited, voluntary “help” they gave you. My favorite is when they show up to help you “leave” right before you leave, even though you parked when they weren’t there, which is of course just a visual reminder that you were in their “spot” and should tip them.
This is probably, the most noticeable, most talked about thing when people come to visit Egypt. THE DRIVING. There are no rules, and there are no lines. In fact, most people drive ON the lines instead of in-between them. I wouldn’t recommend renting a car while you’re here, unless you invest in some serious insurance. The Egyptians have an expression where they say it’s like playing a video game. Except, in real life. The more interesting thing though, is that it results in a sort of organized chaos because everybody drives that way. Yes, some are faster and some are slower, but there aren’t as many accidents as you would think that could happen with 25 million people. Everybody talks, texts, smokes, or even holds a baby in their lap while driving. Shocking right?
8. Stray Animals
Animal lovers beware! You’re going to have your heart strings pulled more than once seeing all the street cats and dogs. They don’t look so good as you can imagine, they’re often dirty, starving, and trying to stay out of the way of people and cars. Arabs don’t care so much for animals as westerners do. Some people do own dogs as pets, but not much is done for the animals living in the streets. For them, people are more important. I’m just warning you for you to know.
9. PDA or Public Displays of Affection
Or I should say, lack of allowance for PDA. No kissing, or hugging the opposite sex in the street, or really in front of other people. It is actually illegal to kiss on the lips in public. Egypt is very conservative when it comes to this, holding hands is OK, but nothing really beyond that. One time my husband and I went to a park, and I was facetiming with my parents. We were sitting on the grass, he was lying down, but with his knees bent and I was sitting up and just leaning against his legs with my back WHILE speaking with my parents. The security guards came over and asked us not to sit like that, and even said NO TOUCHING. That’s how serious it is.
10. Staring/ Invading Personal Space
If you are not Egyptian, you’ll find A LOT of people staring at you. Egyptians are super curious. White girls are like celebrities here. Legitimately, you’ll have school children stopping to ask you for a picture so they can put it on facebook and show off their new “foreign friend”. It’s like seeing a unicorn for them, rare and magical. The staring may only be mild in touristy places, but if you leave that, you’ll get even more attention. Most people don’t have too much of a sense of personal space and won’t apologize or be bothered if they bump into you as their walking or stand very close to you while in line. This is all considered very normal here.
That’s all for today folks! I hope you enjoyed this post, and that it was very informative for your upcoming trip to Egypt. Feel free to comment below with any questions or concerns that we can address here. As always have a great day!