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Culture

When you arrive in Egypt, please try to remember that it is a Muslim country and so has a different culture to the one you are used to. Many things that you take for granted are scorned here: kissing and fondling your partner in public; wearing clothing that is extremely revealing; and homosexuality are obvious examples. If you do visit a mosque, you will be expected to remove your footwear, though some of the larger mosques do supply paper overshoes. Please be prepared for this and follow what you are asked to do. Likewise women are usually asked to cover their shoulders and upper torso’s so if a mosque is on your itinerary for the day, think of dressing accordingly.

Though it is hard to believe, Egypt is actually classed as a third world country and has a very high proportion of extremely poor people. Many of these see tourists as rich people, even if the visitor is just a budget traveller, and so will take every opportunity to get some money from them, primarily to help in feeding their family. Baksheesh (tips) are always being sought and so the correct way to reply is by using the Arabic phrase “la shukran” (which means no thank you) and continue on your journey, even if it means you feel you are being a little bit ignorant. Even saying “no thank you” will suffice, if you forget the Arabic phrase. Most visitors know the phrase “Emshi”, but please try and refrain from using this as it can be taken as an insult, which could lead to an unwarranted argument. Above all, try to be polite when refusing to give baksheesh as the person is only trying to better him/herself.

You will hear the “call to prayer” from loudspeakers situated on the minarets of the mosques: including the dawn prayer (ṣalāt al-faǧr). This is part of the culture and very soon you will start to not notice them at all. But please remember that this is an Islamic country and so this is part of the Egyptian culture: it will not be stopped just because tourists do not like it!

Many people try to avoid visiting Egypt during the holy month of Ramadan, usually because of the lack of understanding and/or incorrect comments made by some people. Ramadan is a good time to visit, especially for the cultural value of it. Though Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, the non-Muslim part of the population do not, nor do any visitors (unless they decide to). Food and drink is still available, and there are no objections to anyone sitting down for a meal during the fasting period. Sometimes you may even be lucky enough to be invited to a family’s “iftar” meal, the meal that follows the breaking of each day’s fast. If you do get an invite, grasp it with both hands as the meal is one of the best cultural experiences you will ever have.

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