A very popular custom in Egypt is smoking a shisha.
A shisha is a small packet containing a rolled tobacco leaf, a small amount of molasses, and some apple flavour.
This is put in a type of 'water pipe' under a burning charcoal. You then inhale and the smoke passes through the water, cooling it.
The cooled smoke picks up the flavours of the shisha.
There are shisha parlours all over the place where people (mainly men) get together with friends for a quiet smoke and a Turkish coffee.
Alex visited one of the most popular parlours in Cairo, located in the Khan al-Khali markets.
I didn't try it, but wish I had.
A Whirling Dervish is a unique dance - a "religious ceremony transcending into performing art".
It is a dance performed by an order of the Islamic faith, and it involves the dancer whirling around and around continuously for minutes.
The dancer starts off slowly turning and gets faster as the music picks up pace. They spin and spin, lifting parts of their costumes up as they go.
It goes on for so long that you start to feel dizzy just watching - you wait with baited breath for them to fall over.....but they don't...they keep spinning and whirling.
Egypts cuisine has a mix of African, Arabic & Mediterranean style. Egyptian dishes are rarely very spicy but they do use a mix of colourful spices in some of the foods. Although Egypt is a Muslim country, alcohol is widely available at restaurants & bars but do not miss out on the fantastic freshly squeezed fruit juices.
The local Stella Lager is good, but i do prefer the Egyptian beer which is called Saqqara Gold. There are a few Egyptians wines too my favourite is Obelisk. Hot drinks include Chai (Mint tea) which tastes great & you will find that everywhere you go they will offer you this tea, & Ahwa (Arabic coffee) which is a little too strong for me. Only drink bottled mineral water whilst in Egypt... A well known brand is Baraka which is really cheap to buy in the shops.
Also a must try is the Sugarcane Juice....its very sweet but delicious. It is made from Sugarcane pulp which is squeezed to give asap, a sweet light green drink with a foamy head.
I was lucky enough to visit Cairo when Ramadan was in place. It starts around 6th October up until about the 3rd November.
I spent one evening with my Egyptian Friends Family & enjoyed breaking fast with them at 5.30pm. You listen to Allah on the radio & at the sound of the shot of a gun means you can break fast & eat & drink as much as you like. Everyone then likes to party all night long & enjoy food & drink with there friends & family.
The local peoples are very gracious and polite in Cairo. It occurs that the passers-by on the street give us a smile and say hello.
Egyptian has casual intimacy like kissing the other men on the cheek, so do not be surprised by this gesture. This is their way of greeting and they do not usually require a lot of personal space while interacting with fellow men.
Though they are close talkers, be extra careful when interacting with the women. It has been in tradition that it is unseemly proper to speak with women when you are not related. Even when engaged in professional situations, making eye contact with women is considered to be forward already.
Moreover, if talking with the Egyptians avoid going into details and asking about their female relatives. You may be just trying to be friendly but a conservative Egyptian may wrongly interpret it.
The Egyptian hospitality is well-known.
If you are guest somewhere and you like something there, you may not start praising it, because by the local traditions the host is bound to offer it to the guest as a gift.
Likewise solemn duty to offer the guest a beverage and food. The main beverage among the Egyptians is the coffee, which is drunk much more sweetly, than in Europe.
Fridays are the normal day off for most people in Egypt. Depending on the type of work, the work week may go from Sunday - Thursday, Saturday - Thursday, or Saturday - Wednesday. Thursday night is the night people will go out the most. Yes, there are clubs and yes, expats and Egyptians will go to them, but it is more common to see families going out for dinner and shopping.
I found it very odd at first that Egyptians of college age would often reserve this night for family activies rather than go out with their friends. Most teens and college age kids in the states would be miserable at the thought of hanging out with mom and grandma on a weekend night at the mall. I love this aspect of Egyptian culture though....the emphasis on family. Family is everything to an Egyptian, and family activities and duties come first....willingly. Of course, this is not alwaaays the case but it is the general way things are. Don't be offended if your Egyptian friends drop plans because of family. It is nothing personal, it is just expected that family comes first. Period.
Egypt has quite a few excellent Arabic language centers such as the American University in Cairo (very expensive) and the Fajr Center (very affordable).
Both of these centers are accredited by the Egyptian Education Ministry and have very good reputations.
If you want to seriously study Arabic, I suggest starting with Modern Standard Arabic which is used for reading and writing in most media and universities throughout the Arab world. It is not spoken in the street as much but people can definitely understand it. They might try to answer you in the colloquial (local/street) dialect but that is easily remedied by pointing out that you understand MSA.
If you plan to read and write then MSA is a must because it uses accent marks and is grammatically structured while the local dialects are not. Take colloquial on the side or after getting a couple levels of MSA in.
Note that there are many varieties of colloquial dialects both from country to country and within a country. A person from Morocco might not understand a person from Syria but almost all will understand MSA. The Egyptian Cairo colloquial dialect is also widely understood in the Arab world because Egypt has a thriving movie/television industry.
The ancient Egyptians used a system of writing that began as pictographs and then developed to pictures having a certain sound, which when to gether made a word. The meaning could then be determined when other symbols were added.
The easiest thing to remember is that if a group of hieroglyphics are enclosed in an oblong [cartouche], then it is the name of a king.
Writing can be read from left to right or right to left. To determine which direction, look at the way a bird or human figure is facing and read accordingly.
To complicate matters words can also be read from top to bottom.
Many people take home silver or gold pendants where someone has engraved the 'alphabetic' equivalent of their name If the name is Philip, he will write P H I L I P rather than the sound; and Jane as J A N E though the E is silent. Still, it makes a pretty gift.
Many people thinks that any woman walking in the streets covering her hair is a veiled Muslim. Not all veiled are muslims and not all veiled are religious.
It is a habit or traditional like in some greek and italian villages and many other eastern europe villages for a woman to cover her hair.
Some christians in Egypt covers their hair.
It is normal that everyone in Egypt expect "bakshish" e.g a tip. And literally everyone! From the luggage carriers to ministers, for the former I can tell from my personal experience while for the latter so I've heard. You can give a usual tip of 10% of the bill but you can also give whatever the amount you choose. They will always ask for more :)
Although English, French, Spanish and German is widely spoken in Egypt it is still beneficial to learn some of the language. The language in Egypt is Arabic. I have got a couple of books on Egypt which have helped me with the pronunciation of the words... as they can be abit of a mouthful. I have got the Lonely Planet guide to Egypt & also the Eyewitness guide to Egypt. Both books have been fantastic.
Hello= As-salama alaykum
Hello (to respond)= Wa alaykum salam
Goodbye (person leaving)= Ma' al salama
Goodbye (person responding)= Alla salkmak (to a man), Alla ysalmich (to a lady), Alla ysalimkum (to a group of people)
Good morning= Sabah al-kheir
Good afternoon/evening= Masa' al-kheir
Good afternoon/evening (to respond)= Masa' an-nur
Goodnight= Tisbah ala'kheir (to a man), Tisbihin ala-kheir (to a lady)
Pleased to meet you= Fursa sa' ida
Please= Min fadlik (to a man) Min fadlich (to a lady)
How are you?= Kef Halak?
And one of my favourite Arabic words is "No Problem" which is "Mish Mushkila"
Everything in Egypt is Mish Mushkila even the language.... Its very easy to learn once you've learnt a few basic words.
I am not sure where to place this tip exactly but here goes. This is a listing of the local Egyptian television channels (non-satellite). There is really not a large selection but one or two channels do have English Languge content.....news, movies, dubbed television shows etc. The following is clipped from the link provided below. Check out the website listed for more information.
Channel 1: on the air from 8 a.m.-2 a.m. (local time), is mainly in Arabic.
Channel 2: broadcasting from 11 a.m.- 2 a.m. daily, has many foreign language programs.
Channel 3: is a Cairo-only station broadcasting in Arabic, from 1 p.m to 12 midnight.
CNE: arrived in Egypt in 1991. It broadcasts to subscribers 24 hours a day with an uncensored program.
Channel 4: is a Suez Canal station.
Channel 5: Alexandria station.
Channel 6: Delta station.
Channel 7: Upper Egypt station.
Nile TV: Tourism promotion station.
See the Egyptian Gazette for daily television schedules. Schedules vary during Ramadan and in the summer.
It is the custom for a guest to take a gift if invited to visit someone's house. This can be chocolates or pastrries, but more usually flowers.
Flower shops can be found almost everywhere in Cairo. Fresh flowers are nicely presented, or there are elaborate arrangements in pots, either fresh or dried, or a combination of natural and artificial.
A complicated arrangement can cost over 100EPounds, but a simpler bouquet can be found for much less depending on the kind of flowers chosen.
It is a custom that you will be invited for a cup of "karkadeh" in many shops in Cairo and Egypt. It is a hot or cold hibiscus tea, a national drink in this country. Shop keepers try to sell their goods and this custom can be interpreted as their hospitality or just a way to get your attention in order to sell you something because it can be really hard to leave their shop and buy nothing after drinking karkadeh and chatting with them.
I was abit apprehensive when my other half told me that we would travelling to Egypt during the Ramadam period. I was thinking...hmmm would the egyptians be very tired and would egypt be very quiet during daylight???
Encouraged by the kind advise from the VT egypt forum, we went to Egypt with big anticipation and boy was i bowled over!!!
YOU MUST, You must visit Egypt during Ramadam!! Kekeke....yes, Egyptians who are are of Islamic religion do not eat, drink and smoke from sunrise til sunset, but they are still jovial and friendly. From Luxor to Aswan to Cairo, i'm very very glad to bump into Egyptians who joked with us and especially so when it's near breaking fast time, they were very happy and we could all feel the festive mood. This country is so vibrant with activities and life during Ramadam.
We were at Cairo during the celebration after Ramadam and it was an eye-opener. The streets were so bursting with merry mood and laughter. I love it.....
I would visit Egypt again, during the Ramadam period. And you should too.
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