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Customs & Traditions in Egypt

General Etiquette

  • It is considered impolite to point the toe, heel, or any part of the foot toward another person. Showing the sole of one’s shoe is also impolite.

  • Modest dress and presentation are highly valued in Egyptian culture.

  • Greetings often occur before any form of social interaction. For example, a person joining a group is expected to greet all those present.

  • Generally, the younger have to respect older, not challenging their seniors and using special verbal terms of address for aunts, uncles, grandparents, and older non-relatives.

  • It is expected that one show appreciation when offered a compliment. This is done by responding with an equally respectful compliment on the same subject.

  • Egyptian society does not allow relations before marriage, and if it happens, it remains secret until the date of official engagement.

  • People can not express love, embracing, and kissing in the streets because it is not acceptable in Egypt religion and morally.

  • Men and women can’t have a relationship unless there’s an official bond like marriage or family bond.

  • Commonly, Egyptians love to help people, If you ask them any question, they will answer it happily. if they don't know the answer they will try helping you by asking others around them.

  • A man's word is considered his bond and to go back on your word is to bring dishonor to your family.


Family

  • Family plays an important role in social relations.

  • The individual is always subordinate to the family, tribe, or group.

  • The family consists of both the nuclear and the extended family.


Naming

  • The common Egyptian naming convention sees a child given a personal name followed by the given names of their father and grandfather (e.g. Mohamed Ahmed Hussain).

  • The use of a family name is becoming more common.

  • Family names frequently begin with ‘El-’.

  • Some family names may be derived from geographical place names and can indicate a family’s origins.

  • Egyptian Muslims often use Islamic names (e.g. Mohamed), and Christians use Biblical or Western names.

  • Egyptians like to give their children traditional Arab names which give the meaning of dignity and nobility.

  • Egyptian women often do not change their names upon marriage.

  • In rural parts of Egypt, the title ‘Haram’ in front of a name means ‘wife of’ (e.g. Haram Mustafa means ‘wife of Mustafa).

  • In large cities and among the middle to upper classes, the terms ‘Madam’ or ‘Zoggat’ may be used for women as a substitute for the use of ‘Haram’.

  • In some places in Egypt (especially Rural areas) when you ask a woman about her name she says I'm "om+ a male name" (means a mother of + her son's name (e.g. Om Mohamed).

Meeting & Greeting:

  • When a person entering into any group he should greet everyone or just greet the whole group by saying "As-salam alekom ' peace be upon you' " Or "Hello everyone". Handshakes are expected in a situation involving people you are familiar with.

  • A common phrase that accompanies a greeting is ‘salaam alekum’ (‘may peace be with you’), which should be replied to with ‘wa alekum as-salam’ (‘may peace be with you also’). However, the exact phrase varies by town/city and dialect. For example, in some areas, it is more common to say ‘Sbaah el Kher’ (good morning) and ‘Masaa’ el Kher’ (good evening).

  • Handshakes may be held only lightly, but are often prolonged. They are generally accompanied by a wide smile and direct eye contact.

  • First names tend not to be used unless one has been invited to do so. The common form of address is the use of titles (e.g. Mr, Mrs, Dr, etc.) along with one’s first name or surname depending on the relationship.

  • Close friends may address each other in an informal way by adding a title to the first name as a nickname.

  • Often, how people greet one another is based on the class, religion, and gender of the person. If unsure about the most appropriate greeting, it is best to follow the lead of the Egyptian you are meeting.

  • Greetings among Egyptians can be quite lengthy, with people inquiring into their counterpart’s health, the well-being of their family, etc.

  • While men greet each other for the first time, a light handshake is common. Friends and relatives tend to kiss on both cheeks. This may be accompanied by a hug and a back slap.

  • While women greet each other for the first time, a simple nod or a light handshake with the right hand is common. Friends and relatives tend to kiss on both cheeks while shaking hands.

  • Greetings between men and women: A handshake may be acceptable in certain circumstances otherwise don't offer a handshake to women especially if she is a Muslim just nod with a light smile and a simple greeting is accepted.


Visiting a home

  • Not visiting someone for a long period of time is considered a sign of the relationship’s insignificance, especially one’s family.

  • Egyptians generally have a relaxed attitude towards time and strict punctuality is not commonly practiced.

  • Family members who live outside of their parents’ homes ( if being married for example) often visit their parents on Fridays-the weekend- and holidays.

  • Some families asked you to remove your shoes before entering their house, on the other hand, some families see it is rude to ask someone to remove his shoes it depends on the personal background and family traditions.

  • Egyptians tend to prepare elegant and generous meals when they invite guests.

  • If invited to an Egyptian’s home, offering good quality chocolates or sweets to the hostess as a token of gratitude is appreciated.

Giving gifts

  • Gifts are generally given and received with both hands or only the right hand.

  • A small gift to your Egyptian counterpart’s children is a welcome gesture.

  • Gifts are not opened when received.

  • Flowers are a good gift but sometimes it tends to be reserved for weddings, visiting someone ill, for mourning or as a mother's day gift, unless you know that the hosts would appreciate them.

  • A small gift for the children shows affection.


Dining & Food:

  • If the reason for being invited to an Egyptian’s home is for a dinner party, wait for the host or hostess to indicate the seat they have reserved for you.

  • Guests should always wait for the host to serve them rather than serving themselves.

  • Dress well and conservatively as appearances are important to Egyptians.

  • It is considered to be a compliment to take second helpings.

  • Always show appreciation for the meal, and don't forget to thank the hostess for her effort and for the taste of the food.

  • Leave a small amount of food on your plate means you didn't like the food, but if your host is from rural areas you can leave a small amount of food as this means you are full and enjoyed the meal.

  • Complimenting food should be done in a statement rather than a question.

  • You will find some people follow the etiquette dinning by eating while the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right hand, on the other hand, you will find some people avoid eating food with their left hands, as this hand is generally reserved for personal hygiene.

  • Alcohol is generally not served with food, you can find juices, water, or soft drinks instead.

  • It is considered offensive to offer pork to Muslims as pigs or products related to pigs (such as pork and pig leather) are prohibited in the Islamic religion.

  • After finishing lunch please make sure to keep a space in your stomach for the tea and the dessert or the fruits.

Communication style

  • Egyptians are quite expressive and passionate when they talk.

  • They are generally open and emotive, displaying happiness and gratitude freely.

  • Emotions relating to grief and sorrow are also widely expressed, particularly in the case of the death of a loved one.

  • Public displays of anger are discouraged and may be interpreted as an insult.

  • Egyptians generally communicate in an indirect manner.

  • They tend to avoid replying with a direct ‘no’ and instead usually offer a lengthy reply that may not answer the question.

  • Egyptians often use humor in their conversations and find it encouraging when their jokes are appreciated.

  • The appropriateness of touching during conversations depends on the relationship between the people interacting.

  • Close friends and family will frequently touch each other while acquaintances will generally avoid doing so.

  • Norms and expectations of physical contact also often depend on the gender of the people interacting. For example, good friends of the same gender may hold hands or kiss when greeting in public.

  • On the other hand, there is little to no public display of affection between opposite genders during a conversation or when in public places, with the exception of married couples who may walk arm in arm.

  • The common physical distance maintained between people is usually an arm’s length.

  • The acceptable proximity may vary depending on the genders of the two people interacting with one another. For example, women may stand closer to each other, whilst people generally prefer to keep a bigger distance from those of the opposite gender.

  • Touching all four fingers to the thumb with the palm facing inwards then shaking it up and down is used to tell someone to ‘wait a moment’. To point, one usually uses their index finger.

  • To beckon someone, Egyptians tend to whistle, clap or say ‘psst’.

  • Direct eye contact is acceptable in most cases and is valued as a sign of respect to the speaker as well as a sign of honesty and sincerity.

  • However, in accordance with Islamic principles, males and females may be expected to lower their gaze and avoid sustained eye contact with each other. This is considered respectful and observant of the partition between genders.


Tipping Etiquette

  • It's customary to tip restaurant staff with 10% of the bill, the housekeeping staff at hotels around USD $2 per day, taxi drivers around $1 and cruise staff $4-5 per day to be divided between the on-board crew

  • When delivering your backsheesh "Tip", fold the notes in your hands and pass the money in the form of a handshake.


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