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When I was little, I used to come to Egypt in the summers to visit my grandmother in Alexandria. This would have been in the 1980s and I can remember the electricity constantly going on and off, especially at night and we would have candles lit in the room we were all sitting in and down the hallway and outside in the stairwell in case someone in the building got caught in the dark. As a young nipper I thought it was fun, but with the global warming and hot temperatures that we have now, I fail to make light of the situation.

The power cuts started to make a come back this past May and I know many people are blaming the newly elected President for this, (which personally just baffles me, because last I checked he wasn’t an electrician and he doesn’t spend his time at the power plants, but HEY! what do ‘I’ know?).

The person I think people’s anger should be directed at, is the Minister of Energy. If he had been doing his job to the best of his ability by calculating the population growth, with the number of air conditioners that have been purchased in recent years, as well as the number of illuminating billboards we see in the streets …etc I think he could have gotten a ball park figure of how much energy would be needed and how the number of watts being used has increased dramatically over the past decade.

Secondly, I recently read in an Al Ahram article that they are only now just cutting off electricity for people who are way behind in paying their bills. By people I don’t only mean private citizens but factories, business and shop keepers? When the man who goes round reading the electricity meters and takes down the number carrying a  hand-held briefcase or pouch with bills, why doesn’t he ask them to pay and if after two to three months of not paying why hasn’t he informed the power station so that they can turn off his electricity so that they do pay up? (Is this another side of corruption that we are unaware of?)

I am dreading moving back to Cairo in two weeks time if this is what I am going to have to put up with. The heat is unbearable as it is and I don’t want to have to constantly climb up and down 6 flights of stairs or teach students under extreme weather conditions can you imagine how hot and bothered a room full of 24 eight year olds will be? (It would be on a par with a waiting room of expecting mothers!)

Secondly, the street lamps should not be among the lights that should be sacrificed to keep energy flowing. Streets should be well-lit, for the safety of those on the road and pedestrians.

If over consumption of electricity is occurring then wouldn’t it be logical to communicate with the public, make them understand and possibly even campaign about it to educate the public and students of the problem at hand and how they might be able to help?

The power shortages are not just happening in one area, they are happening across the country and for the residence. I bet it’s really frustrating, especially during the month of Ramadan, when they are fasting from sunrise to sunset and they can’t drink any fluids to help cool their body temperatures, let alone using a fan!

I really hope that the situation doesn’t escalate and that things are more under control by the time I am back, otherwise I will be joining the hot tempered masses.

What I don’t understand is why the water keeps being cut off too?

Al Ahram Article;  http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2012/1108/eg5.htm

Don't be silenced by shame, Stand Up and Speak Up!

A few weeks ago I was on a walking tour with some my colleagues in Islamic Cairo on a chilly and somewhat gloomy Saturday morning. I was the youngest female in the group and the only one who had lived in the Middle East for 3 decades. Pete, one of the people on the tour approached me and asked me how I cope with living in Egypt and how do I handle ‘the men’ and being harassed on the street. I told him that I had written an article about Sexual Harassment and it had been published in Community times. Interested in my views and article he asked me to send him a copy and if I would consider being a guest speaker and give a talk to High Schoolers, I agreed.

I am always willing to share my work with others and get their feedback, but as the date for the talk loomed closer I wasn’t so sure if I could follow through. The memories and the feelings of the experiences I had and trying to find the words to describe the situations and how it affected me wasn’t as easy as I had thought it would be. I found myself in a tug of war ‘don’t do it, you don’t need to go through all this again, it’s in the past.’ ‘You have to do this, you have to speak up and let the younger generation know that this isn’t acceptable and that women and men shouldn’t brush this under the carpet any longer! Women have been silenced long enough; you need to speak up and out about it.’ My worry was resurrecting and awakening the emotions that I had worked so hard to tame and keep locked away. Would I be able to handle it even after all the time that had passed?

The voice of reason won the battle and I didn’t bail out. To help me I wrote out key points to help me stay on track as a guide line to the discussion and talk. I knew that if I let my emotions get the better of me; it may turn out to be a bawling session and a mockery of something that I feel very deeply about.

The day of the talk, I had butterflies in my stomach and when I saw the young faces of Egypt’s future I became more nervous, my face flushed a bright red and my skin burned, my voice quivered and my hands shook, but I kept going.

After introducing myself to the class, giving my nationalities and making sure that they knew that although I am of mixed ethnicity that I was also ‘ONE OF THEM’, an Egyptian woman. This seemed to wake them up a bit and grab their attention. I discussed the different forms of sexual harassment (Degrading and graphic terms said, the skin crawling looks of being undressed and devoured by the other person and the physical (which on its own comes in many forms))

I told them that most people assume that women or teenage girls must have done something or dressed provocatively to have provoked or asked for the attack to happen. I then told them that my earliest memory was between the ages of 10 or 12 and I was in a shopping mall with my family when I had my first experience and that is when I saw the students get their wake up call! I had reached them; they were seeing it not only from an Egyptian woman’s point of view but from a kid’s point of view. They knew that there was no way at such a young age I could have provoked an attack or had known what sexual harassment was.

Unfortunately children here lead very sheltered lives and do not know what dangers await them outside their apartment doors. They know that there are bad people and that there are thieves but they aren’t made aware of the others that are lurking about. Our girls are clueless and defenseless, I am certain that none of them would know what to do if they were put in a situation like that.

There are many subjects that are taboo in this part of the world and have been locked away in a dark corner of everyone’s mind, simply because they choose not to believe it exists and it will go away on its own. In a perfect world, perhaps it would work, but we do not have that privilege.

Not talking about ‘Sex’, ‘The Body’ and ‘Sexual Harassment’ makes things worse, the predators and prowlers who take advantage of the women walking in the street minding their own business may not have been made aware of what some people will do and how they may violate them. They mightn’t understand or know what their instincts are telling them when they sense an intruder in their personal space. Women being shamed in to guilt and silence just make the offenders more powerful and willing to repeat their acts on other innocent and unsuspecting women?! How can we condone such a thing? We need to arm these women with knowledge of how to recognize a potential offender and how to fight them off. Letting them walk around unarmed with the basic knowledge is just as bad as the person committing the acts themselves.

I know full well what goes through a woman’s mind and the mental torment that follows after an attack. The incident replays itself over and over in your mind, you wonder what you may have done to have provoked the attacker, what you could have done differently. How dirty you feel and no matter how hard or many times you try to wash yourself, the dirt doesn’t seem to go away. It seems to linger on and beneath the skin. You just want to curl up somewhere dark and hide away, BUT if we do that, they win and they strip us of our dignity.

After one of my attacks, I said enough is enough, I will not be silenced! I am not doing anything wrong and I certainly DON’T WANT this to happen! I am going to fight back and I will not let them silence me. This is MY body and they have NO right to touch me!

The examples I gave not only hit home with the girls in the class but it also hit home with the boys. Especially when I told them that on more than one occasion there were men who saw what happened and did nothing. No one came to my aid and I had to fight the sicko off myself!

It isn’t only the women who have to stand up but it’s also the men who have to as well.

I am grateful that the school and the teachers are broaching the subject and are discussing it openly and honestly with the students. I feel that more schools and homes should do the same, If we are ever going to make the streets safer for women to walk down without constantly having to be alert of everyone one around her.

After the talk, four of the staff members who had been present for my talk said that not only were they moved by the talk, but that the students seemed to really relate and were fired up about bringing about change and doing something to make more people aware.

I know I had my doubts about giving the talk, but I am glad that I did. I may have reached someone that day and given them some tips to recognize the warnings and let them know that they are not alone in this.

I have been a victim of Sexual Harassment, I will NOT be silenced and I AM speaking out against it.

NB: My Mom just called me in a panic, because she thought that I had been raped and not told her about it. Sexual Harassment doesn’t have to be an assault to that degree. No, I have not been raped, but I have had men full clothed try to force themselves on me and touch me in places that is in appropriate. That is also sexual harassment and it isn’t right!

Primary School Students in Alexandria-Photo by Thom Harwell

Primary School Students in Alexandria-Photo by Thom Harwell

The entry below is hypothetical; it is something I have been mulling over in my mind for quite some time. Being an educator I have found that one of the many joys of teaching is being able to pass on knowledge to the future generations. I have dreams and hopes that one day the Egyptian people will climb back up to the top and impress us with their capabilities once again and achieve great things.
For decades we have been experiencing a brain drain. Families who have had the means have immigrated to foreign countries to seek a better life and education for the children. The education system I regret to say, presently is not nurturing our nation’s future. With classrooms that hold between 30-70 students in a single class, how on earth can the system expect teachers to be able to reach or teach students? It isn’t a wonder that there is an abundance of private tuition that goes on!
If Egypt is to change, the education system and its curriculum has to be one of its focal points.
If I was given the opportunity to be Minister of Education, I would make a lot of changes, which  would also probably put a price tag on my head and move me to the top of many people’s HIT LISTS, but somebody has to step up to the plate and take charge.
Egyptians at one point in history were the leaders in Science and Mathematics, the Pharaohs were living proof of that. Over decades our position among the leading educated nations has slipped to the lower end of the spectrum which is very upsetting.

 
The public school system, (by public I mean government run schools) is lacking in so many areas that it is very difficult to find a starting point. Below are a few areas that I have been thinking about, but before I do that, let me paint a visual picture of what a ‘Government School’ is like; the following paragraph you are about to read is an excerpt from my Masters Comprehensive Exam Essay;

 
“For me to describe the ‘high quality education’ that I envision for schools in Egypt In the 21st century I need to give a brief description of what public/government run schools are like presently.”

 
“The land and building on which the schools are built on are not only structurally depressing to look at but to be in. The exterior walls of the school are colorless and lifeless. They look more like prison blocks than they do institutions for learning. The classrooms are small, poorly lit, desks are crammed in tightly next to one another to form as many rows as possible. There is a huge worn out chalkboard at the front of the room where the teacher stands and regurgitates and spoon feeds lessons. Students from as low as 30-70 in a classroom is best described as a can of sardines. The play area is a small patch of land with sand. I won’t even go in to describing the washroom facilities because I will only make you queasy. The sounds that ring out and across the school are mainly the voices of teachers shouting their lessons, banging their desk, children reciting and repeating phrases and scolding. “
This is not learning… this is programming. If the founding Theorists of Education could see the state of these schools, they would probably be turning in their graves. I don’t know how we as a nation have allowed or permitted education to be put on a back burner and for our countries future to be taught under these conditions.
For the school system to improve we need to improve not only the conditions of the learning institutions but we need to rectify teaching methods, because they are stuck in a time warp. Teachers need to teach not only for the present time but for the future.  Educators need to be re-educated themselves, sending them all back to school probably isn’t going to be feasible and will be very expensive, so an alternate way to go about doing this would be by asking teachers who have gained their Teaching Certificates or Masters in Education to volunteer their time to show teachers different methods and techniques for teaching phonemic awareness, reading, math fundamentals, writing, free thinking as well as how to plan a lesson. These courses would cost the teachers nothing and it would be in the form of ongoing professional development that in addition to asking teaching professionals, we would also extend the invitation to professors to lecture them in theory and practices as well as child psychology.
While the teachers are being re-educated I would have the employees of the Ministry of Education evaluate the current curriculum and together decide what areas need to be amended, changed or dropped all together. Part of the revamping of the curriculum will include hands on learning. Let’s face it, there is so much you can learn from a text-book and not everyone can absorb what the teacher is lecturing about.  According to Howard Gardener there multiple Intelligences, (http://www.infed.org/thinkers/gardner.htm ), in summary means there are several ways people learn and we as a nation need to understand and accept that. Knowledge of the world and its people is something students need to be exposed to. We fear what we do not understand, the more we understand, the less fear we have of the outside world. I would also insist that trades men from the rural areas demonstrate and show students their trade and teach them some of the skills. This would be a stepping stone to start building pride in professions as well as a sense of community.

I don’t expect that with the wave of my pointer all shall be fixed and there won’t be any problems. A lot of damage has been done and a lot of rectifying will be met with resistance. I don’t expect everything to be fully implemented for at least 5-10 years, but changes would be underway before the start of the academic year of 2012, if I had my way, that is.
How to put money back in to the schools and the school system?
I have no idea what the government’s budget is for education or if there are any funds for that matter, so I am going to presume that we have NONE.  To find funding for this enormous project is far from being easy. One idea that does come to mind would be to re-invest a percentage of the sales of the needed textbooks and uniforms back in to the schools as well as having a percentage of our salaries taxed to be reinvested in to the education system. By this we would be making sure the classrooms would be in a condition that is safe and a comfortable learning environment.  We would also be able to reduce the number of students in classrooms and increase teachers’ salaries. Each classroom would have the proper lighting, ventilation and furniture and eventually resources. The bathroom facilities would be sanitary and the playground a place where students can enjoy running around and playing at recess.

 
I would also look for private and public donations by setting up an account for people to donate money to help improve the education system. I’m sure along the road my team and I would find other ways and means of finding funds.
I know that I am probably going to be shot for having suggested that we pay a tax where the money goes towards the education system, but if we profess to love this country as much as we do, shouldn’t we reinvest in it and by doing so through the education so that the future generations of Egypt, lead this country out of the third world country bracket but towards the 21st century and a better nation?
Education is the weapon to fighting ignorance and I hate to be the one to admit it or to point it out, but there is a lot of it here. For Egypt to make a 180 degree turn in the right direction, we need to educate the people of this nation, re instill the self-worth and pride in who they are. If we accomplish that, trust me their voices will grow strong along with their spirits. We need to start from ground zero, from those who are less fortunate than most and work our way up. Think of it as rebuilding our heritage.

On a final note, from what I have been reading on twitter, there is a movement called #tweetback that is working towards raising money for a slum on development projects, aside from regular donor packages, they are adding a twitter campaign component. The recipients of the donations are Ezbet Kheiralla. I know that they are also working towards improving the conditions of some of the schools in that area, if you would like to contribute;
“#tweetback  donations: CIB Bank, Semiramis Branch, acct number 2240000220-SWIFT CIBEEGCX 002, under name Peace and Plenty.
As relayed to me by @TravellerW-Mohamed El Dahshan on twitter.

I was in Alexandria visiting my family for the Eid Al Adha and we had guest visit us and during one of the many visits a topic was brought up and a huge discussion ensued along with many other mini ones with other people, to hear their opinions and to see if they had ever been put in to this particular situation or have heard of another one like it. It is now apparently the custom to tip the hired help (servers, chefs, and chauffeurs) of your host’s house if you have been invited to their house for a luncheon or dinner party. They were actually told by the hosts that tipping the help was ‘expected’. (This has become a thorn in my side!) Upon hearing that, I went buzzerco! What is the world coming to?

After doing quite a bit of research I was able to find the social rules of etiquette according to England. I know that Egypt isn’t England by any standard, but let’s be honest the British are the leaders in etiquette always have been and probably always will be. So, let’s use their rules as a guide line shall we.

 Let’s say the host sends you their chauffer to pick you up from where you are staying and takes you to and from the host’s house. To tip the chauffeur is acceptable in that situation, but if the chauffeur didn’t then, tipping him for standing by the hosts car and polishing it, is no concern of yours. 

If you have been invited for a luncheon or a dinner at someone’s house then you should not tip the help. You were invited, (presumably) to enjoy the ambiance and company of the host along with other guests. Why should you have to tip their help for that? If you were told to, then that is bad form as well as very nouveaux riche. If tipping was expected then could someone please tell me, what’s the difference between going to a restaurant or the friend’s house for a meal? I personally see none!

If a host has the audacity to encourage their guests to tip their employees then that puts them in a very bad light. It indicates that they are not paying their staff enough, if they are to rely on guest’s tips! In European countries the staff would be very embarrassed to be put in that situation, while here the hired help would lap it up and would come to expect it.

Now here is when tipping the house hold staff ‘might’ be condoned acceptable. If you are asked to stay at someone’s house for a long period of time and you are assigned a member of the staff to look after you, then a tip would be acceptable. Tipping the person who cleans your room and prepares your meals after a weekend stay or a longer one is also acceptable. However, you have to check with your hosts that tipping their staff is alright, some house-holds don’t prohibit it. Some house holds give a bonus to those who have to put in extra hours to look after their guests. Hosts don’t condone tipping because it embarrasses them and their staff. So, before you reach deep in to your pockets to slip the help a few notes, you need to check with the host first.

If you are very well acquainted with the family you are visiting and know the staff well then giving a discrete tip is acceptable behavior especially if it’s a holiday season. Just make sure you give the same amount to everyone.

For the past few days I have been asking people who live abroad and here in Egypt if they have ever been put in a situation like that or have heard of others been put in such an awkward and embarrassing predicament and everyone said ‘No’. They were quite shocked and appalled by the situation our friend’s had been put in. One of the people I asked said ‘I don’t know how I would be able to take them seriously or even look at them again. That is just wrong’

I couldn’t agree more!

Now that brings me to my next question, what do you do in a situation like that? I would love to hear you opinions.

Below are some links that tell you in what situations and placed it’s considered alright to  tip.

http://www.howtodothings.com/food-and-drink/a3339-how-to-use-tipping-etiquette.html

http://www.askabeauty.com/manners-tipping.htm

http://www.angelpig.net/victorian/etiquette.html

Etiquette in Society- http://books.google.com.eg/books?id=nJ4qXk0a0mcC&pg=PA426&lpg=PA426&dq=do+you+tip+the+servants&source=bl&ots=CXz1Ux9Pty&sig=ykMS7lIJDFJKx9dE6Ms5nMY-pqA&hl=en&ei=OVDmTKbGFoXBhAf-wLmYCQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=6&ved=0CCUQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=do%20you%20tip%20the%20servants&f=false

A few nights ago, I had logged in to facebook and was half mindedly scanning through my friends’ status up dates when I came across one that really caught my attention. To read it in more detail I clicked on my friends profile page to see what had gotten her feathers ruffled. It read; “I also wear a swimsuit and whoever doesn’t like it can stuff it…balad weskha we nas weskha… (Dirty country and dirty people)”. I had no idea what she was on about until I read the explanation and comments that she had written and people had left.

Apparently some individual formed a group on facebook to try to turn people away from supporting the much favored potential Presidential Candidate, Mohamed ElBaradei. The group had uploaded images of his married daughter Laila on a beach in a one piece bathing costume and more or less implied, ’How can we even consider voting for a man who allows his daughter to wear a swimsuit in public”.  They also apparently mentioned that at his daughter’s wedding Alcohol was served and the man she married doesn’t have a Muslim name.  Another claim was that the Egyptian Nobel Peace Prize winner also has Swiss nationality. I haven’t been successful in finding the group or seeing the pictures but I did search on-line to find out how true it was. I came across this article on-line;

http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20100904/wl_africa_afp/egyptpoliticsoppositioninternet

Personally, I wouldn’t put it past anyone to play dirty when it comes to politics especially when it’s the presidency! The tactics that are being played are aimed at trying to turn the Islamic extremists against ElBaradei and anyone else who will listen. I personally think it’s a pathetic attempt and it’s very childish. If you want to launch an attack on someone then attack that person by creating elements of doubt and question in people’s minds in relation to what he/she claims to stand for. You don’t drag their children through the mud!            

I think these amateurs need to go to Washington for a crash course in how to play hard ball.  I can think of far worse things than a daughter wearing a swimsuit on a beach that would ruin a person’s chance for running for president! Like a criminal record, bribery, money laundering, high treason, being related to Bush or Sarah Palin or committed murder, just to name a few! If a presidential campaign was based on family members personal attire at the pool or beach, then I don’t think anyone world-wide would be eligible to run for president! Before you even think of using ‘Egypt is a Muslim Country’ as a point of argument, then please go back and check your history and look at what previous first ladies wore and all the movies and music videos that are aired on Egyptian television and Satellite stations!                                                         

Which makes me raise a couple of questions, does that mean that the ladies of past presidents and the current first family, have never worn or been caught wearing a swimsuit at their vacation spots here or abroad?  Have they never been at an occasion where alcohol was served? I was a wedding guest at the Grandson of a former Egyptian President and I can tell you the alcohol was flowing like the river Themes!

Please don’t insult our intelligence!

Who ever launched that despicable and childish attempt at denting the man’s integrity and chances at running in the up coming presidential elections, that was a cheep shot! The only thing that person succeeded in doing was feeding and fueling the brain drain and ignorance that this country seems to be feeding off of! How are we ever going to emerge from and shed the classification of ‘Third World Country’ if people like that keep poisoning the minds of the Egyptian youth and population!?

To learn more about Mohamed ElBaradei click the link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohamed_ElBaradei

Published in the September 2009 issue of (in)sight Magazine.

Why Can’t It be Ramadan Everyday?

A few nights before Ramadan,
And all across the nation,
People were bustling with anticipation.

They’d hustle, they’d bump, they’d swear as they drive,
Men fight with each other as well as their wives.

Boyfriends continue to ruin girlfriend’s lives,
With their cheating and lies, Oh, what a surprise!

Girl’s eye their competition with looks of despise
Stay at home Moms cook up rumors and lies

You liar! You thief! You crook! You stinker!
Are the words we hear and are left to linger.

On the eve of THE night and with a blink of an eye,
Halos are out and consciences rise
All must be good, for Ramadan has arrived.

The Month of Ramadan is upon us again. T’s a time for giving to the needy as well as a time for forgiveness and reflection. I love this time of year because families gather and spend some quality time with one another, break their fast together at Iftar and the gathering can some times go on until Suhour. People give willingly and in abundance to the less fortunate and what I love even more is that people’s tongues are curved!
From sunrise to sunset people pay close attention to what they say out loud to others instead of damning someone’s house to fall down on them and flaring in to a temper and cursing every member of another person’s family! (You know which words I mean! We’ve all used them!). People are more conscious of their actions and use of words. Our day to day lives are stressful, there are times when you vent and say things that can be really hurtful. You’re always on the go and rushing here and there for appointments and social gatherings. Spending an hour or two with the kids when they get home from school to ask how their day was and what things they learned, is something you would love to be able to do, but you have to work late or you can’t because you have to get your hair done and have a manicure done for a dinner party you’re going to. Guy’s don’t think you’ve been let of the hook so easily! The men have business appointments at all crazy hours. Then there’s the male bonding time with buddies and there’s also maintaining that Baywatch chiseled physic by paying a daily pilgrimage to the gym. Be honest, most of you would much rather watch paint dry than be stuck at home listening to your mothers moaning, kids running round asking endless series of questions and your wives nagging.
There are two things that truly amaze me during this incredible month. The first is how ‘good’ everyone becomes. The tangled webs of deceit cease to be spun, hell even the thieves stop stealing. It’s as though a wish or a spell has been cast where everyone becomes honest and angelic, like Jim Carey’s character in the movie ‘Liar, Liar’. The second thing that completely throws me is how by some miracle and with a wave of a magic wand, during Ramadan people make the extra effort and can find the time to help the needy, spend time with their family, and be courteous and kind to others. Now, if memory serves me correctly there are 24 hours in a day every month of every year, no matter which calendar we go by. So, could someone please explain to me ‘Why is it ONLY possible in Ramadan and not throughout the year?’ Surely, if we all spoke nicely to one another all year round, there would be less rudeness and negativity and there would be more cheer and it would set a better example for the younger generation. If we gave more to others throughout the year, we would feel better about ourselves all year long instead of just for a month. If we did practice the lessons of Ramadan throughout the year we would appreciate everything we have and count our blessing, instead of constantly complaining and wishing that we had more.
I know what you’re probably thinking, “She’s one to talk. I bet she doesn’t practice what she preaches!” I will admit that I am not a saint! I was just as guilty as everyone else. However, this time last year that changed. I decided that if I can be genuinely good for a month, then what is preventing me from doing it all year? For the past year I have made the effort to be more respectful and giving to others. Honestly speaking, I do feel better about myself and there isn’t a day that goes by where I forget to be grateful for the people that I have in my life and the blessings I receive. So, if I can do it. Why can’t you? You can’t use the excuse that it costs too much because it doesn’t cost anything to be courteous and time doesn’t cost you a piaster either. The resources you need for the job, you already have; it’s ‘YOU’.

Happy Ramadan Everyone!

Every country and culture has its rules of etiquette when going to visit people at home. I’m going to give you a crash course on how things are done here in Egypt to avoid some of the confusion. Even I have made some fatal errors when visiting. I would go by the British rules of etiquette that my mother had drumed in to me as a child. You will find that some of the rules are similar to the ones you already know, while others are very different to those in Europe.

Egyptians are very hospitable people and they always say ”Itfadal or Itfadaly” which means help yourself. They don’t mean it literally. So, if some one says you’re welcome to pass by any time, they are being polite. Call them ahead of time to take an appointment to see them.     They will also use the phrase ”Itfadal or Itfadaly” if you compliment them on something they have. They don’t really mean that you are welcome to take it.

When you go you should be dressed nicely. If the occasion is a luncheon then semi formal is probably the best way to dress.  Women, should wear either a nice dress, skirt or top (not too short or  revealing) or  a pant suite (bright colours) and don’t forget the bling (jewelry), don’t go over the top,  (you don’t want to look like a Christmas tree) keep it simple! Go with the saying,  less is more. (Don’t be shocked if you see other women wearing the crown jewels and knuckle dusters for rings)

Gents should wear shirt, trousers and  shoes should be polished!

When you arrive at the door of the house that you have been invited to, don’t stand directly in front of the door when you ring the bell, Stand to the opposite side of where the door opens, so that you can not see directly in to the house, but don’t be too far away so that they can’t see you in the spy-glass. (this is a caution just incase someone is unveiled and needs to cover up and to make sure that everything is set before you enter the house)

Before entering the house look to see if there are shoes or a place for shoes to be taken off by the door. Some households prefer that shoes not be worn in the house. If you’re not sure ask.

You should never be on time. It isn’t rude if you do arrive on time, but you will be the first and the only person there for a while. So it is best to come half an hour later  from the time that they tell you.  For example if the invitation is for 8 pm, arrive at 8:30 pm.

**** If you are a groom going to propose, (to ask the family for their daughter’s hand in marriage) then you should be on time or 15 minutes late at most. It’s considered an insult otherwise. It means you are not ‘THAT’ interested in their daughter.

If you receive a wedding invitation, (card in hand, (now a days facebook invite or phone call)) don’t go to the wedding at the time that is stated on the invitation, you will be the only guest there for a LONG time! It is best to go at least an hour or an hour and half late.          (Bride is never ready on time anyway)

When you have been invited in to the house and are sitting down you will be asked what beverage you would like to drink (tea, coffee or soft drink…very rarely will a house hold offer beverages with ‘spirit’) , you have to drink  anything that is offered. It’s insulting otherwise, it’s as if your saying what they have to offer isn’t good enough for you.

The above rule applies if you are offered chocolate or a sweet, you HAVE to take at least one.

If it’s someone you don’t know well and you are thirsty,  you can’t ask for a refreshment like tea, coffee or a soft drink , that would be too forward of you. It’s ok to ask for a glass of water.

If the hosts are traditional (old school), then it is best not to cross your legs in front of them, they might consider it rude. 

Invited for Tea or going to congratulate  (new house, marriage)

 If you are invited for tea then flowers, gift for the house or the lady of the house.

If your visit is to congratulate then the gift to take with you is usually silver or crystal.

There is an ongoing debate about Sharbat (celebration drinks).  Some people think it is rude to drink all of the drink and that you should  leave some of the liquid in the glass. While others say it’s fine to finish it. I suggest you do as the Romans do in this case, if you see people leaving some of the liquid in the glass then do the same.

-Lunch or Dinner

If you are invited to someone’s house for dinner then it is customary to take a kind of  desert. It is always best to buy a whole cake. Don’t take anything savory because the message you may be sending is that you have brought the food that ‘you’ like and prefer to it with you.

If you don’t know the hosts that well and it’s a buffet lunch or dinner you wait for them to tell you twice that the buffet is open before you make your way to it. Don’t start right away, wait for the host to have at least served one person before you help yourself.

You don’t have to wait for the host to start eating especially if it’s a buffet dinner.

You don’t need to be shy, Egyptians are very generous at their dinner parties, if you would like more of something have more. At a buffet dinner you just go back and help yourself. At a sit down dinner, you ask for another helping and they will be thrilled that you like the food and will generously add more to your plate.

At a sit down dinner it is best to wait for the host to begin.  Some people don’t mind their guests starting, while others do. It’s best to play it safe. (again, apply the ‘When In Rome’ rule)

If you leave food on your plate its an insult that you didn’t like the food.  Try as best as you can to finish what has been served on to your plate. When you are done place your knife and fork next to each other.

Expect to be served more than you can eat, they don’t want their guest to go hungry. Take your time eating, that way you won’t have the host add more helpings on to your plate. They will try, but just politely decline and say that when you are done with what you have, you will have some more or say you’re not shy, if you want more you will ask for more. There will be occasions when the host just insists and plops it on to your plate anyway. Don’t feel guilty if you can’t finish it, just try to make your plate look as empty as possible.                   (most people don’t have pets, so you won’t be able to feed the dog or cat under the table)

 If your plate is empty before most of the people they will add more food to it, so eat slowly. The host will be embarrassed if they see your plate empty. They will feel that they haven’t given you enough food.

Compliment the host on the food during the meal (T’islam Edayki = bless your hands).

After dinner is served there is usually a half an hour of digestion before desert, tea and coffee are served. You may turn these down if you are too full, but don’t be surprised if a plate of desert is thrust  in to your hand anyway.

When you are being offered food (main course or desert) by the host and you ask for a small helping, You will NEVER get it. They will always be generous with what they offer. The excuse of being on a diet will not work. The only thing that you can get away with without having desert is if you are a diabetic.

It is VERY disrespectful if you leave right after a meal, “Deef el magnoon eli yakul wey oum”   (translation = A crazy guest, who eats and leaves). The only culture that I know of that does that are the Saudis.

If you have been invited for a dish party and you leave you dish there, don’t be surprised if your dish is returned with something in it. It is a golden rule that you can not return a person’s plate back empty.

If you’re a smoker do not light a cigarette unless and older person offers you one. You shouldn’t smoke in front of elders because it’s considered disrespectful.

When you leave you have to say good-bye to your hosts and then a general good-bye to everyone.

Don’t be surprised if you receive a call or a text message from the hosts the next day thanking you for coming and for the present or cake your brought.

I hope this helps you. If you can think of others that I may have missed please add it on by adding a comment.

Requested and Reserved for a future issue of (in)sight Magazine 

When ever I am at a wedding a social gathering where my parent’s friend are present or seeing parents of former students one of the first question they always ask me is ‘eh inti lisa matgawizteesh?’ (you still haven’t gotten married yet?) Frankly I’m tired of it ! 

Here I am a three decades plus one year young  female who still hasn’t managed to nab herself a fish of any status or size. Here in Egypt it is considered close to tragic! I should have hooked a fish by my second year of university and been wed not long after graduation and been with child returning from the honeymoon. Being a single female at this age leaves some people to conclude one of two things. One, that there is something wrong with me if an eligible bachelor hasn’t claimed me for his own and Two, (my favorite) I’ve passed my expiry date.

 My response to that is as follows; The reason I haven’t been picked off the shelf is because I am such a rare piece that the average Joe doesn’t know how to appreciate me. I am a woman of rare substance, intellect and culture and men fear what is unfamiliar and unknown to them. Very few are man enough to step up to the plate to take a risk of actually looking past my physical appearance and getting to know what goes on in my cranium and those that do peek underneath the silky blondish brown wavy hair that sprouts from my head and falls upon my shoulders are more than often scared away because they know that I can not be their puppet and I have a mind of my own.

I won’t settle for being a prize that he shows off and parades around by his side like a Barbie doll at weddings and other social engagements. I want more and I demand to be treated as an intelligent equal of great worth.

 If there is a man who is unafraid of venturing in to the un known and would take a risk to get to know me through intellectual conversation and is capable of winning my respect, trust and lastly my affections he will be far richer than any king that we have come to know. The riches that I will bring to the table of the relationship are far more valuable than gold, gems and land put together.

 As for the question of my expiration, well, I beg to differ. With time, comes knowledge, skill and aging. The perfect process to make a bottle of mixed ethnic wine. I consider myself the wine of the universe. I age like a fine wine and improve with each passing day and year. So, I just keep getting better and better!

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