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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

I feel like a fish out of water! I can’t believe it has been over a month since I have posted anything. I have been caught up in whirl wind of events. Let’s see what, have I been up to?

Well;

I started one of my final Masters courses last month and I have 3 more weeks to go before it comes to an end! It’s a bitter sweat feeling. I am bitter because it’s taking up so much of my time and when I’m sat with my face glued to my lap top reading the material required for completing my course work, my friends are out enjoying themselves, while I have to force myself to be disciplined and get on with my work and convince myself that it will all be worth it in the end! The sweet sensation is knowing at the end of the journey, the money I saved up to be able to complete this and endless hours of writing, researching and reading I would have earned the title of ‘Master’ and the salary increase is always an added bonus too.

 On top of that my sister FINALLY got engaged! So, in the midst of my studies, there was a lot of planning, drama and celebrating. I am really happy and thrilled for her, because the groom to be is a really nice guy and he is going to be like the big brother I never had, but always wanted!

 I recently had to bid farewell and good luck to a dear friend of mine. He has been offered a position in the UAE and I’m feeling a bit lost without him. He was my confident and sounding board. I’m finding it rather difficult having to come to terms with the idea that I can’t just pick up the phone and call him when ever I like, or arrange to meet up for lunch to vent or to get some sound advice. I have to text, email or Skype now to keep in touch. I know everything I’m mentioning is quite selfish. I am genuinely happy that he is starting a new adventure in the chapter of his life, but apart of me wishes that I was one of the characters in that new adventurous journey.

 I can’t remember if I had previously mentioned this but, I was approached by an editor, who is launching a new magazine in Cairo, he had been reading and following my blog and thought I had an interesting perspective of what life in Cairo/Egypt is like from a half Egyptian, half Western point of view and would like me to write a column every month! So, look out for ‘Nadia, In The City’! The Magazine that is set to launch in November is called ‘Moments, Life Style Magazine’, keep a look out for it at a news stand near you!

In addition to all of that I am working full-time! The school year has finally kicked off and my new students have now been with me for the past 4 weeks. I have to say that I it’s good being back in the classroom. I don’t know what it is about being in a classroom, but to me it feels like it’s my stage or domain, where I can make magic happen. This year’s batch of second graders are a handful! They are very opinionated, have fascinating characters and are full of ENERGY!! To keep up with them, I have to get up earlier than usual and do at least half an hour on my elliptical bike to get my endorphins jumped started for a day of teaching!

There are times when I just need to drop everything I’m doing and have some ‘ME’ time. Which either means getting out of Cairo and going up to Alexandria and visiting my family OR doing something fun and joining ‘Weekend Trip’ for an adventures day of fun and some times spontaneity. The owner of Holiday tours and co-founder of ‘Weekend Trips’, Yehia El Decken, has asked me to blog about EVERY ‘weekend trip’, I go on with his team. So, you’ll be reading a lot about my adventures with them this year.

 My romantic life you ask? Emmmm…..Well, what do you think? Do you honestly think with all that I’m juggling right now, I have time for a romantic interlude!??! I will say this though, since I’ve started focusing on myself and looking after myself more, I seem to have re-ignited ‘The Old Me’, which is attracting some attention. Other than that…there is nothing to report!

How about you? What have you been up to?

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.