Saturday, May 21, 2011

A reminder for westerners leaving Egypt and returning to their homelands...

Choosing to begin one's life in a foreign place such as Egypt, creates a variety of arrival scenarios. Many would say it is similar to jumping out of a plane..."Ready? GO!..but don't crash!" We all crash at some point...but our landings all tell their own stories.

We of course have those individuals who arrive smiling. Their "landing" was picturesque and they begin giddy at all Egypt has to offer. Somewhere around two weeks into it, the exotic flavor of their new home wears off, and suddenly their lives are flashing before their eyes while almost getting trampled by a child driving a donkey cart. Reality smacks them in the face, but it doesn't take long for them to get over the hump of "OUCH" and simply adjust to the fact that they aren't going home...this IS home. They may find themselves a complete grouch while sifting through how their paradise is now, well, not so much the case. These are the funniest people to watch process...their love/hate relationship is quite normal...and healthy.

There are also those individuals who hit the ground running, and never seem to stop! They take on Egypt by force...having zero grace with those of us on the more fragile spectrum and cannot seem to understand our annoyances. Even when someone butts in front of us in the grocery checkout with an overflowing cart, yet NO deodorant, in the stifling heat which is now unbearable for our noses as well. Yep. When we mention such things, these are the people who prefer to be the martyr...rolling their eyes. Supermen...annoying.

Lastly, we have those people who seemed to land flat on their faces. Egypt broke them upon arrival, and it seems they will never forget this. You know the people I am talking about. The ones who refuse to just laugh off the absurd parts of this culture, grinding their teeth at every little thing that isn't like their home country, which we all assume was thankful to get rid of them. These are the people we are all hoping will leave, but secretly agree with their complaints more than we are willing to verbalize.

Yet here we are...all thrown together, an eclectic group of expats, trying to survive in this mad land. The thing is that whether or not we want to admit it, we have actually become quite accustomed to life here, picking up it's quirks and adopting their ways of life as our own. The problem lies in remembering that a lot of what is "normal" here is not permissible in the west. Some of these habits our countries will simply laugh off..but others, well, others aren't exactly laughable. Making certain to transform ourselves back into our purely western mentality will take months...and in reality, most likely will never fully occur. Here are some reminders of things to watch out for, habits to break, and rules to remember upon re-entering the west.

To western foreigners returning to their homelands...PLEASE REMEMBER:

DON'T make a public scene. Yes I know it's how we get things done here, but if you do this in your home country, you may get security called on you. Yes, even if they wrong you, you can't throw a fit. There is protocol and it does not require screaming. As adults, you are expected to behave like one. No name calling, no spitting.

Walking out in front of quickly moving vehicles can only mean one thing back home...a very painful suicide attempt. I understand it's almost impossible to break this habit, but "western drivers" don't know how to dodge hitting you. They haven't had the practice Egyptian drivers have had, and they will hit you. Plus, you'll get a ticket..yep, even in the road is completely clear. Yes, I realize the west is paranoid.

Understand that you will pay WAY TOO MUCH for produce tasting quite bland. It's just a fact, Egypt has excellent produce, and it costs pennies. Oh, and don't try to barter the price's not an option.

Don't try to pay the waiter for water at's free remember? YES! even the refills.

Umm...if you find yourself reaching out to hold your female friends' hands...STOP...slyly adjust your hand back toward your own body...and whew! She'll never know. NOPE, not even an option to cross the street! There are crosswalks remember? Avoid awkward and just trust me on this one.

If at any point, you accidentally hit someone's car while driving, yep, even a gentle tap, you must stop and evaluate the situation. No, don't worry about the police coming...that's supposed to happen...and NO, don't try to bribe them.

Men wearing dresses are not in galibayas...nor are they most likely religious. You can assume you have happened upon a cross dresser...the polar opposite. Snap a pic, and book it!

Even though you have become accustomed to memorizing only two male names, Muhammad and Ahmed, in western societies you have to remember many more. People tend to be a little more creative in this department. Unfortunately for some children...too creative.

If see a man hitting a woman, pick up your phone and get that man's booty in jail! It's your civil duty to respect that woman by standing up for her rights. Yes I know Egypt doesn't agree. No, our police won't laugh at you, they will come!! Nope, traffic won't be an issue.

When out in public, it's probably best NOT to offer a bite of your sandwich to a stranger. Yes, I know thats what is expected of you here, but you didn't do it before you moved to Egypt, so don't do it after you leave either. Westerners actually are terrified of your germs, and don't care a lick about your food.

I realize that we have gotten really good at using our elbows and booties to acquire a place in "line", but this will just get the average westerner ticked at you, and you will find everyone asking you to "please move to the end of the line" and wait your turn. I know, it's frustrating, but we don't really have a choice with this one. Survival of the fittest means nothing in the west.

Just because your streets are quiet at 11pm doesn't mean you need to panic! There is no curfew being implemented...people most likely just went to bed.

If you invite someone over at six, they will come at six, so don't think you have a few extra hours and wait until then to jump into the shower! They will be there at six, if not a few minutes before.

Now I understand that living in Egypt has boosted the self esteem of many of us, so I will just be blunt. Not every man in your home country is going to think you are the most beautiful woman in the world. It doesn't mean you aren't attractive, it simply means that when complimented, smile, and say thank you. Yes, you are allowed to smile. And, this compliment is not linked to your foreign passport.

In the inappropriate occurrence that you see a man exposed and pleasuring himself in public...CALL THE POLICE. This actually is illegal. I know we deal with this here by simply turning away, but remember, you can help fight crime. Call this in ASAP. 911...remember? No, they will get there quickly!

If you are short of cash, don't ask the store clerk if you can drop by and pay tomorrow. I know, but your good reputation is worthless in this context.

You are going to see girls showing their knees and shoulders. This is perfectly normal. So put away those nasty looks we always give the foreign girls who travel here and obviously DID NOT read their guide books about cultural sensitivity. Yes I know it's idiotic, and we paid for their foolishness, but what's done is done. They probably didn't notice the that everyone considered them as sluts anyways.

Buckle up! and not just yourself, but your kiddos too! Also, don't let anyone see you driving with your baby on your lap. No, not even if they are screaming, but only if you were hoping for a visit from Child Protective Services. You know, the people whose job it is to help protect kids?

When driving it is essential to remember the following: head lights are required in the dark (it doesn't matter if you are saving them for emergencies only); overuse of your horn will cause you an accident; no matter how much space is between two cars side by side, the creation of a "new lane" is not an option. Other drivers are actually trying to AVOID hitting you, so help them out with this one, k?

No matter how much you beg, McDonald's will not deliver to your front door. Nope, not even if you bribe them. Speaking of bribes, remember, bribing is not acceptable in the west, and actually could get you in really big trouble. Yes I realize this is how Egypt functions, but we can't bring this back to our country.

Trust the police, and no, don't yell at them. They want to help you...not get into your pants. I promise...let your guard down and let them do their job. They are the good guys.

Jumping onto a moving bus may be seen as some sort of attack, so it's best if you wait at the specified bus stop, and then get on. Bus stop? They are usually marked with signs and come on a schedule. Remember? A schedule is when things occur at certain, not all the buses will come at once like here.

Bus and Tram drivers in our countries will eat breakfast before they go to work, so don't worry about bringing the driver something to eat so they won't have to stop and make you wait. I promise.

When you are finished eating at a restaurant, don't flash the "check" sign across the restaurant. The waiters/waitresses in the States will think you are calling a "time out"...remember? It means something totally different in Egypt.

If you see a child sleeping on the ground in public unattended, CALL THE POLICE. It's actually not okay, and our police want to help our children. Nope, they won't laugh at you.

When applying for a job, if your religious preference comes into question you DON'T HAVE TO ANSWER. It's none of their business. Yes I know Egypt makes it their business, but America actually practices religious freedom.

If you wish to lay down and read at the park, you may. Women and men are equals in the west, and no one will think you are flaunting your's perfectly acceptable. Remember, western men are expected and trained to CONTROL THEMSELVES...and for the most part they do. It's a miracle.

Nope. Our cats in our home countries are not overweight. This is how they are supposed to look and that sound you hear is purring. It's the sound they make when they are happy. It's totally normal to go to sleep to silence, rather than cats screaming in the streets below. I know, the purring is relaxing isn't it. No more anorexic cats.

You may not double park you car. Nope, not even if you leave it in neutral for someone else to push out of the way. Lame, I know. Us westerners can be such babies about these things.

Unless you want to pay a fat fine, do not throw any trash in the streets. Nope, not even in the piles of other trash. In fact, America over does this whole "trash can/recycling" thing, so finding somewhere for your trash should be easy. The problem is when you have to take 15 mintutes to read all the directions of which type of trash it is, and which container it goes into.

Men may sit by you at church. No more passing notes to your male friends sitting on the other side of the sanctuary. No, they won't be lusting at you during the service, at least they shouldn't be, so it's perfectly fine to be sitting side by side. Don't go off running, it's totally okay.

Be alert of the fact that there are more than two religions in the world. Upon your arrival to your native homeland, you will encounter people that are neither Muslim nor Christian. I know...crazy right?! Actually, there are many...and they live peacefully. Nope, you shouldn't have to deal with any shootings related to religion.

It's completely acceptable that you find yourself thoroughly irritated with your home country once you return. You are correct in saying it is safety obsessed, paranoid, and full of self promoting worriers. Our addiction to systems, order, personal rights, space, and personal comfort at any cost are well...OVERDONE. Welcome back to western culture where everything is germ free and safety coded. We brought this perpetual state of paranoia upon ourselves...this web of trying to prevent dramatic things from occurring which has only created a society of frightened control freaks with ulcers and the inability to just be still. What's wrong with the west? it's complicated. But they would probably say "that nothing is wrong".

Remember, upon your arrival home, you may say whatever you want. You email is not being checked...and your phone calls not being listened to. It's called "freedom of speech." You know freedom? remember? Resepct...rights...equality...justice. Ring a bell? I realize you haven't touched on those in a while. Yep, you have the legal (although maybe not moral) right to say whatever is on your mind. Nope. No one cares.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

On a Lighter Note...

Curious what are some of the everyday differences about living in Egypt vs life in the States? Below are some real life examples :)

Noise Laws: We don't have them. If your neighbor wants to begin a construction project at 11pm, he may. If you called the police to complain, you'd just get laughed at.

Yes we have Starbucks.

Flats are individually owned, not like a "managed complex" like in the States

Yes we have Pizza Hut.

Getting fountain drinks vs a can is a huge treat!

My gas bill to run my stove and heat my water costs me about $1 every month.

Yes we have Popeyes.

Our movie theater allows me to pick my seat at ticket purchase and we have an intermission. People may also have conversation via cell phones during the movie if they want.

Yes we have Chilis.

Buying a tube of decent quality mascara would cost me about $13.

I probably use the phrase "fi mushkala hena" more than I say anything else, which means:
There is a problem here.

Christians often have the Eastern cross tattooed on their wrist (both men and women)

Yes we have "On the Border"

I can order food from anywhere to be delivered...usually I do it online.

Adoption is against the law. Yes, I mean Egyptian children can't even be adopted by Egyptians.

Seat belts? ha!

Yes we have KFC.

Filling up one's car with gasoline costs about $12.

Yes we have Macaroni Grill.

Buying a kilo (around a pound) of fresh strawberries costs less than a dollar.

Restaurants have huge balconies in the front by the street so you can people watch.

Yes we have TGI Fridays.

Egypt is about 10% Christian by name.

Yes we have Cinnabon.

Not every Muslim woman covers, and some Christian women cover, but can be distinguished by how they wrap the scarf.

Yes we have Ruby Tuesdays.

You are not allowed to look over the railings or sit on the benches at the mall.

English is more likely spoken by younger Egyptians..French by older ones.

Friday is the Holy I work Sunday-Thursday and have church on Friday.

I have seen one carseat for a baby in my year and a half living here, and it was being used by foreigners.

Fast food workers are often very jolly and friendly.

There is no cell phone etiquette here...which gets really old.

It's against the law to take pics inside of the pyramids, but not if you are willing to pay the guard.

People smoke EVERYWHERE...including taxi drivers which often blows back into my face. But rarely will you see a woman smoking a cigarette.

Don't send flowers when someone dies...OOPS.

There is no warning when the doors are about to shut on the underground people often get stuck.

No there is no Taco Bell :(

Egyptians are big tea drinkers.

ALWAYS offer a snack if you open it next to someone, including strangers.

Lines are useless and have no place here.

You tip the bathroom attendants.

Cartons of eggs are commonly used as a prop in a mugging scam.

Chip and soda stands are EVERYWHERE!

In Cairo we don't swim in the Nile.

American brands of cereal cost about $10 to $13 a box.

Personal space? nope

My eye appointment was scheduled for 9:30PM.

Yes we have Carinos Italian Grill.

Being smiley on the street usually invites disaster.

Schools often discourage active learning and keep it to rote memory.

Men and women don't move in with friends, you stay home until married.

Yes we have Burger King.

Women can't lay down in parks (not even to read a book)

Yes we have Hardees/Carl's Jr.

You can even get fertility meds at the pharmacy.

Homosexuality is illegal, but it certainly happens here.

Cats are not cute and cuddly here.

Yes we have Subway.

I find American streets boring to look at (but that's just me)

There are no "livestock within city limits" laws here.

Those of us that have lived here often find ourselves accidentally walking out in front of fast moving cars upon our arrival back into our western countries...where it actually is dangerous and unheard of. OOPS. Here, the drivers expect it.

Yes we have Papa Johns.

Your balcony often collects the trash from those living above you.

You hear the phrase "Welcome at Egypt" at least once a day.

What privacy laws?

Egyptian babies are often the cutest in the world.

I don't even notice the call to prayer's 5x day

You can have more than one wife, but women can't have more than one husband.

My house cleaner costs me $11.50 each time. She is Sudanese. Rumor is that they are the most trustworthy.

We can get our groceries delivered for less than a dollar.

I get to ride a "Women Only" car on the metro.

Tea and sheesha cafes are "men only"...I have two in my building below my flat.

Finding pork sold anywhere is rare.

Getting a drivers license is often a different experience for each person who goes.

It is acceptable to throw your trash on the ground.

Yes we have Panda Express.

Balconies are our thing...and we do them well.

J walking is how we roll.

No we don't have Chick-fil-A :(

I often see weasels on the way to work.

Your gas and electric bills are due whenever they show up at your better have the money on hand.

You can take an hour long sailboat ride on the Nile for less than ten dollars.

I don't show my shoulders or knees.

Baskets on ropes ere constantly dropping off balconies to the sidewalks below to pick up deliveries. Just watch out or you'll get hit with one.

Born as an Egyptian you have two options: Muslim or Christian. Whatever your family is becomes your legal identity. Religious freedom? yeah right

If several men are at a cafe, it is best to walk on the street rather than directly by as not to be seen as flaunting oneself.

Being a blonde here for me is not an option.

My favorite thing I have done is my middle of the night climb on Mt. Sinai. Stars galore...

Yes we have Fudruckers.

Skin is more seductive than tight clothing.

Word on the street is that Paris Hilton was here and said she would never return due to how she was harassed. Not our loss :)

We use hand signals as a way of communicating a lot here. Yes, they are polite.

Showing the bottom of your feet or shoe to anyone is extremely offensive.

Women shouldn't cross their legs in public.

People will ask you for tips.

If you are American they assume you to be America's immorality is associated as being part of Christianity...sad huh?

Yes we have Baskin Robins.

Using your VISA is often seen as annoying and not readily accessible.

TOTALLY a Nocturnal Society

Listening to music with no headphones is acceptable here (so everyone else gets to "enjoy" it too).

Sidewalks are often more dangerous than streets...just trust those of us that live here.

Any sort of drama always draws a crowd.

Your trash will most likely be picked up by a donkey or horse cart.

Bugs aren't really a big issue in this part of Cairo. Mice are.

Sexual Harassment is a huge problem in Egypt.

Fresh flowers are not expensive.

If I don't talk, wear sunglasses, and am not walking, people think I am Egyptian. I have heard my walk gives me away as a foreigner.

Traffic Laws? are you kidding me...?

Yes we have H&M.

You get used to seeing fights on the street.

Don't expect people to be on time...not even for appointments or work.

Gas stations have on average 20 men working at each one.

My kitchen barely holds three people: I make toast on the stove top, wash my own dishes, don't own a microwave, and am afraid to use my oven.

The pyramids are about 17 miles from me.

Men rule here. I am working on accepting this one.

You quickly learn about the danger of GAS stoves and water well as what it smells like when you leave it on.

Egyptian people are very communal and helpful.

The rest of the Middle East understand Egyptian Arabic because of the media done out of Cairo, but it doesn't work as well the other way around.

If you are a foreigner...don't expect privacy.

You only say taxi...never cab.

The Red Sea never gets old.

Letters and packages are read and opened before delivery.

A lot of websites like HULU and NETFLIX are blocked here (their choice, not Egypt's)

Definitely sexual discrimination. They don't care. Don't get me started.

Knowing when to play the "tourist" card at the right moment can be very well as knowing when to break out into Arabic.

We really need our tourists back...