There is no such thing as a unified “Egyptian Culture”, for the simple reason that Egyptians form a multicultural society, where modernity and western customs flirt with traditions, where religious practices are moderate but where religion is still deeply anchored in the everyday life of the Egyptians.
In every major city in Egypt you will find traditions that remain from the time of the Pharaohs, and in other parts you will find pure tribal customs that were brought in by many invaders throughout the centuries. That contradiction and contrast between areas of Egypt, when you compare it with other Middle Eastern countries, is what makes Egypt seem advanced against some of the others. Yet here you will find that the customs and mentality tends to be full of warmth towards visitors and foreigners. I guess this could be the secret why Egypt is considered the most attractive country in the region for travelers. The pure nature of the local Egyptians pops up whenever you need help or when they invite you into their homes and when they hardly know you, or when they smile in your face! All of that makes a visit to Egypt a wonderful and unforgettable experience.
However, Egyptians from all social strata, religious beliefs, or ethnic origins share a remarkable attachment to important social values, such as:
Family: Egyptians consider their family as an integral entity which they have to protect. Don’t be surprised to notice that an Egyptian feels responsible for his whole family and the behavior of his siblings, his parents, his cousins, etc. – Friendliness and Humor: Egyptians are known to be the most funny, friendly and helpful nation of the Middle East. They will go out of their way to help you in any troublesome situation, always with a smile. If you’re sensitive to their humour, which is renowned world-wide, you’ll be surprised to see how far a smile or a joke can take you in Egypt.
Sports: and most of all, Football! Egyptians love playing but also watching football. The biggest and most popular national football clubs are Ahly and Zamalek, both of which are based in Cairo.
Folkloric Dances: Egypt is famous for its authentic and beautiful heritage of customs and traditions. Those are especially observed in the religious events and during the month of Ramadan.
Egypt is also known for the varied forms of folk art and dances, proper to each region of the country. While inhabitants of Suez, Ismailiya and Port Said are famous for group dances accompanied by music played on the traditional “semsomiya” (an old traditional string instrument), the southern population of Al-Saeed are known for their “logging” and equestrian inspired dances. Nubian dances are probably the most colourful and joyful folkloric performances; Nubians wear colourful costumes and dance to the enticing rhythms of Nubian songs. The folkloric Sinai dance is one where the dancers wear beautiful hand-embroidered dresses and perform a sword-dance.
Moreover, Egypt is a lively artistic scene, world famous for its music, film, theatre, and TV industries. And although it could be considered as having a bigger impact on the Middle East and the Arab countries than it does on the Western world, it is important to underline that Egypt has contributed to the world cultural heritage through iconic figures such as the 1988 awarded Nobel Prize for Literature Egyptian author, Naguib Mahfouz, the acclaimed movie director, Yousef Chahine, the Egyptian actor Omar Sherif, and the most famous Arabic diva of all times, Umm Kolthoum, only to name a few.
Yet when travelers come to Egypt they are often apprehensive, their views of Egyptians and Arabs, fomented by unkind and untrue media stories, often bear no relation to reality. Travelers, when they meet Egyptians are often surprised by their friendly, hospitable reception and take home with them good feelings about Egypt and its population.
Egyptians form a society of a mixture of Middle Eastern family standards, taken from the different religious rules, whether in Islam or Christianity, it creates a sort of background that can color their decision-making in a way difficult for foreigners to understand, yet it is precisely this training that makes Egyptians some of the most charming and helpful of hosts. By understanding the culture and with consideration for your hosts, you can be a welcome guest in Egypt.
In general, Egyptians are most accommodating and they will go out of their way to help you and respond to any questions you have. Most Egyptians require little personal space and will stand within inches of you to talk! You will find that whenever you start talking with an Egyptian, you will inevitably draw a crowd, and often the Egyptians will start discussing, among themselves, about the correct answer to a question.
Although most of the Muslims in Egypt do not drink alcohol they don’t object to others drinking, but doing it in reasonable amounts. In Egypt people don’t eat pork, and rarely, when you find a place that offers pork, is there much choice on the menu.
Egyptians like rest of the Muslims all over the world fast at holy month of Ramadan, it is the time when they all come close to each other and respect each other, it is the time Egypt stay awake at night.
During this month, donations, almsgiving and charity would be at its highest rates, it is the time for forgiveness and love. It is a wonderful month.
In Egypt there are hardly any restrictions on foreign women. Ticket lines, for example, are occasionally segregated, women line up with other women (especially as the lines are usually shorter). On the underground lines, the first car is usually reserved for women, especially elderly ones. For men, speaking to an unknown Egyptian woman is a breach of etiquette, so take care in any liaisons you form because some families still follow ancient traditions. Crime in Egypt is nearly nonexistent, and violence is usually limited to family feuds. However, in tourism areas some pickpockets and petty thieves may exist, so be careful and remember that the ever-helpful tourism police are usually nearby.
What to do when you are invited by an Egyptian?
Egyptians, if offered anything, will refuse the first invitation, which is customary, so therefore (unless you’re dealing with Egyptians used to western frankness) you should do the same. If the offer is from the heart, and not just politeness, it will be repeated. If you’re invited into a home, especially in small villages, and have to refuse, the householder will often press for a promise from you to visit in the future, usually for a meal. If you make such a promise, keep it, for having foreign guests is often considered a social coup. If you fail to arrive, your would-be host will be humiliated. To repay invitations, you may host a dinner in a restaurant, a common practice.
Places of Worship:
All famous and major mosques are open to tourists, except for when services are in progress (the main service is on Friday at noon). Keep in mind that a mosque differs from a western church in that Christian churches are considered houses of God, while mosques are more a gathering place for the faithful of Islam. All visitors to mosques, mausoleums, and Madrassas (religious schools) must remove their shoes! Most Muslims walk around in their stockings, yet sometimes in those mosques that are major tourist attractions, canvas overshoes are available; a tip of 2 LE to 5 LE is in order for the people who put them on for you. Women must cover bare arms. There is no need to wear a hat, or to cover hair. Men and women should wear a long shirt and long trousers when you visit a mosque.
Women in Egypt are quite beautiful! The Egyptian woman is well educated, spending a great part of her life being cherished and looked after by her parents until she gets married.
In Egypt 85% of the girls will keep themselves virgins until they get married, this is a common choice in the Middle East, as men usually believe that this is a sign of morality and good karma. 90% of Egyptian men prefer virgin women to marry, and I still can’t understand why they would be ready to give up on this belief easily, if they were going to marry a non Egyptian girl !
in Egypt will find plenty of girls wearing a scarf, it is common these days among many families. Nowadays in Egypt, many women wear a head scarf, demonstrating either modesty or Muslim piety. One reason many young professional women favor this is that it tends to discourage male advances, physical or verbal.
It is very important in Islam that the woman is less seductive to a stranger and shows modesty. You may find it difficult not to impose your western concepts of feminism on such an inherent part of life. From the 1930s onwards, Egyptian women began to enter into business and many professions, and by 1965, thanks in part to social changes affected in the course of the July Revolution, Egypt could boast a far higher proportion of women working as doctors, dentists, lawyers, professors, diplomats, ministers, or high officials than might have been found in the US or in any European country outside of Scandinavia.
Tipping is Way of Life in Egypt
Tipping is a way of life in Egypt, if someone does something you would consider as an extra effort, he expects to be tipped. You should only tip if you feel you want to, you are under no pressure to do so, but it would leave a good impression, and many Egyptian people survive on very little.
Tip appropriately and please, don’t give small notes or coins as a tip to people who helped you all the way throughout your trip, such as drivers, tour leaders, and tour escorts, it would be an insult to them, Also, do not offer tips to professionals, businessmen, or others who would consider themselves your equals, as you may seriously offend them by your act.