Culture

Egypt is a Middle Eastern country and has Middle Eastern customs. Egyptians have been raised in a social environment steeped in religion, predominantly Islam, which acts as a background that can colour their decision-making in a way that may be difficult for foreigners to understand.

Yet it is precisely this culture 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 Egypt there are hardly any restrictions on foreign women. Ticket lines, for example, are occasionally segregated.

In case of segregated lines women should line up with other women (especially since the lines are usually shorter). On buses, the driver may want you to be seated in the front with other women which you should take as a sign of care and attention. On the metro lines, the first car is usually reserved for women.

In Egypt, a woman traveling alone is generally safe, but she will be noticed less in large cities than in the country. However, if problems do occur, seek help from the police or any shop nearby.

Whilst you probably will never be physically accosted, take simple precautions as you would anywhere and, in particular, don’t walk in deserted areas alone. Verbal harassment may occur on the streets but will rarely escalate and is best ignored.  Also whilst most invitations are innocent, don’t accept them from strangers.

In most parts of Egyptian society for men, speaking to an unknown Egyptian woman is a breach of etiquette and similarly an Egyptian woman would not enter into lengthy conversation with an unknown man.  Accordingly, take care when speaking to members of the opposite sex who are unknown to you and be aware that what would be taken as friendliness in the West could be misinterpreted in Egypt.

In general, Egypt is a conservative country and visitors should respect this attitude and dress accordingly.  In particular, for women it is inappropriate to wear sleeveless tops or dresses or to wear shorts or show the knees other than inside hotels or at the beach noting that women who do so will inevitably attract unwanted attention.  It is best to wear loose fitting garments which are not only modest but more practical in a hot climate. It is also advisable to wear cotton in the summer months as the heat can be like a furnace outside. In winter it is best to layer clothing to be able to adjust for the heat of the day and the cool evenings. Bring comfortable shoes and bear in mind that Egyptian streets can be very dusty and dirty so it is preferable to wear closed shoes when doing a lot of walking. If you are planning on touring old churches or mosques women should be prepared to cover their heads.

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