Men-folk gather together to smoke shisha, drink tea, and talk business. Praises to Allah abound as they greet one another with kisses to each cheek. Women’s kohled eyes gaze coolly from behind their flowing, traditional garb, while others prefer to team headscarves, or hijah, with modest western-style clothing.
Appropriately bejewelled with faces immaculately made up, it becomes clear that the inhabitants of Cairo are a well-heeled lot. Tourists wanting to make a good impression would do well to remember their hair brush and pay extra attention to their footwear: flip flops are definitely not the go in the Egyptian capital.
Attitude towards Foreign Tourists in Cairo
Unlike places in the world such as India where it’s virtually impossible to wander down the streets as a tourist without being heckled or propositioned by locals and touts every few yards, it is possible to explore the city of Cairo on foot whilst being largely and refreshingly over-looked. And if vendors do approach a traveller, particularly in market areas and other tourist hotspots, it’s in a much less aggressive manner and they respectfully walk away once they have heard the word ‘no’.
But don’t be fooled by any initially cool exterior. Though there is a certain pride and dignity that characterises the Arab people, Cairo provides the perfect backdrop for experiencing Egyptian culture, as the open-hearted locals are always keen to share their stories with willing participants, let visitors sample their way of life, share their meals and other such hospitality.
This attitude is explained by one Egyptian tour guide, Sabry, as being that the Egyptians know the importance of tourists to their economy thus take care to be as helpful and courteous as possible. Not only that, a tour guide for instance, will take his role very seriously, seeing tourists as being entrusted into his care by Allah. Thus he will go out of his way to ensure their safety.
Taking advantage then, of this generally friendly attitude towards foreign travellers by exploring areas of the city on foot such as the winding back streets of Islamic Cairo or the oldest part of the city, Coptic Cairo, can be an excellent way to discover otherwise unseen corners. If you do get lost, there will always be someone eager and willing to point you back in the right direction.
A Cairene Brand of Humor
The same generosity manifests itself as a distinctive sense of humour that natives of Cairo delight in springing upon visitors. The Egyptians themselves will tell you they love a good joke. Don’t be surprised if the endless amounts of sweet tea you are offered at a local shop whilst getting your camera de-sanded also includes being shown clip upon clip of “Funniest Home Video” style fair on somebody’s computer. Your host will be bemused if you are not laughing at the blind-folded little girl about to be kissed on the lips by an orangutan, or the unfortunate audience member who got sat on by an elephant.
Bassam, (a name which means ‘smiley’ in Arabic), is a young man who embodies the Egyptian zest for life. He runs a local souvenir shop and explains that life can be hard in Egypt. He works eighteen hour days and wages are low so why not take every opportunity to find something to smile and laugh about?
So the next time you find yourself enjoying the fragrant breeze over the Nile as feluccas float by and you are tapped on the shoulder by a local passerby who wants to show you footage of ‘Spain’s Worst Bullfights Gone Wrong’ on their mobile phone, see it as a heart-felt gesture by a people ever ready to share of their warmth and good humour.