By an OTC student
Arrival in Cairo
In the evening of February 8, I arrived in Egypt’s capital, Cairo. I had already been searching for a lot at home about the city and all the sights, and I was really looking forward to experiencing the culture. Together with another student I flew from Amsterdam, Schiphol to Cairo. For the first few weeks we had booked a hotel in the middle of the city center, from where we would look for a permanent apartment. We stayed two weeks in Downtown Cairo, we thought we’d dive right into the hustle and bustle of the city. We were picked up by the hotel from the airport and brought to the center, what I immediately noticed is that the traffic is very different than in the Netherlands. On a three-lane road here you can easily drive seven cars, there are very few traffic lights and crossing the road is a matter of feeling.
Getting used to a different menu and new sounds
The first morning we woke up and looked out on the rooftops of the many buildings in the city, it was very impressive. Breakfast at the hotel consisted of a falafel with humus and lots of vegetables, it was very tasty! The first night the call to prayer woke me up at night, now two weeks later I don’t even realize the prayer is going off. You get used to the culture changes incredibly quickly.
I expected that I might have to get more used to the crowds and that there are so many sounds. I did notice the first day that so many cars were honking but after a few days you don’t hear that at all, and you’re actually just completely used to it. I am also super struck by the hustle and bustle; it is incredibly busy in the city but it doesn’t bother me. I enjoy the hustle and bustle, on every street corner something different happens. It sometimes seems like watching a play. On every street corner there are people or children, you never get bored in this city!
Interactions with local people
The first two weeks we traveled throughout the city by cabs and on foot. We looked up the sights online and we headed out with a backpack! Every night when we lay in bed we had experienced and witnessed so much, every day was another surprise. We strolled through downtown every day and we soon noticed that the Egyptian people loved to engage in conversation with us. In the beginning we both found it quite nerve-wrecking to speak Arabic back to them but we soon got over that and often switched to Arabic if we could. While visiting all the sights we noticed that there are not that many tourists in the month of February. Many people asked us where we came from and if we answered in Arabic that we came from the Netherlands and went to study in Egypt, they were positively surprised and often started a conversation with us.
Because there are not many tourists, we stand out very much, often people look at us and smile at us. On the second day walking through the city, a group of girls asked us, after a lot of giggling, if we could have our picture taken with them. That surprised us very much why they wanted to have their picture taken with us, and why they were so happy to have a picture of them and us. We found it no problem to take a picture with them and start a little conversation. We are asked daily by many people if they can take a picture with us.
In Egypt, most buildings that have apartments in them or a hotel that there is a man or woman below the apartment. That is called the “bawab” in Arabic. We also had a bawab in our hotel that we greeted every morning and she received us very kindly every day and we often had a conversation about the city and where we had all been that day. The people are super friendly and gave us lots of tips with places and restaurants we could visit in the city.
After a week, we had arranged a meeting with a man who had many offers of apartments in the city. We went with Mansour, the man who viewed the apartments with us and the bawab of the apartment complex to visit several apartments. We told him what our budget was and what we were looking for. Via Mansour we had a very nice and spacious apartment in the Zamalek area after two weeks. We were amazed at the way things are arranged here in Egypt, Mansour made a few phone calls and was able to arrange an apartment for us together with the bawab. This all went very easily, and it was also a very nice experience to visit apartments this way.
Notions of time
I experienced a different conception of time in Egypt, we Dutch are super punctual and often very on time. Better to be five minutes early than late. This connects to the cultural dimensions of Hofstede, namely time orientation. The first time I experienced this was during the appointment to view apartments. The appointment was at four o’clock, but when we got there quarter to four we already heard that the appointment would probably be at half past five. We had already expected this and found it no problem, we were offered a cup of tea and we waited. I think most Egyptians plan in the short term, I think they are less future-oriented, they live more with the day and are spontaneous in planning.
Albert Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 Communication model says that 7% of the meaning of feelings and attitudes takes place through the words we use in spoken communications, while 38% takes place through tone and voice and the remaining 55% of communication of these factors take place through the body language we use. In Egypt, they use a lot of body language to communicate with each other. Many hand gestures and facial expressions are used to make something clear, for example also in traffic. People shout at each other to be able to pass for example with a car, this is done with a lot of hand gestures and facial expressions.
A different kind of culture shock
After a week of visiting mosques in Islamic Cairo and several markets in the city center, we went for a day to the Arabian Mall. That was the first time I experienced a culture shock but in the opposite direction, the Arabian Mall was namely incredibly western and was for example the Ikea exactly the same as in the Netherlands. Because we already walked a week through Cairo and experienced the Egyptian culture, we found it very strange to walk in such a Western Mall, it almost felt like we no longer lived in an Arab country. When I took the subway the first time I experienced a cultural difference in Egypt, versus the Netherlands. Namely, the subway in Egypt has a separate entrance for men and women. It is not the intention that men and women are mixed in the compartments.
The first two weeks were incredibly amazing and impressive, and I enjoyed it very much, we visited a lot and experienced a lot of the culture. I am really looking forward to spending another four months in this big and vibrant city. I experienced no culture shock in Egypt from the start, I felt right at home and was very impressed with the vibrant city. From the beginning, we went all out and threw ourselves fully into life in Cairo.