Funny things in/about Egypt

So over the past few months here, I’ve experienced some things that just make me stop and think “Did that really just happen?!”. And after a few weeks of careful research using only the most up-to-date scientific methodology, I have compiled a list of Egyptian Oddities.

So without further ado, The List:

– Usually in the US, people tend to say that women are bad drivers and even in some jokes, we may say that women shouldn’t drive. Here in Egypt, the women are, by far, the superior drivers. While the men swerve back and forth between lanes, go the wrong direction down streets, parallel park their cars with their bumpers touching both cars in front and behind them, and make general mayhem on the roads, the women tend to drive in a more sane, safe, non-life-threatening manner. So in conclusion: Egyptian men are terrible drivers and should just let the women drive.

– Lemons are vegetables. Just look in my Arabic textbook or ask anyone on the street. If you ask the fruit seller for some lemons, he will look at you like you’ve got two arms growing out of the side of your head. It doesn’t matter that lemons (vegetables) grow on trees just like oranges (fruit) or that you make lemonade just like you make mango juice. Lemons are vegetables.

– Pizza does not come with sauce on it. You get the crust, the cheese and your toppings. However, pizza is always served with ketchup.

– There is no set price for a taxi. You tell the driver where you want to go, and then you bargain for the price. If you don’t like what he’s charging, you find another taxi that will accept your price. Sometimes, this is a great money-saver, but it’s a great time-waster when you need to get somewhere fast.

– When men try to hit on women, they don’t say things like “Hey Beautiful!”. Instead, they may yell “Ya Buttah!” (Hey Duck!) or “Ya Mouza!” (Hey Banana!).

– Milk and eggs in the store are not refrigerated. Since refrigeration is such a problem here, the milk companies vacuum pack the milk and it’ supposedly safe to drink. I’m not brave enough to test the theory. The eggs are generally so fresh that they don’t have the time to refrigerate them. However, I have been very careful when I pick my eggs, buying eggs only on the days I am eating them, refrigerating them, and making sure to cook them all the way. I have had enough issues with food safety here that I’m trying to minimize the “side effects”.

– Fast food restaurants like McDonalds, Hardees, and KFC are some of the nicest restaurants. They serve the same types of junk food as they do in the US at prices similar to US prices. But, the most glorious thing is that they deliver! I can call 19991 at any hour of the day and get McDonalds delivered to my door.

– When giving directions, Egyptians don’t say ‘left’ and ‘right’. They say ‘north’ and ‘right’ (in Arabic, of course).

– Even when there are garbage cans near by, people just throw garbage on the ground. Given, there aren’t many garbage cans on the streets, but people just don’t seem to care to throw things in the proper place.

– I always thought that the Middle East region was known for coffee and tea. People drink tons of Lipton tea and Nescafe here. It’s kind of weird.

– There is an intermission at the movie theater. The intermission is about halfway through the movie and it lasts for about 60-90 seconds maximum.

– There are bidets in almost all of the toilets. There is a little knob on the side of the toilet and you just turn it and water from the back of the toilet bowl sprays your butt with a force greater than is necessary.

– The Arabic words for ‘singer’ and ‘song’ come from the word root for ‘rich’. Apparently, the relationship lies in the idea that a singer is a person who is rich with words.

– Women who wear the hijab and even some who wear the burka sometimes breast feed in public. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this, but it’s just weird because I always thought that their reasons for wearing these things was cover their bodies, and when they breast feed in public, they are exposing themselves. The first time I saw it, I was very confused. But hey, the babies have to eat!

– Instead of using “um” as a verbal filler, they use “yanni”. When I first got here and talked to people, I wondered “Why are these people so obsessed with that weird flute player?” ( Now I realize that they don’t like him anymore than we do. I wonder what they think about us saying “um” all of the time. “Um” kind of sounds like the Egyptian word for “mother”.

– And finally, I guess this is just proof of how pale my skin is. This morning, I was buying bottled water from the juice seller and we had a little conversation that went like this:
– Ya Beki, hal inti za’alaan? ( Hey Becca, are you angry?)
– La. Limatha? (No, why?)
– Wajiaki (Your face)
So it’s probably a good time to note that we were in Alexandria yesterday, and somehow, by being outside for about an hour or two, my face turned fire engine red, which has since faded into a delightful shade of hot pink.

Well, that’s all for my list today. I think I’ll finish this post with an interesting story I heard from one of the people I’ve met here in Cairo about the topic of smoking. Before I begin my story, I’d just like to make sure you’re aware that smoking is considered forbidden in the Quran, but most people here smoke.

So this man was talking to his sheikh one day about his desire to quit smoking because he knew it was bad for his health. The sheikh recounted to him how it used to be that when people got stressed, they would pull out their prayer beads and recite the name of Allah until they calmed down. Nowadays, when people get stressed they pull out their cigarettes and light up. But the sheikh asked the man: If you were to die in that moment of stress, would you rather have the name of Allah on your lips or smoke and ash on your lips? After that moment, the man never smoked another cigarette because of the the sheikh’s advice about the relationship between smoking and going to Hell.