Do's and Don'ts in Egypt

Egypt Etiquette Tips

In many countries, flowers are a popular gift, but in Egypt, giving someone flowers can be a bit of a faux pas! In Egyptian culture, giving flowers is reserved for weddings, funerals, or for the ill. Sweets, electronic gadgets, and compasses make good gifts, though! Compasses make particularly good gifts for Muslims, because it will allow them to be directed to Mecca.

Egypt is a friendly country with lots to see and do, but there is a lot of etiquette to follow. Egyptians are religious people, and some of their traditions are based off their religion. Because of this, it is important to learn a bit about Egyptian etiquette. Below are some do's and don'ts to keep in mind for your trip to Egypt.

1. Dress Attire

  1. DO dress modestly and somewhat formally. Men shouldn't wear tank-tops or shorts, unless they're at the beach. Women should wear either pants or skirts that fall below the knee, and shirts that cover their shoulders.
  2. DO wear a suit and tie if you are a man at a business function. Men should not wear visible jewelry at business meetings, either.
  3. DO dress appropriately if visiting a mosque. Women need to cover their hair, and no skin should be exposed besides the hands, face, and feet. And remember to take your shoes off!
  4. DO feel comfortable dressing less conservatively at resorts, but whenever you leave the resort, go back to wearing more modest attire.

2. Table Manners

  1. DON'T use your left hand to eat.
  2. DO ask for seconds. It compliments the chef.
  3. DON'T put salt on your food. It's considered insulting to the chef.
  4. DO leave a tiny bit of food on your plate when you are full. This indicates that you are done eating.

3. Tipping

  1. DO tip if you enjoyed the service at a restaurant. There is usually a 10-12% tip included but leaving an additional 5% is common.
  2. DO tip a taxi driver 10%.

4. Gift Giving and Accepting Gifts

  1. DON'T give flowers as a gift. In Egyptian culture, flowers are for weddings, funerals, and for the ill.
  2. DON'T give alcohol unless you are certain that the recipient drinks. Devout Muslims don't drink alcohol.
  3. DO give children gifts such as candy, toys, or magic markers.
  4. DO present a gift with your right hand, and not your left.
  5. DON'T open a gift until later.
  6. DO give sweets as a gift, such as konafa, baklava, or petit fours.
  7. DO give electronic gadgets or a nice compass. A compass makes a great gift for a Muslim because it allows them to be directed to Mecca.

5. Body Gestures

  1. DON'T sit with your legs crossed. Showing the bottoms of your feet is considered rude.
  2. DO put your right hand over your heart if declining something. It makes your refusal seem much more polite and gracious.
  3. DON'T make the number five with your hand with the palm facing out, and don't stretch your arm out with your palm in someone's face. A palm indicates warding off evil, so those gestures can be offensive.
  4. DON'T engage in public displays of affection.
  5. DON'T stand too close to a member of the opposite sex, though personal space between members of the same sex might be closer than you are used to. Don't move away, though! It could be seen as rude.

6. Greetings

  1. DO shake hands upon meeting. In Egypt, handshakes are often lengthy and a little bit limp, accompanied by eye contact and a smile.
  2. DO exchange cheek kisses once a relationship is developed. This is only done among people of the same sex.
  3. DO wait for a woman to offer a handshake first, if you are a man. If she doesn't, bow your head to greet her.

7. Visitors Etiquette

  1. DO remove your shoes upon entering an Egyptian person's home.
  2. DO bring a gift to your hosts, such as candy or pastries.
  3. DO bring a gift for your host's children.
  4. DO expect to be offered food repeatedly, even if you keep declining.
  5. DO compliment your host's house.
  6. DO accept if offered coffee or tea. Even if you don't want it, accept it anyway, and simply don't drink it. If you refuse, your host may feel rejected.

8. Business Meeting

  1. DO make appointments in advance and confirm a week before.
  2. DO expect interruptions throughout the meeting. This is common and shouldn't be taken personally.
  3. DO engage in small talk in the beginning of the meeting.
  4. DO have materials and business cards translated into Egyptian Arabic.
  5. DO be patient. Business moves slowly in Egypt.
  6. DO expect haggling. Egyptians can be tough negotiators.

9. Photo Etiquette

  1. DON'T take pictures of military buildings.
  2. DO ask an Egyptian if you can take their picture. They usually won't mind.

The above list of etiquette may seem somewhat overwhelming, but when in doubt, follow the lead of those around you. Respect Egypt's traditions, and you will blend in much better. Have a safe and wonderful trip to Egypt!

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