“Nice car Karim,” I said sliding into the back seat with two other American friends. Before I was fully seated I caught my error. “Whoops, I forgot we’re not supposed to compliment people’s possessions.”
Despite one past trip to Cairo on my record, living in Cairo often feels like learning an entirely new system of human interaction. The other day on our way to Abdu and Hayam’s (good friends of Professor Sullivans) house, Carlene warned us not to compliment people things. They’ll think you covert it,” she warned. Complimenting houses and children are especially treacherous errors, believed to bring bad luck.
These episodes pop up all the time.
Sometimes it’s hard to figure them out at all. Did the chef at the shawrma stand Baraka tell us too many students come here to learn Arabic? What did he mean by that?
Last night a group Northeastern students and I ate dinner and enjoyed (some less than others) some funky music at the Cairo Jazz Club–a restaurant, lounge and bar primarily aimed at a western crowd. I was eager for my new American friends to meet my favorite Egyptians from last year and vice-versa.
At one point I popped my gum. Is that rude? I yelled through the music to my Egyptian friend sitting next to me. He told me to stop worrying about things like that. I tried to explain it’s not a questioned of “worried” rather wanting to be in tune with the culture.
After a while the girlfriends I came with grabbed cabs to our hotel Flamenco–blogging and beds called. The rest of us left for a quieter location where are jumble of “Arablish” had a chance of making sense.
“There aren’t any woman here,” I pointed out before taking a seat at the outdoor cafe we chose. The guys didn’t see a problem with it. While I don’t inherently, I want to experience the culture here–not live like I was in the United States.
Walking home at 2 a.m. with one American guy I was aware how taboo this would be if I were an Egyptian women.