Between January 2010 and June 2014, I was an active member of AIESEC, the largest global, non-political, independent and non-profit organization run by students and recent graduates who are interested in world issues, leadership and management. It is present is 124 countries and basically runs an exchange program between these countries to develop youth leadership.
So over the past five years, I’ve met hundreds of people from all over the world – I’ve met people from countries I didn’t even know existed!
I knew when I first joined AIESEC that I would be exposed to different cultures and that I would experience some sort of culture shock every now and then, but I’ve found that I have given people more culture shocks than I have ever been given. I, as a single person.
So what is culture shock anyway? It’s a disorientation, a mixture of feelings you experience when you are in touch with a new country, new people, new ways of life. It’s laid bare when the deeper differences in mindsets, customs and interpersonal interactions arise.
I have hosted someone who is half Swedish/half American, two Mexicans (FIESTA!), a Russian and an Indian through AIESEC’s host family program, and as much as they taught me and I enjoyed their company to pieces, I found myself giving them some of the biggest culture shocks of their lives – and I am not a wild or crazy person at all. AT ALL!
Later on, I figured out that it works differently on Egyptians. We suffer more from reverse culture shock when we’re back home in Egypt than when we travel abroad or meet foreigners. We are so good at shocking everyone we come across, thanks to our African-Middle-Eastern-Mediterranean-Muslim-Christian-Bahaai-Atheist-Alien hybrid.
Here are some of the things Egyptians do that shock foreigners who visit Egypt:
1. Most of us still live with our parents
This is slowly changing, slower than snail-pace, and I have not seen a parent pro their kids moving out in this country yet, but it’s happening. And the fact that most of us still live with our parents is deeply intertwined with the 3eib culture as well as to avoid premarital sex as much as possible. Also prohibits the drugs. And the alcohol. And the strippers. And your freedom.
2. We eat our weird stuff, not other people’s weird stuff
Apparently stuffed pigeons is not a global thing! And koshary is a delicacy for anyone who steps in this country. Some of us eat every bit of a slaughtered cow including stomach, intestines and testicles, but we won’t eat snails or cockroaches if we travel abroad.
3. We are always late
It’s not just an Egyptian thing, apparently the Mexicans are sometimes late too, but for 10-15 minutes, not hours!
Here in Egypt, “5 minutes and I’ll be there” can range between still in bed or 30 minutes far from your destination, but NEVER 5 minutes away.
4. Men kiss on the cheeks and cross arms
We know how some foreigners must feel to see such open expressions of familiarity. But it is customary for men in Egypt to kiss at least two times cheek to cheek.
The horror and confusion it draws on some people’s faces the first time they see it is priceless. But I have also seen some people buy shatafas to take back to their home countries. I have no idea how anyone can live their entire life without that genius invention. It’s so sanitary.
6. 23 is a normal age for marriage
7. Sex is a taboo but we make tons of sex jokes
8. A lot of us can party all night without a sip of alcohol
I have seen jealousy in a lot of people’s eyes over the fact that I can get high just on water! I can transform into a party animal if I want to without alcohol or drugs. And when I do, it’s hard to control me.
9. A lot of Egyptians marry someone they have never kissed
I have not met a single foreigner who was able to process that.
10. We are a religious country but sexual harassment is always the girl’s fault
11. Not all Muslim girls wear a veil
Why I don’t have my head covered is a debate I go through with almost every foreigner I meet.
12. No matter how hard you struggle in Egypt, it will break your heart when you’re leaving
Egypt is a country to be experienced, not to be visited. And I have seen a lot of people have a tough time adapting to the Egyptian culture and getting around the country, but they were heartbroken nonetheless when it was time to leave.
They were as shocked as I was about how much this country grew on them. Everyone agreed that Egypt offers a taste of kindness and generosity they have not seen anywhere else.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
WE SAID THIS: Check out 11 Things Foreigners Will Never Get About the Middle East.