Sunday, December 12, 2010

Letters from Egypt: The Egyptian Psyche

Nelson's going away party
When I first moved here, I didn’t want to be that foreigner that stayed in her expat group, never leaving Maadi or getting to know what the culture/society was like. And I did just that – I got out and I really tried to experience the life (often to my detriment). Yes I got burned quite a few times and I want to make it clear, there are some great people here. And to add to that standard disclaimer, every country/society has bad apples. Okay, now that I’ve given the politically correct statement, let’s move on.

One thing I’ve noticed about myself is that although I got out and tried to get a grasp on local living, I find myself clawing my way back to the confines of my expat circle. Egypt has really changed me, some for the positive and also in a few negative ways. I loved to meet new people, note the past tense, and now I could care less if I meet anyone. I also despise fake, materialistic people – which was always a thing of mine. However, I used to tolerate it a great deal more than now.

Now what I’m about to tell you can be applicable to others that you know, whom may not be Egyptian; however, I have found that this characteristic is more prevalent throughout this society than any other that I’ve seen.

The commonality: Egyptians have a need to be liked by all.

This feat, much like getting work done during Ramadan, is simply impossible to accomplish. But that doesn’t stop them from trying. True enough they don’t like everyone (and sometimes I have to wonder if many like anyone other than what they can get), but being able to walk up to someone and say hi is far greater than their possible disdain for the person because, after all, it allows them to add another “friend” to their list. It is all about quantity, definitely unconcerned with quality.

I am brutally honest, many times to a fault. If I don’t like you, you are well aware of it. However, I’m 28-years old and I’m more than willing to go about my business without causing a scene. I will not go out of my way to speak to you and nor should you really approach me. You do you, I’ll do me (classic Jersey Shore). This is just unheard of here. Even if you detest the other person, it’s the standard societal norm to approach, say hi, kiss kiss and make small talk.


And even when an Egyptian knows that (s)he did something to hurt/upset you, they will go out of their way to contact you in order to make it appear as though nothing is wrong and to gauge your reaction. Life is a game to them, and you need to know what game you’re playing before being thrown into the arena. This is the game: show little to no reaction and go about your business. However, know who you’re dealing with and that they are very delicate. The slightest thing will hurt their feelings and don’t forget about the classic “Egyptian Turnaround” that I’ve noted in several blog posts. No matter who is at fault, you will ultimately be blamed.

This “turnaround” can show in various situations from a foreigner simply wanting her street cleaned and someone saying, “Take care as foreigners doing certain things are seen as imposing colonialism.” I forgot that Egypt gained its independence in 1922 and while less than 4% of the population is 65+, that the possible 1% that are 88 and older remember what Egypt was like to be under British control. I had no idea that wanting to help clean my street would remotely, could remotely, be seen as imperialistic. Silly me.

Or for the person that lied, cheated and stole from me to not understand why I wouldn’t want to kiss kiss and pretend all is right with the world. Silly me, I should just continue down this torturous road to allow you to repeat your previous actions. After all, I must be an idiot not to like it.

And finally, a word of caution: foreigners are viewed by many as simply an opportunistic thing. Having a foreigner as a friend gives the notion that an Egyptian may be upper class, even if (s)he is not. It’s all about image and you can find yourself simply an ornament of fashion, much like the Paris Hilton’s chihuahua. It isn’t a pleasant realization and I’ve held back awhile on placing it on my blog, but this is the truth. It is important to note that these people should be seen as your gateways to meeting your real friends. This advice can be used in any move that you may make whether it be within your own country or to foreign lands.

It took me about a year to meet people whom I consider class acts. I went through a lot of these opportunistic individuals, but for the diamonds that I somehow managed to find, I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. I suppose dealing with what I have been dealt only makes me appreciate the good seeds even more. And while I would like to think that I was smart enough to bypass and recognize these bad apples, we all arrive feeling discombobulated and misplaced. We look for others that can help us on our path. So just take this advice as meaning that you should never mistake someone’s kindness for genuineness.

And I would like to hope that you don’t reap the same negatives that I have because I feel, at times, it has made me a very distrusting person from the carefree girl I used to be.


  1. some good points dear Leanne :) I always think, if you meet a honest and sincere Egyptian, that person may be the nicest person you ever met in your whole life. But as for dealing with the majority, I am sorry to say, it feels like I am living in a "dog eat dog" world over here.

  2. so true. Well posted LeAnne. Miss you biatch, and I hope you had a fantastic New Years.