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ISSUE 11 ARCHIVE - SHARM DOS AND DON'TS - EGYPTIAN ETIQUETTE

Traveller

Etiquette Dos

Do learn the word for 'thank you'. And do this as soon as possible. Shokran – pronounced show-kran. Not shock-ran, as in running away from something in a state of panic, or shoe-crane, how circuses move their clowns footwear. It comes in useful from the moment you set foot on the tarmac, For providing a bus to go fifty feet to the customs – 'shokran.' 'Shokran', after you have waited an hour to get your arrival visa, after three planes have landed at once and there's only one booth open. And 'shokran' to the baggage porters who have hijacked your luggage – put it on their trolleys (that have decidedly worse wheels than your suitcase) and scraped it along the floor to your minibus, all for the last of your English money in your pocket.
Nautilus Lifeline
Do remember that to refuse anything will cruelly offend a Godfearing local. If offered politely, by rights, as a visitor to their country, you have to accept. This includes restaurants, coffee lounges and, if female, the kindness to be taught Arabic in return for sexual intercourse. Sorry, it's the rules. A couple I know refused and had a miserable holiday. Whereas their friends had a dream time, him at the local Chinese in town and her being roasted over a hubble bubble by two eighteen year olds in Brazil replica footy shirts. Remember to say 'shokran' afterwards.

Do ignore all signs about topless sunbathing on local public beaches. The perception that showing a ladies bawbies in front of hidden peering eyes is an offence to their culture is completely wrong. The local lads, security guards, volleyball players, fruit sellers and even other tourists LOVE IT. That's the whole point of going somewhere hot. Get an all over tan, be eye candy for all blokes who are bored of their Grisham novel on the beach, and let other ladies see the joys of a couple of hundred quid spent down the cosmetic surgeons. The only people who are offended are the monks living up at St Catherine's monastery and they can't see after all the dodgy Viagra that gets circulated out there anyways.
Do always accept the first price offered when shopping. The concept of bartering is foul and most un-English. The reason things may sound expensive at first is that inflation is rampant there, and the Government hasn't bailed out the banks. So, the street vendors have to sort the country out financially. Fifty quid for a Chinese made necklace isn't so bad really. Likewise, a tenner for a plastic ashtray with scarab beetles ain't gonna break the bank and it's yours forever after. 'Bartering' is a Scottish/Celtic word for 'we don't receive enough benefits to pay for stuff', initiated under midget politician G. Brown when funds ran out. A proper English gentleman diver takes prices on the chin and pays with grace and aplomb. The only nation that still haggles now is Italy. This is because it makes them feel better after drawing with New Zealand in the World Cup and losing to Ethiopia in a war.

Do try to remember at least two Egyptian football teams and a few players names. You will not believe what doors that will open for you. Half price taxis, boat staff keeping their hands off your girlfriend and maybe even the chef washing his hands before scraping the hummus back off the floor onto your plate. So here's a couple for you: Remember Mido; shit for Tottenham, shit for 'Boro, but he scored the winner in the African Cup of Nations. Use that line as you fumble for change at your destination. The best team in Cairo are Al- Akhtoum. Any readers from Crewe, will know that their team is based on the famous side of Alexandria. But if your associate is from Luxor, then mention Thebes Thistle, who won the cup the same year they finished the Suez Canal. But for ultimate points and only to be used to 'get out of jail', just say, "That winner in the 83rd minute by Mark Wright at Italia '90 was a fluke. You should have progressed to the next round, not us." They still remember it like we do penalty shoot outs. Get in!

Do be extra patient and thoughtful during Ramadan. No grub, no liquids and the worst for the population – no ciggies from sunrise to sunset. Just one would piss us off, but all three! The only exceptions are for pregnancy, diabetes and those travelling, so they are unlikely to be your boat skipper or dive instructor. Expect violence if you are munching a grab bag of Doritos in front of them, and disdain as you chug on an afternoon beer with a fag in your hands. You will get most respect if you empathise with them openly by saying "Hey, I felt like dropping a few kilos and stopping smoking, so Ramadan, I love it."

Do laugh politely at some of the extraordinary chat up lines that will be used on you (if you are a lone female traveller). Due to a few educational establishments there employing retarded Brits, or even struck off UK teachers there is a whole new language in Sharm now, "You look pretty, can we make babies" is at the high end. "You are very brown, do you have any Egyptian in you. No… Would you like some?" Won the Gold award in 1988. The basest are a few gruntings sounding like a camel in it's last minutes before dehydration demise. "Nghhhrrrfffff" with that wrist/pelvic move. However, they have adapted to modern times. "Uiz b8ifl, cn uz shg" now seems to work on yoof out there.

Do tip accordingly for hotel room towel origami. There is an understood fee for this fine skill, passed from mother to daughter since Nefertiti's time. In fact, early hieroglyphics had towel cats and ibises. Some skills have been lost, so here's the rates: A swan, simple beginner towligami – 10 L.E. (About a quid 25). A two towel dragonfly, intermediate. 20 L.E. But the mother of them all, and rarely seen as the few practitioners have been bought up by the Burgh-El- Arab in Dubai, is the 18 towel, Step Pyramid of Saqqara, with four corner obelisks and garden of your uneaten complimentary fruit. That's a fifty and you have been cleaned by a black belt third Dan. Feel honoured.
Ralf Tech
Etiquette Don'ts

Don't in any way make a comment about you know who if your cab driver/boat skipper is called Mohammed. No – "Isn't that the same name as your God? Cool" or "Does that make it easier for your wife to worship if you both have the same name?" Their God is a tad harsher than ours and is taken more seriously. Whereas back home we knock out Jerry Springer operas and generally chuckle at those who show any evangelism – in Egypt you will get one holy asskicking for name-in-vaining. Though you might get away with, "Isn't that like being called Jesus, but different". However, whatever you do, don't say you are a Danish cartoonist at any point. You will end up on YouTube with some hoodies behind you as you read from a pre-written script.

Don't forget how to pass the hookah. Like port at posh dinners back home, there is strong etiquette that permeates the smoking of this fine bubbly lung tarrer. It's all about the left hand. In the days before Andrex puppies and dock leaves it was your pinkies and perhaps a smooth rock. All five of them and always the left. Hence the word 'sinister', it means 'shitty fingers'. So to pass the hookah to the left with your left hand means to the Arabic recipient, "You are a dirty dog and see how I insult you by getting the mouthpiece tasting of poo." The pipe must go right with the right hand (unlike a Duchy). "I honour you sir", it states, "…and my spittle is herpes free". Passing right with the left hand means the former above but less insulting. To the left with the right hand was invented by the French and never really took on – though it is popular amongst some Algerians still.

Don't ever under-dress at breakfast. This is when your waiters are at their most testosterone fuelled. Male or female, it doesn't matter, just as long as you are carbon based. The smell of turkey sausages and omelettes does something to brekky-staff pineal glands and they are at their most lecherous. We recommend the O3 range of Victorian wet-suitery. High collars for ladies and ankle length neoprene. Gentlemen require at least a waistcoat and spats with their flip-flops. When shown to your table, always order tea. Never coffee. 'Coffee for two' is phonetically similar to "my love itch needs scratching and he's off diving in an hour. Room 202", in some Bedouin dialects.

Don't ever try to get off your head on the local beer. Public drunkenness is an insult to an alcohol-free country, and any more episodes from the Brits will only result in Egypt going Saudi-style. Then where would we be? Oh yes, smuggling gin into the country in water bottles. Making our own hooch out of sun cream and camel dung. Mind you, that'd taste a lot better than the third bottle of Sakara beer. Yuk.

Don't complain or utter a word when your cab driver stops next to a group of semi-naked Russian girls, parps his horn and makes jiggly hip and wrist movements. It is a local tradition to them, and you may well have the accusatory pervert looks thrown at you, but he has been sitting in forty degrees, in an un-air-conditioned cab that smells of the last passengers. He sees the girls as a thing of beauty and due to poor education finds it difficult to express his admiration. As we would bill and coo in front of a fine piece of art, he does his gyrations and sounds. However, if he tries to grab one into his cab, gently tap his shoulder and remind him of the Abdulla vs. Stoichkovic, Cairo Court 2007, date rape legal ruling. He could get the asp.
Travelling Diver
Don't ask for anything clever at the Starbucks in town, Skinny Mocha Latte, Iced Fruity Frappuccino, Double Decaf Two Shot Flat White. This is a country that for centuries before Seattle was ever prised away from the Amerindians, made way better coffee in little brass boilers over charcoal fires in the desert. The staff will feel humiliated by having to make 'made-up coffees', as well as depressed that nowhere on the menu is an Arabic. So make their day. Buy an Arabic one around the corner, take it in and ask for it to be poured into a Starbucks mug. Then enjoy the best airconditioning and loos in town. And free Wifi.

Don't ever, ever accuse a Bedouin of lying. I am being serious here. They have a tribal way of sorting it out, and it is still used. So think carefully before pointing fingers after missing handbags, lost wallets or not paying what you thought. A spoon is heated up to red hot in a coal fire. The accused will then have it put on their tongue. A refusal is an admission of guilt. Bubbles and blisters are the same. If the tongue is left as it was, then innocence is found. That's their court, and frankly it makes more sense than a High Court Appeal for the Yorkshire Ripper trying to show good behaviour and get out after a thirty year stretch. [Medically is it known that liars salivate less as they get nervous and dry mouthed. Pure of heart and innocent will secrete more from the parotid gland thus negating a red hot spoon. I use this method on my children. Ed].
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