Etiquette in Egypt
Egypt is a country with a famously long and rich cultural history. Egyptians are considered to be extremely friendly gregarious and hospitable people. Family, honour and religion are of utmost importance to Egyptians. So a major consideration when visiting Egypt is that the main religion is Islam – although Christianity is also practised - and much of the social customs and etiquette are influenced by this fact.
Appropriate DressWhen visiting Egypt, you should be mindful of what is considered to be the most appropriate attire. Although within the confines of a resort, Western beachwear such as bikinis, shorts and miniskirts are generally accepted, when venturing outside you should always make sure that you are suitably dressed.
Women should always dress modestly. This means that skirts should be at least below the knee, and shoulders and the tops of arms should be covered. Men should wear trousers and also always have their shoulders covered. If you are planning on visiting a mosque, be aware that women will have to completely cover themselves, with only their face, hands and feet on display. A headscarf should also be worn. Also remember that if entering a mosque, both men and women should remove their shoes. Not doing so would be seen as a complete and utter insult, and could cause quite a commotion.
BehaviourIt is very important to understand the way in which you are expected to interact with members of the same and opposite sex when in Egypt. For instance, you should not kiss or make any body contact with a member of the opposite sex. Although handshakes may be offered, in contrast to Western customs, hugging and kissing on the cheeks is however, a common greeting between members of the same sex in Egypt. Egyptians also retain a close personal space between the same sexes, but you should avoid standing too close to the opposite sex. Men should also be aware that it is not always appropriate to idly chat with or approach an unknown Muslim woman.
Any displays of affection should be kept to an absolute minimum in public. Any displays of affection between same sex couples, particularly men, should be completely avoided. Outwardly flirtatious behaviour is regarded as crass and immoral.
As Islam is the major religion of Egypt, and this means that certain foods and substances will be avoided by devout Muslims. These include alcohol, any drugs and pork. In the more touristy areas Egyptians will not be wholly offended if you choose to drink alcohol in their presence. However, it is good etiquette to only drink moderately in these circumstances.
Gesticulating & Body LanguageYou should be aware that in Egypt, showing the soles of your feet or shoes is perceived as very rude and bad etiquette. If you must make a refusal to an Egyptian’s request, by putting your right hand over your heart, you are making an extremely polite rejection. The hand over the heart is a symbol of both humbleness and gratitude.
Although Egyptians are not superstitious people, for some the palm indicates the warding off of evil. Outside of some Egyptian’s homes, you may see statues of hands with an eye painted into the palm, facing outwards. The idea is that the palm will ward off evil or the ‘envious’ eye and protect the home. For this reason, if you are seen to push or wave your palms in an Egyptian’s face, this could be considered as terrible etiquette, as it indicates that you regard them as evil or bad.