Thursday, October 06, 2011

Advice for female travellers to Cairo, Part2 - How smart women behave in Cairo.....

Do you have to behave differently depending on where you are?  No of course you don’t HAVE to... but you do already, even if you don’t realise it. Most women already act differently depending on who they are with at the time, their parents, their partners, their children, their bosses, strangers.  We do this for various reasons, conscious or unconscious.

 My blog entry here is my suggestions on how to adapt your behaviour in Cairo, based on my experiences, and those of my female friends, and are based on the assumption you want to reduce the amount of unwanted attention you receive especially in the streets.

 If, of course, you enjoy and want more attention (heaven forbid) then you can do the opposite of these things and God be with you!

-          Dress appropriately- see my previous blog entry;

-          Eye contact can be seen as an invitation. When walking in the street try not to look at people. Looking at the ground helps. Very dark or mirrored sunglasses also help so people can’t see you looking at them!

-          Touch is another no-no. Try to avoid touching men! I mean even from hand shaking or a touch on the shoulder or arm when talking. In many countries it is very normal to accentuate a point using a slight touch to the hand or whatever- but not in Egypt! Touching women is normal and good, if you are a woman, although not usually with strangers!

-          Kissing is illegal in public! Even if you are married. Just don’t do it. When meeting people, and saying goodbye, many countries  kiss on the cheek as a normal greeting. This is also normal in Cairo, but only men-men and women-women. Never between a man and a woman. Many ‘westernised’ Egyptian man will attempt this greeting form, but it is wise, especially in public to adopt a strong hand hold so they can’t. Even if it is just a friend. Most people will understand this response from you and not take offence.

-          On  ‘taking offence’ , do not feel you have to be polite. Never get yourself in a situation where you are uncomfortable just because you don’t want to say no. I have found I have had to almost be what i would consider rude in order to get my point across without misunderstandings and silliness. So if a shopkeeper takes your hand to shake it, and holds onto it, even if he is smiling and talking perfect English to you, remember he would NEVER do this to an Egyptian girl, he wouldn’t have even shaken her hand in the first place. You have every right to pull your hand away and talk sternly to him. Be strong. You will be respected for it.

-          Dancing in the street, in a Cafe, restaurant  etc is NOT a good idea. Egyptian women would NOT do this! (unless its somewhere like Bian cafe which actually operates salsa evenings!)

-          Laughing out loud can be seen as ‘easy’. Egyptians are drawn to ‘light-blooded’ people ie whose who laugh easily. Laughing will make you more desirable.

-          Smiling and giggling get the same reaction as laughing. Poker face is best in Cairo streets and when doing business.

-          When you walk limit how much bounce and sway you give your curves. A supportive bra is a must if you are blessed in that department!

-          When i walk i tend to swing my arm by my side... on more than one occasion i have by doing this managed to get my arm between a gropers hand and my rear end!

-          The other arm is holding onto the strap of my handbag. There has been an increase of bag snatching in Cairo since the revolution along with other petty crimes so just be on your guard. Although one recent guest from Rome commented on how much safer she felt in the streets of Cairo than at home!

-          Chatting in taxi’s is a tactic used by drivers to work out where you are from and therefore how much money you have and how they can best scam you out of it. Sometimes they just want to flirt. Don’t sit in the front of the taxi as a woman, especially if the driver asks you to and beware of roaming hands. If you are in this situation treat the driver as the child he is and get out the cab immediately. Also all taxi’s have a registration number- it’s hard to remember to do it but a good idea to take a note of the number if you can!

-          When you are in a car or taxi, don’t make eye contact with other drivers. By accident i have done this before and had to get the driver to drive a very long route to shake our follower off our tail!

-          As in most places – if you wander about, looking all around you as you go, then you will look like a tourist and be more likely to be approached. Walk wherever you are going in a determined manner. Actually- it’s wise to look at the pavement anyway since they are so uneven and you don’t want to trip!

-          Don’t walk in the street at night if you can help it. Two women together will attract double the attention! I have tried to walk the wrong way up a one way street before to avoid a curb crawler, but to no avail- he followed me up the road and then i was in a worse situation because there were less people about. ( I was shaken but ok, since he drove off when i threatened to scratch his lovely BMW with my keys- it’s a good idea to carry keys in your hand as self defence – just in case!)

-          If you are a Bellydancer- LIE when people ask you what you do! Unless they are in the same industry , you will always be considered ‘easy’ if you are a dancer! I always tell people that i ‘work in tourism’ when they ask.... well, it’s true too!

-          If you are being asked by a taxi driver, man in the street, in a shop wherever, it’s always best to say you are married , even if you aren’t.  Some single women travelling alone in Egypt even wear wedding bands to give them more confidence to do this. If you are travelling with a partner or boyfriend- LIE and say you are married. It just makes your life easier!

-          If you are lost, local shopkeepers know their area and are better to stop than policemen or passersby. The best place to ask is a chemist since they are on almost every street and to get your pharmacy degree you have to have good English!

-          Never feel pressurised to go anywhere or do anything you don’t want to do. Egyptians can be great salesmen and persuaders. Go with your gut instinct every time. Even if you feel you have to be ‘rude’ to get out of a situation. They will actually respect you more for this!

-          Try not to be alone with a man...... this need a lot more explanation so I am writing a separate blog entry about this one.... and will publish asap

Of course... all this is just advice. You do not have to follow it to the letter. You may feel safe in certain places, with certain people and there your behaviour will be more normal. Eventually, if you spend some time in Cairo, then you will learn where you can relax and where you can’t. Also if you master some of the language you are in a better position to understand the comments made at you in the street and know whether they are meant in a sleezy or friendly way.  Until you reach that point its wise just to make yourself stand out as little as possible!

I love living in Cairo. It’s my home now. There are many fabulous people here. The one things that all Foreign and Egyptian women alike ALL complain of is the hassle from men  on the streets, and nothing will ever stop it completely, unfortunately, but hopefully some of these behavioural suggestions will help reduce it somewhat, and help you enjoy your time in Cairo even more.

So, when walking in the streets of Cairo, enjoy, laugh, smile, dance, wonder at this crazy city- just keep it all inside- don’t let any of it show on your face or body language- get to work on that poker face!

1 comment:

Nepenthe said...

Guilty! I probably made most of those mistakes when I was there last. It's so natural to act the way we are taught - smiling, eye contact, friendly (say, when interacting with a shopkeeper) - yet it's all sending a message and in one case, I ended up receiving an unwanted kiss!!