Monday, October 03, 2011

Timekeeping in Cairo

The first time a man in Egypt said to me “ we should have breakfast together soon”... I freaked out. Until i realised he wasn’t implying that we spent the night together, but that we meet during the day for food since breakfast can be the name of the 1stmeal of the day taken as late at 3 or 4pm! If somebody says”let’s do lunch sometime you never read anything seedy into it”. This is how a breakfast proposal should be taken here!

Also, when planning an event, night out, anything in fact-even work, exact times are rarely given. It is always left open in accommodate whatever‘happens’ to you during the day, which an exact time only being when someone says, “yes I’ll be with you in 5 mins” (which always means nearer 15 at least!). Also people will say, “ let’s do something later”... which could mean anything from a hours time (granted this is seldom the outcome) to 8pm, to 10 pm, to 2am..or later this week or month... it’s all very fluid. I really don’t know how things ever happened or people ever managed to meet with each other at all here in Cairo before the time of mobiles!
Oh, and if someone arranges to meet you 'later' but doesn't call... it means it was never a fixed arrangement anyway! In reality it actually means that something else (usually something better in their eyes) has come up. It is never meant as an insult. Be wary of any planned meeting times which end with 'Inshallah'. Always call to confirm! The real meaning of this word is 'god willing' but in reality is often used to imply that there is a good chance it will not happen....

At work I have to lie to my musicians about what time they have to be at the boat for (so that they are there in plenty of time before it sails!). I have learned to do this, but unfortunately the boat management in turn also do this to me... telling me the boat is due to sail before it actually is. Which is fine if you are late, since you aren’t in fact late, but hellish when you arrive early and discover you are super early! I once had a band arrive an hour after I had asked them to come... which was 15 mins after the guests were really supposed to come ( and 45 mins after the time the management told me they would come) and when i went nuts at them for being late one drummer told me “ but the guests aren’t here yet so what’s the problem? Obviously god loves you which is why the guests are late......” (I won’t write what i replied!)

At weddings people always state a time on the invitations at least an hour before they even really want people there... knowing that guests will be late. Recently when helping a friend plan her wedding , she was saying we’ll say 2 so they come for 3, and the ones who come by 3 or 4 are the real family and friends and the ones who turn up by 6 or 7 are the distant relatives etc anyway so it doesn’t matter?!!!

As for dinner arrangements, it’s always wise to check what time someone usually eats their dinner if you arrange to meet them for that. Dinner can be anything from 6/7pm- 2am depending on the lifestyle of the people in question. Certainly in my work it is unusual to eat the evening meal before midnight!

Friday daytime doesn’t actually start until after the prayers at 12/1pm. That is to say, of course it does, but if you are arranging to meet someone... never ever arrange a Friday ‘morning’!

Oh, and morning doesn’t end at midday.

Obviously, it ends at the afternoon prayer (the one which is mid way between the noon prayer and the sunset prayer).

So when greeting people you say “good morning” to them until about 3/4pm!

That’s me off to bed now... I feel like I need an early night. Its 2am. Night night!

Oh- and please forgive me my very unreligious approach to the 5 calls to prayer in Cairo;

Sunrise= bedtime

Midday= get up

Mid afternoon= breakfast

Sunset= drinks on balcony (assuming no work- if I have work, then run for taxi)

Last prayer= get ready to go partying (or get onto stage if at work!)

Cairo's timings don't suit everyone. If you plan to do lots in a day, you will often be disappointed since even seemingly easy jobs like posting a letter can take up a whole morning. Especially if there is traffic to contend with! In UK I was always taught not to phone people after 9pm, unless its been arranged previously, since they may be in bed. Here that idea is proposterous. In Cairo it is normal to call almost anytime, since the understanding is that if you want to sleep at 3pm, or 3am, either way, then you will put your mobile on silent. Many people I know come home from work between 3 and 6 pm and get 2-3 hours sleep before heading out for their night out. Every night of the week. Shift sleeping patterns are normal to many people!
Once you get used to Cairo's time keeping it usually becomes fairly easy to understand... however the times I now always get caught out are by those freaks of nature- the 'perfect' time keepers. Usually these people who meet you at exactly the pre arranged time because they assume that i will be punctual- being British. Oh dear..... I am sorry to you all if i have ever left you waiting for me at anytime!
I love Cairo- The city where no-one would be surprised or frown at me or criticise me for sleeping until 11am everyday.
See- even bedtime is fluid... my 'early' night is after 2.30am now!

1 comment:

A Daft Scots Lass said...

a Brilliant update, Lorna