To get the most out of your trip to Egypt, it is important that you are aware of the customs and habits of the country. After all, you donʼt want to offend anyone unintentionally. In this article, we will discuss five important customs that every traveller going to Egypt should know.
1: Introductions and handshakes
When greeting people of the same sex, you usually shake hands. When getting to know each other better, it is not uncommon to kiss each other once on each cheek while shaking hands. It is different when greeting people of the opposite sex. A man almost never puts out his hand first to greet a woman. If the woman does not extend her hand, then a man may simply politely bow his head in greeting.
Always take off your shoes when entering someone elseʼs house. If you want to give gifts, hand them over with the right hand, or with both hands if it is too heavy.
Egypt is known for its delicious cuisine. Popular meals include Kushari (rice, macaroni, lentils and chickpeas with tomato sauce), Fattah (rice with fried bread, garlic, sauce and veal), or of course the famous shawarma. It is important that you know the customs around dining, so that you do not inadvertently come across as rude. Donʼt go and choose your own seat; the host will point out your place. In Egypt, people eat with their right hand. The right hand is meant for everyday tasks, while the left hand is used for "unclean" tasks.
Asking for a second portion is considered a great compliment in Egypt. It may happen that an empty plate is immediately refilled without you asking. If you have had enough to eat, you can leave some food on your plate to avoid this. In some places, it is customary to share one large meal together.
There is no direct translation of the Egyptian word Baksheesh, as it is a combination of several concepts. However, these concepts have one thing in common: money.
- Tipping: Wages in Egypt are relatively low. Many people live on only 75 dollars a month. Tipping is therefore important for Egyptians to earn their daily living. You are expected to tip if you use certain services, such as in hotels, restaurants or bars. It may happen that people open the door for you or take off your shoes. In these situations, a tip is expected.
- Buying privileges: The term Baksheesh is also used when someone wants to put down some extra money for certain privileges. For example, you can pay extra if you want to visit an archaeological site after closing time. However, this should not be confused with bribery, which is a crime. The privileges that one can get through Baksheesh never go against the law.
- Giving alms: Lastly, Baksheesh also embraces almsgiving. According to Islamic belief, one is obliged to give to the poor if they are able. However, this can easily be abused. Especially children see tourists as easy prey. If you were to give money to every begging child, you will lose a lot of money.
4: Clothing and public behaviour
Egypt is a conservative country. Although there are no concrete rules regarding clothing, it is recommended that you wear clothes that cover your body. This applies especially to women. In certain places, such as religious buildings, it is compulsory to cover the head, shoulders and knees. In resorts and other popular locations, people are usually more tolerant in this regard.
Couples travelling together should note that public displays of affection (such as kissing) are not appreciated in Egypt. Holding hands is generally fine, but there are places in Egypt where this is looked down upon, as physical contact in public between a man and a woman is considered inappropriate.
5: Things take longer in Egypt
Egyptians usually have a fairly relaxed attitude. This means that it may happen that someone is late for an appointment, or that a certain task takes longer than you are used to in other countries. This should not be taken as an insult, as you will otherwise spend most of your time in Egypt frustrated. Instead, accept it as an inevitable part of life in Egypt. And if you are late, no one will be upset either!
Travelling to Egypt: applying for a visa
If you keep these five things in mind, you are well on your way to enjoying a great trip to Egypt. However, there are other preparations to be made, including having the right travel documents. For example, UK and EU travellers need to apply for an Egypt visa to travel to the country. The visa can easily be applied for online, but there are some conditions attached. For example, on arrival in Egypt, you may be asked for an itinerary, which must include all flights and accommodation booked. If you are staying with family or friends, you must be able to present a letter of invitation.
The Egypt visa allows you to stay in Egypt for 30 days.