You know, I’m sure everyone knows this but it bears repeating because it can be a little shocking at first if you’re not ready for it when you get there, but here goes – Egypt is still a legit developing country. There are some very nice, very luxurious, very modern parts to Egypt, but the overwhelming majority of the country is still developing. Some say Third World, some say developing. Whatever. You get the picture. There’s a lot of poverty, the cities can be very crowded, and there are a lot of desperate people, and first-time visitors need to be prepared for this.
But here’s the #1 thing to know about the people of Egypt – they are seriously so incredibly nice and warm and welcoming and loving. It’s just amazing and heartwarming to see how friendly the Egyptian people really are.
And guess what – they love Americans. People think all the time that Arabs have so much hostility towards Americans and sure some do in some places, but Egyptians are so friendly and loving towards Americans. They love American culture, music, television, and people, and they’ll tell you that a lot when you’re there if they realize you’re visiting.
It’s important to realize though that Egypt is generally a very conservative country. It’s an Islamic country like most of the Middle East and although about 10-15% of the population is actually Coptic Christian, it’s still officially an Islamic country.
How that translates practically though is most obvious in the dress. Egyptians, like all Arabs, dress very modestly. For Arab men, that’s mostly long pants. Tshirts are generally worn, although sleeveless shirts may be a little risque for some. For Arab women, it can range from long pants and a loose blouse that goes up to the neck, to a headscarf covering the hair that’s called a hijab, all the way to full body coverings, sometimes even with most of the face covered too. Usually, though, you just see women wearing clothing that covers most of the body along with a hijab to cover their hair.
In some Western establishments like universities or bars, you might see more Western dress codes for men and women, but this is the exception rather than the rule. It’s totally ok for Westerners to dress Western when visiting Egypt, but what’s really important is that, because of the cultural norms there, even Western women are expected to dress modestly. If you’re at the main tourist sites or a major resort hotel it can be ok to wear shorts, but it’s really frowned upon to wear shorts in any other setting out in public or to wear tops that are too revealing. But Egyptians are also used to foreign tourists and so it’s not too bad of a faux pas if you forget and stray from the norms once in a while.
So just keep these norms and themes in mind when you’re planning a trip to Egypt. The country is still developing and many parts of it are still a little rough around the edges. The people are super friendly and warm and they love Westerners, but they are also personally quite conservative. So although they are used to lots of foreign tourists in the cities, it’s generally a good idea to still respect their cultural norms, which are heavily influenced by their religion.
If you keep these things in mind and pack and plan accordingly, you’ll be able to truly experience the warmth and magic of Egypt and Egyptian hospitality and it will really amplify your experience in the land of the Pharaohs.