When most people think of Egypt, they think desert, camels, and pyramids! What a lot of people don’t know is that Egypt is so much more than that. Sadly, most of the time, what we know about a country is only what we see on TV, and when Egypt is on the news, it is not portrayed very accurately. You never see the beautiful beaches or the amazing vacation spots, and you definitely don’t hear much about the unique cultural traditions.
All you know about its history are the pyramids, you don’t hear about the beautiful places like Luxor and Aswan, which are packed with beautiful temples, or the once in a lifetime snorkeling you can do in the Red Sea in Sharm El Sheikh. Located in Northern Africa, Egypt has beautiful weather most of the year and heavily relies on tourism. The national sport is definitely soccer, and Cairo is the city that truly never sleeps.
If you’ve been following the news at all in the last couple of years, then you know that the country has been going through a lot of changes. From the Mubarak regime, to Morsi, to former General Abdel Fattah el Sisi, the people have definitely gone through a lot.
Here are 20 shocking facts about Egypt that you could never learn from watching the news:
20. The Pyramids Are Not In The Middle Of The Desert
People think that the pyramids are in the middle of nowhere; you know, think back to Transformers. FALSE! The pyramids are in Giza, pretty much alongside the city. In fact, there is a Pizza Hut and a KFC right across the street. Google “Pizza Hut Pyramids” and see for yourself! The Pyramids are the oldest remaining wonder left! There is also a Hotel, Mena House, that overlooks the pyramids where you can get married! Talk about beautiful scenery. At the pyramids you can ride camels, horses, carriages, and you can even go inside the largest of the pyramids, Khufu, but please don’t if you are claustrophobic, it’s pretty tight inside.
19. English Is Unofficially The Second Language
Many may not know that the British occupied Egypt from 1882 to 1942 and that may have influenced the fact that English is unofficially the second language in Egypt. Most streets and shop signs are written in Arabic AND English. There are numerous American, British and Canadian schools in Egypt teaching english as a FIRST Language. There are more foreigners than you think in Egypt and usually life is not at all what they expect it to be. Since English is an international language, a lot of Egyptians find it very important to teach their children English to give them the opportunity to one day travel and maybe even live abroad.
18. Beaches EVERYWHERE
When people think Egypt, they think JUST desert. False again! Yes, there are deserts, however, there are also numerous gorgeous beaches; Sharm el Sheikh, Hurghada (check out the beautiful Gouna), Marsa Allam, and so many more. Egypt also has some of the most beautiful all-inclusive hotels. With its prime location, Egypt has access to both the Mediterranean and the Red Sea where you can go diving and snorkeling to see some of the most gorgeous scenery you have ever seen! Don’t get me wrong, you can also go enjoy camping in the desert or an awesome desert safari where you can spend the day sandboarding and the night by a warm fire under a sky filled with stars!
17. You Can Get Arrested For PDA
You can actually get arrested if you are caught kissing in the street. No, it doesn’t matter if you are married, dating, or simply hooking up. A simple kiss can get you arrested. Foreigners get a pass, but please know that if you are making out on the street everyone on it will probably be staring at you in judgment. Egyptians can be pretty private, and for a country that cuts steamy kissing and sex scenes from the movie theatres, it is understandable why any two people kissing in the street will attract attention. Holding hands can be acceptable, but for anything else, I would suggest to save it for later.
16. Gambling Is Legal…Only For Foreigners
There are a couple of beautiful casinos in Egypt. However, it is completely illegal for Egyptians to gamble there. The only way you can gamble is if you have another citizenship and you have to prove that by bringing your passport to the casino. In some extreme cases, Egyptians wouldn’t even be allowed to play poker with friends at a cafe, even if there is nothing at stake. However, like most laws there is a loophole; for now, Egyptians can gamble online. While laws might start cracking down on online gambling too, for now it is the only way.
15. Egyptians Don’t Move Out Of The House Before They Are Married
Big no no! Egyptians are very traditional and unless you want to bring shame to your family (kidding…not really) you don’t simply pack and move out unless you are moving in with your husband or wife. The only loophole is if you move to another country. However, as long as you live in Egypt, you live with your parents. Egyptians will move in with their spouses the day of the wedding, never before. Sadly, the very conservative culture can force people to get married at a young age just to leave their homes, which doesn’t always end well. Millennials are fighting the conservative culture a little bit more nowadays, but it’s hard for some things to ever change.
14. There Is A Section In The Metro Dedicated For Women
Sadly, about 90% of women have reported that they have been sexually harassed at least once in Egypt. To avoid sexual harassment, a section in the metro is dedicated just for women. Men are definitely not allowed in there. There have been incidents where men have tried to get in the women’s area, and Egyptian women would not let it go! As long as the culture blames the women for what she wears rather than the man for learning to back off, nothing will ever change. On of the biggest problems in Egypt is that law enforcement is not as strict as it should be.
13. Your Religion Is On Your National ID
One of the things that definitely baffles a lot of people is that your national ID must have your religion on it. Each person is required to have a national ID at the age of 16, and you should keep your ID on you at all times. Sadly, that piece of plastic has three items that should be removed; marital status, occupation and even worse, religion. Automatically, most people assume all Egyptians are Muslims. While the majority of the country is Muslim, a big number of Egyptians are Christian Orthodox, also referred to as Coptic. You can usually tell someone’s religion by their name, but there is absolutely no reason your religion should be on your national ID. On a couple of occasions when churches were under attack, security would stand outside the door to check national IDs and the religion on it before you enter to make sure you are Christian.
12. You Can Order Food At Anytime
Are you craving pizza at 3am? You can have it!! Not only are there numerous restaurants open 24 hours, but they also deliver! Definitely one of the best perks you can have. Whoever said that New York was the city that never sleeps obviously never visited Egypt. You never have to worry about not having groceries in the house, because at anytime when your stomach is grumbling, you can pick up the phone, dial one of the several hotlines (because why memorize the whole number when you don’t have to?) and satisfy your craving! Obviously, that could make dieting pretty hard, but it’s always great to know you have the option!
11. There Is No “Driving Test”
If anyone has ever been to Egypt, one of the first things you will notice is that driving is horrendous! No rules, no stop signs, no traffic lights and no driving test. You can pretty much get your driver’s license if you have a “wasta” also known as a connection in the police station or government. Not too many people take a driving test, written or practical! If you have to take a practical test, it would most probably consist of you driving through a series of cones and then going in reverse. One of the biggest pains in Egypt is getting any government-related paperwork done so if most people can, they will grab their “wasta” when they turn 18 and head on to get their license.
10. No Open Casket At Funerals
One of the most surprising things for people is that in Egypt, there is no open casket at funerals. The deceased is buried right away. After the death, the body is prepared and taken to a church or mosque for prayer and right after, it is buried. The same day or sometimes the day after, the family gathers in a small hall at the church or mosque and people come to pay their respects to the family. Most Egyptians haven’t seen and will never see a dead body. In some families, if a women dies before she gets married, the family bury her in white or in a wedding dress.
9. You Cannot Stay In The Same Hotel Room If You Are Egyptian And NOT Married
If you are couple in Egypt who decide to spend the night in a hotel room, you better be foreigners or married. It is strictly prohibited for an Egyptian couple to stay in the same hotel room if they aren’t married. All Egyptians must have a national ID. On the woman’s national ID it says her marital status, and if she’s married it states the name of the husband. Foreigners get a pass because Egyptians understand that each culture is different and as mentioned before, Egypt heavily relies on tourism for its economy, so enforcing that rule on Non-Egyptians would be ridiculous.
8. A Woman Always Keeps Her Maiden Name
One of the most exciting things a women can look forward to when she gets married is taking her husband’s last name. However, that is not common in Egypt. Even after getting married, the woman always keeps her maiden name. While in some places the government gives women the choice to change or keep their last name, in certain provinces like Quebec, Canada, laws prevent a woman from changing her last name completely. While some women feel a sense of pride and would like to keep their last name, others might feel left out of the family if the kids have the same last name as their father, while she is the only one with a different last name.
7. No Kisses In The Movie Theatres & Definitely No R-Rated Scenes
A boiling or whistling kettle, a speeding train, or even windows dramatically opened by the wind are all innuendos used in most Egyptian movies implying sex. As previously mentioned, Egypt has a conservative culture, and so not even sex education exists in most schools. Egyptians are slowly tackling these cultural taboos, however it is definitely a topic that can make most people uncomfortable. Because most teenagers have access to the internet now, sex education is crucial. It is always better to know the facts at school or from an adult rather than from the internet. However, the truth is most parents would definitely shy away from that topic.
6. Ladies, Watch What You Wear
Egyptians are pretty conservative, so to avoid harassment, women should make sure to dress appropriately, which means no shorts, no crop tops, short skirts and in some places really tight clothes could get you in trouble as well. In most vacation spots, you can wear pretty much whatever you want, but as long as you’re in the city, it’s always better to stay covered. Egypt isn’t as extreme as Saudi Arabia where women have to be completely covered. However, it’s still important to know that certain outfits could get you more attention than you want. Once again, foreigners get a pass. Non-Egyptians are less likely to get harassed if they wear shorts at the pyramids because “Egyptian girls should know better” than to show so much skin.
5. Weekends Are Fridays And Saturdays
One of the most confusing things for an Egyptian who moves to North America is the weekend (not the awesome Canadian singer who sings “Starboy”!) Weekends in Egypt are Fridays and Saturdays rather than Saturdays and Sundays because muslim prayer takes place on Fridays. While Christians around the world go to church on Sundays, Copts, who are Christian Orthodox Egyptians, now go to Church on Fridays as well since Sundays are considered work days. The work week is also Sunday to Thursday in other countries like Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Iran, Kuwait and a couple of other countries where Islam is the predominant religion. So instead of partying on Saturday night, you’re in bed getting ready for another work week.
4. You Have A Full Name…Not Just A First And Last Name
In Egypt, and most Middle Eastern and Arab countries, you do not just have a first and last name. How it works is a little bit different. You have your first name followed up by your father’s name, and after that comes your grandfather’s name, and so on. Egyptian names on a passport can be pretty long! Middle names also don’t exist, which is a good thing because that would make an even longer name! Most of the time, you can tell someone’s religion by their name, while other times the name can be used by both religions. For example, Sandra, Tarek, Ramy and Sarah can be used by both Christians and Muslims, while names like George, Andrew, Anthony and Marina are Christian names. Omar, Zeinab, Mahmoud and Mustafa are Muslim. Names are crazy, aren’t they?
3. The Son Automatically Gets Double
First of all, a will is inadmissible and in the event of an inheritance, the son gets double what the daughter gets. For example, if a father passes away and leaves behind $75,000, the daughter would get $25,000 and the son would get $50,000. The only way a father can protect his daughter is by having certain assets written in her name before he passes away. Now, you can imagine why that would create so many issues in Egypt between brothers and sisters. In cases where the mother is alive, the son would also get more than the mother. Some people date that from back in the olden days, when the woman stayed home and the man had to provide for the family, putting all the pressure on him and making sense of the fact that the man would get more.
2. Cruise On The Nile!
Nile cruises should definitely be on your ‘To-Do’ list if you ever visit Egypt. You can take a 4-Day Nile Cruise from Luxor to Aswan. This isn’t just a regular cruise, your journey can include amazing food and different kinds of entertainment every night. Every day you stop in a different city, in between the two major cities you are travelling from and to, where you can get off the boat and explore, buy souvenirs, learn more about the history and see more beautiful temples. Warning! Luxor and Aswan are scorching hot in the summer, so if you’re planning to go, the best time would be in January.
1. You Do Not Call Your Mother’s Name In The Street
If you have to get your mother’s attention in the street for whatever reason, don’t call her by her first name EVER. Instead, you have to use the first son’s name, or if she has no sons, you have to use her husband’s name. Kids are taught at a very young age that their mother’s first names should be kept private. Newer generations definitely care a lot less about that and are becoming more open but it is still preferable to avoid yelling your mother’s first name in the streets.
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