Egypt: Public Behaviour
Acceptable public conduct
Egyptians tend to speak at a much closer distance than North Americans. Even if you are unaccustomed to this level of contact, do not back up or shy away. If you keep your distance, the perception might be that you find your counterpart's physical presence distasteful or that you are a very cold, unfeeling person. Moreover, conversations usually involve touching.
Since there are a myriad of greeting styles in Egypt, it is safest to wait for your Egyptian counterpart to initiate the greeting, especially at a first meeting.
Westernized Egyptian men shake hands with other men.
Some Egyptian men will shake hands with Western women. Western businesswomen should wait for an Egyptian man to offer his hand.
Women constitute about 10% of the Egyptian workforce. Most are employed in the professional and service sectors. While there are numerous female secretaries and physicians, few female executives are to be found. If you encounter a woman decision-maker in business, she will probably be very Western-oriented in her behavior. In all likelihood, she will initiate a handshake, with either men or women.
Arab men often walk hand in hand, but Westernized Egyptians rarely do this. If an Egyptian holds your hand, accept this gesture of friendship.
A traditional Arab male may not necessarily introduce his wife. If he acts as if she isn't there, you should do the same.
A more traditional Arab greeting between men involves each grasping the other's right hand, placing the left hand on the right shoulder, and exchanging kisses on each cheek. Kisses, however, are always between members of the same sex. Men may kiss men, women may kiss women, but men and women may not kiss in public.
The left hand is considered unclean in the Arab world. Unless you are handling something considered unclean, always use the right hand. Moreover, avoid gesturing with the left hand.
It's acceptable to use both hands when you have no choice [i.e., if you are lifting a heavy object].
Although Egyptians often like to gesture with their hands while speaking, pointing is considered extremely rude.
When you remove your shoes--as when entering a mosque--the soles of the shoes are placed together, preventing the sole from being pointed at anyone.
When sitting, keep both feet on the ground, since Arabs do not cross their legs when sitting. Moreover, exposing the bottom of your foot is considered offensive.
The “thumbs up” sign is offensive throughout the Arab world.
A gesture meaning “calm down” or “wait a minute” is accomplished in this way: with your palm facing you, touch all your fingers to your thumb, and bob your hand up and down [as if you were weighing something.]
In a nearly empty theatre, an Egyptian will choose the seat next to you instead of at the other end. This does not necessarily mean that he or she wants to talk to you. It's just that Egyptians tend to naturally gravitate towards others.
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