Travel Etiquette for Tourists in Egypt
by Guest Contributor Nick Steele
Egypt is the most popular tourist destination in the Middle East. Almost everyone wants to see the pyramids or take an Egypt Cruise on the Nile. It’s a country with a long and rich cultural history; however, the behaviors and customs are different from those in the United States or Europe. The old saying about being like a Roman when in Rome is particularly true in Middle Eastern countries like Egypt.
Family and religion are of utmost importance to Egyptians, so a major consideration when visiting Egypt is that the main religion is Islam and much of the social customs and etiquette are influenced by this fact. This means that certain foods and substances will be avoided by devout Muslims. These include alcohol, drugs of any kind and pork. In the areas where there are a large number of tourists, Egyptians will likely not be offended if you drink alcohol in their presence; however, it is good etiquette to only drink moderately in these circumstances.
When visiting Egypt, you should also be mindful of what is considered to be the appropriate attire. Although within the confines of a resort, Western beachwear such as bikinis and shorts are generally accepted, when venturing outside you should always make sure that you are suitably dressed. Clothing is expected to be modest and cover most of your body, meaning that women should always wear skirts to at least the knee and they should cover their shoulders and the tops of their arms. Men should wear long pants and also always have their shoulders covered. If you are planning to visit a mosque, be aware that women will have to completely cover themselves, with only their face, hands and feet showing. A headscarf should also be worn. Also remember that, when entering a mosque, both men and women should remove their shoes. Not doing so would be seen as a complete and utter insult, and could cause quite a commotion.
Anyone taking a trip to an amazing place like Egypt would be likely to take photographs; however, visitors to Egypt need to be careful when they are taking pictures. It’s important to ask permission before you take a picture or someone or something. At museums and other public buildings, there will be signs to guide you regarding photographs but in the street or in rural areas, it is wise to always ask before you snap a picture.
It is important for travelers to know about certain Egyptian social rules. For example, showing the soles of your feet or shoes is considered to be very rude and should be avoided when sitting. Similarly, since the palm facing outwards is a gesture for warding off evil, if you are perceived as pushing your palm towards an Egyptian, this could be considered a terrible insult as it indicates that you regard them as evil. However, putting your right hand over your heart when you speak is considered to be extremely polite, as the gesture of the hand over the heart is a symbol of humbleness and gratitude.
There is no doubt that Egypt is a land of both ancient wonders and modern advances. Travelers to this country can gain a lot of historical as well as cultural knowledge as long as they learn as much as possible about Egyptian culture and customs beforehand.Photo by J. Aaron Farr, flickr.com, CC-BY-2