Remember that most Egyptian workers expect tips after providing a service. This can be expected for something as small as pushing the lift button. Many workers will even ask you to tip them before you have a chance to do so. The typical tip for small services is 1 EGP (about 14 US cents). Because of the general lack of change, you may have to tip the EGP5 for simple things like using the toilet. It is important to understand that this is part of the culture; the value of this tip is very small for most Westerners, but is a good part of the monthly income of many Egyptians.
When addressing a person or a group of people for the first time, it is best to say the local variant of the Islamic greeting “es-salāmu-`alēku”, which literally means “peace be with you”. This is the most common form of saying “hello” to someone. It creates friendliness between you and people you don’t know, establishes rapport and helps to build respect! It is also considered polite to say this when you are talking to someone, rather than just asking for something or talking directly to them.
Additional greeting forms include ‘SàbâH el khēr’ – ‘Hello’, ‘masā’ el khēr’ – Good evening, some more relaxed ‘ezzayyak’ addressed to men, and ‘ezzayyek’ addressed to women.
On leaving, one can say the same “es-salāmu-`alēku”, or simply “ma`a s-salāma”, literally, “with security” or “with well-being”, which means “goodbye”. More educated Egyptians say “bye-bye”, derived from the English word “goodbye” or “buh-bye”, when they leave others.
Smile: Most people appreciate a smile, and most Egyptians smile when talking to someone for the first time. People who do not smile when they speak are considered arrogant, rude, aggressive, unfriendly, etc.
However, be careful not to be too friendly or too smiling, especially if you are a woman talking to an Egyptian, as he may mistakenly think that you are trying to befriend him or ask him to flirt with you or hit on you. Even in a man-to-man conversation, being too friendly could give the other person the opportunity to take advantage of you in some way. Always use common sense.
Egyptians are generally a conservative people and most of them are religious and dress very conservatively. Although they accept that foreigners dress much more conservatively, it is advisable not to dress provocatively, if only to avoid people looking at you. It is preferable to wear trousers, jeans, long shorts rather than short shorts as they are only worn by tourists. The dress code is significantly less restrictive for modern nightclubs, restaurants, hotels and bars in major tourist destinations including Cairo and Alexandria. Formal or social occasions and luxury restaurants usually require more formal dress.
At the Pyramids of Giza and other such sites during the summer months, short-sleeved tops and even sleeveless tops are accepted for women (especially if you are travelling with a group of tourists). However, you should bring a scarf or something to cover yourself on the way to your destination. In addition, it is perfectly acceptable for women to wear sandals in the summer, and you will even see some women wearing hijab wearing sandals.
Women should cover their arms and legs when travelling alone, there is no need to cover their hair; many Christian women walk comfortably in Egypt with their hair uncovered. Although as a foreigner, you can attract a lot of attention no matter what you are wearing, including being stared at by people watching you, as well as some verbal harassment that you may try to ignore. Egyptian women, even those wearing the full hijab, are often victims of sexual harassment, including in queues. You will find that a full hijab does not make much difference in terms of harassment, as opposed to wearing a short sleeved top. In terms of harassment, how you act is also important. Going out with a group of people is also helpful, and it is best to ignore men who give you unwanted attention. They want to get a reaction from you. A sign of respect is also the Arabic greeting “Asalamualaikum” (which means “Hello, peace be with you”), and the other person should answer “Walaikumasalam” (“Peace be with you”). This allows the person to know that you want to be respected and nothing else.
Do not enter a mosque with shoes, sandals, slippers, boots, etc. of any kind, as it is very disrespectful. Always remove them before entering the mosque as they carry dirt from the street and the mosque (a place of prayer) must be clean. However, you can keep your socks on.
Etiquette in the presence of prayer
Also avoid appearing in front of people in prayer. The reason is that when people kneel, they kneel before God. If you stand in front of someone while they are praying or kneeling, it is as if they are kneeling in front of you or worshipping you, a total taboo and against the very foundations of Islam. Otherwise, it is perfectly acceptable for visitors or Christian Egyptians to walk normally in the streets or shops during prayer hours.
Public expression of affection
As in most other countries in the Muslim world, in the Middle East and even in some conservative non-Muslim countries, affection should not be shown in public. Egyptians are conservative and things like kissing your girlfriend or boyfriend in public are considered offensive, rude or disrespectful. An embrace in public is less offensive, especially when it is a greeting to a spouse or family member you haven’t seen for some time.
You will notice man-to-man kisses on the cheeks when Egyptian men meet their friends, family or someone they know well. This should not be confused with the man-to-man kissing of some homosexuals in some Western countries. More rarely, some Egyptian men like to walk next to their male friend, arms tied together like a loop in another loop. Again, this is not homosexual behaviour.
Do not photograph people without their permission, and in areas frequented by tourists, do not be surprised if a tip is asked for. In Egypt, smoking is extremely widespread and it is also very cheap.
Most Egyptians tend to speak loudly when speaking, which is common in some other countries in the region. They don’t shout, but you’ll notice the difference.
Gamal Abdul Nasser, the second president of the Arab Republic of Egypt, and many others are considered national heroes in Egypt; you must say absolutely nothing that could be perceived as insulting or derogatory to him. Treat these topics with care and let others guide the opening of the discussion. Many Egyptians have different interpretations of ambiguous expressions such as freedom of expression and democracy. It is advisable not to talk about Israel even if you are tempted to do so; don’t talk about it out loud as it might attract unwanted attention, even if you are only talking about the country as a destination.
Be very careful in your choice of alcoholic beverages, especially if you come from countries where excessive alcohol consumption is accepted. Even if you are used to it, you cannot estimate the impact of the climate, even at night. The impact that drunk people have on Egyptians is quite significant and very negative. The best plan is to abstain or limit yourself to one drink per meal during your stay in Egypt; it will also be cheaper.