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Egypt Customs & Etiquettes


Honour is an important facet of interpersonal relationships. Respect and esteem for people is both a right and an obligation. An individual's honour is intricately entwined with the reputation and honour of everyone in their family. Honour requires that Egyptians demonstrate hospitality to friends and guests. It also dictates that people dress as well as their financial circumstances allow, and show proper respect and deference to their elders and those in authority. A man's word is considered his bond and to go back on your word is to bring dishonour to your family.

Social class is very apparent in Egypt since it determines your access to power and position. The social class an Egyptian is born into dictates their everyday life and the opportunities they will have. There are three social classes: upper, middle, and lower.

Status is defined more by family background than by absolute wealth. There is little social mobility.

Time as a concept is not valued highly. If a meeting is set for 11 am, it can start any time between 10:30 am to 3:00 pm. People tend to be late e.g. if someone said they’ll be there at 7, they’ll probably show up 15 to 30 minutes late. Of course not all people are like that.

Meeting & Greeting

Greetings are based on both class and the religion of the person. It is best to follow the lead of the Egyptian you are meeting. Handshakes are the customary greeting among individuals of the same sex. Handshakes are somewhat limp and prolonged, although they are always given with a hearty smile and direct eye contact.

Once a relationship has developed, it is common to kiss on one cheek and then the other while shaking hands, men with men and women with women. In any greeting between men and women, the woman must extend her hand first. If she does not, a man should bow his head in greeting.

Communication Style

People tend to be extremely indirect when speaking, especially in regards to communication in business. They aren’t comfortable saying “no”, so they keep beat around the bush. There are a lot pleasantries used and simple small talk continually interrupt a regular conversation.

Most Egyptians tend to be very religious so it’s best never talk to an Egyptian without respecting that and if you intend to talk about politics try not to take any sides, just be neutral. It's best to avoid talking about religion and/or politics until you have established a strong relationship.

In some cases communication can be direct. So much so, that some comments may sound a bit rude or blunt at times.

Personal space between members of the same gender is kept at a minimum. Less than an arm’s length is common. Egyptians will stand or sit very close to each other when talking, but if two unrelated Egyptians of the opposite sex are having a conversation, then they maintain at least an arms length of distance or more. Touching during conversations is not usually appropriate unless the people having the conversation are very close to each other, like family or good friends. There is little to no touching between members of the opposite sex during conversations or in public places in general.

Direct eye contact is acceptable in most cases. One thing to be aware of is when speaking with members of the opposite sex; indirect eye contact is the norm in these cases as a woman looking directly at a may be interpreted as a come on.

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