Al-Ahram Weekly Online   6 - 12 March 2008
Issue No. 887
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Handbook help

Egypt, The Culture Smart Guide to Customs and Etiquette

By Jailan Zayan, the American University in Cairo Press, 168 pages

This new compact guide provides essential information on attitudes, beliefs and behaviour in Egypt, ensuring that the traveller arrives aware of basic manners, common courtesies and sensitive issues. It tells travellers what to expect, how to behave, and how to establish a rapport with their hosts. Such inside knowledge will enable guests to steer clear of embarrassing gaffes and mistakes, feel confident in unfamiliar situations, and develop trust, friendships, and successful business relationships.

Among the important values that all Arabs share, according to the writer, is the awareness of dignity. "Maintaining a person's dignity involves not putting them in the spot, and not causing them embarrassment. Hard sales tactics, for example, are not popular in the Arab world; they are considered rude and aggressive. When making a request himself, an Egyptian tries to leave the door open by not asking for an immediate answer. It is all about saving face," she said.

One of the attitudes Zayan mentions in her book is the IBM Syndrome. She said that Egyptians realise that their attitude to times, dates and appointments is vague. They laugh about it and call it the IBM Syndrome: Inshaallah (God willing), bukra (tomorrow), maalesh (never mind).

The writer advises travellers that if they are invited to lunch or dinner to an Egyptian's home, it is polite to accept. The customary thing is to bring some dessert. Flowers, while appreciated in certain Westernised homes, are considered useless by most Egyptians.

One of the interesting parts of the books is the art of bargaining in Egypt. It says that if you see something you like, inquire about something else first. Being too eager sends the price up automatically. Eventually, turn the shopkeeper's attention to the item you originally wanted. Find out about the price. Say you will check elsewhere and be back. Do the same at several shops. When you have a reasonable idea of what it costs generally, you may then go back to one of the shops and begin the real bargaining. Don't look excited about it; rather try to find fault with it. The seller knows this is part of the game. When he feels you are truly interested in buying, he may offer you tea and make conversation. Once you've agreed on a price you feel comfortable with, shake hands and pay.

Another informative part is that of tips. It says that many people in Egypt depend on tips. Wealthy Egyptians tip their way through most things. A tip is not seen as a reward for exceptional service, but as a regular small supplement. Someone who carries your bag expects a tip, as does the parking attendant, and the usher who shows you to your seat at the cinema. For tips, your butcher will get you better meat from the back of the shop.

A Field Guide to the Mammals of Egypt

By Richard Hoath, the American University in Cairo Press, 230 pages

This guide is written by Richard Hoath, a leading naturalist and long-time resident of Egypt who has published many books, articles and scientific papers on the country's fauna.

In A Field Guide to the Mammals of Egypt, Hoath describes each species in detail, with identification features, status, habitat and habits, and with comparisons to similar species.

The guidebook opens with a biogeography of Egypt and the diversity of the Egyptian landscape and consequently its plants and animals and how tourism development in some parts of Egypt has threatened our wealth of flora and fauna. Hoath mentions the Northern Coastal strip which stretches from the border with Libya to Alexandria and how it includes Egypt's most prolific flora, both in terms of absolute number and of species diversity and how this rich flora supports a wide range of animal life including distinctive birds such as the Barbary Partridge Alectoris Barbara, Houbara Bustard Chlamydotis undulate and mammals such as the Long-eared Hedgehog Hemiechinus auritus, Cape Hare Lepus capensis and Fad Sand Rat Psammomys obesus. "Sadly this coastal strip is one of the most threatened habitats. Tourist developments expanding west from Alexandria have destroyed much of this habitat to Marsa Matrouh and threatened expansion west will probably mean that no area east of Sallum is safe," Hoath writes.

The chapter reviews the birds and mammals living in the Western Desert, the Eastern Desert, the Sinai Peninsula, Gebel Elba and the Nile Delta and Valley.

The book also includes all marine mammals recorded in Egyptian waters in addition to a distribution map of every species. Each species is meticulously illustrated with line drawings of whale blows, bat noseleaves and ear structures and tracks and trails of selected land mammals.

Field guide is an indispensable reference work for anyone interested in the wildlife of Egypt.

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