Important Customs to Know When Travelling in Egypt

Egypt is a melting pot of different cultures, some dating back to the time of the Pharaohs. This mix has given Egypt a very colourful and fascinating culture and to ensure you have the very best experience whilst visiting, it is important to show respect by being aware of the culture and local traditions.

   In Hurghada

Greeting People in Egypt

Egyptians love it when you greet them in Arabic and “Salaamo Alaykom” is what you would usually say. It means “peace be upon you” and can sometimes be combined with a kiss on each cheek.

Many are not comfortable with shaking hands or kissing with the opposite sex. To play it safe when meeting someone for the first time, greet them by saying “Salaamo Alaykom” and wait until you see if he or she presents their hand first and then shake hands.

Greetings must precede all forms of social interaction. A person joining any kind of group, even a group of strangers, is expected to greet those already there.

Showing the soles of your shoes to someone is considered extremely offensive so think of how you are positioning your feet in relation to others. Also avoid sitting with your legs wide apart.

Saying “Thank You”

Saying thank you is also polite – “Shukran” is the word to use.


Dress Codes for Women in Egypt

Basically anything goes in the resorts and on liveaboards but once you venture away from these areas, please show respect for by dressing as follows:

  • 3/4 sleeve shirts, or regular shirts (not sleeveless) – not t-shirts or v-necked, cleavage revealing shirts.
  • Full length trousers, jeans or ¾ length capri pants.
  • Long skirts or at least covering your knees.
  • Tennis shoes, flipflops, sandals.
  • Take a light scarf with you to protect from the sun, or entering religious sites if required.

Cotton made shirts are great for the Egyptian heat. The sun is really strong. You don’t have to cover your hair to walk around in Egypt.


Sight-Seeing – When Visiting Mosques in Egypt

  • You must take your shoes off before going into the prayer hall.
  • You must be dressed respectfully (as above). Knees and elbows must be covered.
  • The easiest is just to wear long trousers and a long sleeved shirt.
  • Even if there is no rule that women should cover their hair, it is recommended.


Shopping / Bargaining when shopping in Egypt

Price is always flexible. In practise everyday items are more or less fixed price, prices are marked (it really helps to know Arabic numerals). Life is too short to haggle over a kilo of oranges. Generally people are very honest. Buying a pastry you’ll tender a LE1 note and simply be handed your 50 piastres change.

Before you go to Egypt, you should be familiar with Egyptian money. Egyptian currency is in pounds and each pound is made up of 100 piastres.

Here’s how it works:

1. Who made the approach? If they approach you, you can get away. I know they’re persistent, but if they speak to you first, you can terminate the transaction. Just say No. “LA SHUKRAN” (no thanks).

The same applies if the shopkeeper has detected some slight glimmer of interest in the wares on display. Just smile, shake your head, and walk away. If you do not want it, it’s worth nothing to you.

2. So you really do want to buy something. You must have a vague idea of what the thing is worth. So look in fixed price shops such as those in hotels (probably expensive). At least you’ll have a ceiling.

3 Until you’ve reached a figure, you are under no obligation. Once you’ve reached a figure it’s a done deal. A gentleman’s word is his bond. Never offer a sum you are not prepared to pay.

4 Lots of shopkeepers just like to talk. I’ve been invited in for karkade (delicious hibiscus tea which can be served hot or cold) by men selling ladies shoes or electrical goods. They knew I didn’t want a fridge or a pair of fluffy pink slippers. Have an amiable discussion about international politics or soccer (Egyptians love soccer!). It can even be the same with those in shops clearly selling tourist goods if trade is slack.

If the item is under 20 LE, it’s probably not worth your time bargaining. Also, to get an idea of the cost price, bargain hard from a very low price. Prices WILL be 10 times inflated just because you’re a tourist. If you walk away and the shopkeeper does not follow you to offer your price you know your price is under his cost price. So come back later and continue the bargaining.

Most importantly -smile and make jokes – it tends to save me a lot of money!

Egyptian money

Tipping in Egypt

The Egyptian term for “tip” is “Baksheesh”, and you will definitely hear service workers speak this word to you. A “Baksheesh” will be requested of you from anyone who offers you a service and even by others who have not. Of course, don’t ever feel obligated to give anyone a tip that has not provided you a service.

Egyptian service workers (tour guides, people who help carry your bags at hotels, waiters, toilet attendants etc.) may look disappointed or comment rudely about the amount of your tip, implying that it is too low. Don’t let this bother you; it is simply part of their culture. Simply smile and say that the tip is enough and continue to enjoy your time in Egypt.

Before you go to Egypt, you should be familiar with Egyptian money. Egyptian currency is in pounds and each pound is made up of 100 piastres. Small bills like 1s and 5s are useful for tipping in Egypt. In fact, many vendors will not be able to accept large bills. Tipping is very important in Egypt, since many of the Egyptian workers are not being paid much and rely on tips.

Hotel Tipping:
In Egypt you will be expected to tip anyone in your hotel who assists you. Tip the luggage man at the hotel 3-5 LE per bag both as he walks them in and as he walks them out. Give the maid 5-10 LE per night. If you eat breakfast at your hotel, plan on tipping the waiter or waitress 5-10 LE per meal.

Generally, the tipping etiquette in restaurants in Egypt is around 10% of the total bill. However, you will more than likely see a “service charge” on your bill. This service charge goes to the restaurant, not the waiter. Be sure to tip the waiter in addition since he or she will rely on tips for income. If the service is exceptional, you could always tip more.

Tour Guides:
Going on tours is one way to experience Egypt to its absolute fullest therefore you should tip generously. If a driver is taking you sightseeing for the day, plan on tipping him around 50 LE. If he takes you for a half day, tip him 25 LE. If your guide takes you sightseeing for a full day, plan on tipping him around 80-100 LE. For a half-day, give him around 40-50 LE. In addition, be aware that you will need to tip bathroom attendants on your tour. One to three LE is sufficient for these individuals.

Egypt is a warm, welcoming country and by following a few simple guidelines you can be sure that you are making a good impression yourself.

The Equalizer Magazine, July – August 2011