Cairo through Alexandrian Eyes!
As many of you might already know, I’m an Alexandrian girl to the core. Well, I have to admit that I didn’t become so proud of my Mediterranean identity until very recently. Like many town girls worldwide, I used to have this false view of how awesome it would be to live in a big city such as Cairo. However, I’ve come to get a real hands-on experience living in the big capital through work and some personal encounters through which I discovered a whole new world. So, here are some of my modest observations I made during my recent visits to Cairo;
There is a Great Chance for Falling Off the Wagon. In Cairo, everything seems way too convenient. Fast-Food restaurants are around the corner, you spend most of your time driving around and it is almost impossible to finish errands on foot. Not only is the temperature stifling, but the distances are really big. So, if you’re into sports, you need to get very serious about it for you won’t have a chance to go for a casual jog, thanks to the stifling weather and the not-so friendly streets. Sign up for a Pilates class, look for a nearby gym or even get a membership in a country club; just DO something about it.
Bey2ollak. Consider yourself lucky if you get somewhere in less than 20 minutes. Getting in traffic jams is so mainstream. At first I was struck when my colleagues used to What’s App their recommendations for shortcuts or even for staying home. “Chill, people,” I thought to myself one day. But, when I spent 90 minutes on Suez Road to get to 5th Settlement because of a car accident, a friend introduced me to Bey2ollak; the god of roads in Cairo. Most Cairenes I met take this app very seriously. Well, I guess they have a point. If I had checked it on that memorable day, I would have certainly taken another route.
Your District Becomes Your Whole World. If your work is in Maadi, you’ll probably do your best to get an apartment there. Naturally, you will also look up all the places where you can hang out with your friends or family. By time, you will feel stressed out as a result of work and all those traffic jams you have to endure, so you will probably adopt a new motto; “The nearer, the better!” Any place, no matter how cool it is, outside Maadi (or your area) will be automatically excluded unless you are on weekend. Rest assured that if you cross your district boundaries, it will feel like visiting another town. The same applies to your choice of banks, school for kids, insurance company…, etc. The same goes for cab drivers as well. There is an informal code of road specialties for most drivers. A cab driver once told me that he only knew Heliopolis by heart, by when I tried giving him some directions to head downtown, he seemed as lost as a child.
Minimum Charge. Well, I know that this Egyptian made-up feature is widely spread in Alexandria. However, I still remember when my friends picked out a nice café in a shopping center just because it had the lowest minimum charge. It turned out that another café just next to ours charges 150 LE per person as a minimum charge, which makes you wonder about why would an owner charge such an overly-priced figure when the café next door has the same view, more or less the same menu and offerings, and provides good service as well.
A Massive Market for Food Entrepreneurs. Whether it’s a savvy housewife who decided to start a home-business, or a group of aspiring entrepreneurs who discovered an exotic cuisine in some place in the world which you probably haven’t heard of before, food businesses are vastly growing in Cairo. There are those which you know of through friends’ recommendations, Facebook pages with ridiculously yummy photos or even those petit, sometimes fishy corners that you notice while parking your car somewhere in a dark alley. All of this makes you wonder if Cairenes do anything fun other than eating and smoking Shisha!
Women Are Really into Grooming. With spas, hairdressers, yoga classes or even shopping centers scattered around almost every corner, it is super easy for women to take good care of themselves. Whether it’s a business meeting or a casual hangout in the afternoon, most Cairene women, who belong to the high or upper-middle classes, really invest a lot of time and efforts in their looks. While most hairdressers in Alexandria open up their salons by noon, you can easily spot women in Cairo heading out to style their hair right before work.
The “Oh, You’re Alexaxandrian!” Reaction. Well, I will be dedicating a whole post to the misconceptions Cairenes have about Alexandrians, but what’s really common is once you’re filtered out as an expat, you become a constant target for comments, or ridicule on some occasions. You get the first surprise reaction, then you’d have to hear about people’s own experiences in the “Mediterranean Bride” (A cab driver once recounted his old memories with some chick in Miami who broke his heart eventually), and you’d be surely bothered by people commenting on every single word you say.
Oh, you say Falafel not Taamiya.
You say A**** on a daily basis, huh? (Followed by a dorky anticipating smile.)
At the very end of Cairenes’ bewilderment of your identity, they begin the “Validation” phase where they try to convince you that they are fine with having an outsider alien in their circle. “I love Alexandrians. I really do! Agda3 Nas (Most chivalrous people)!”
The Cairene Attitude. On my regular trips to Cairo over the past couple of months, I had not-so nice encounters with some people. Naturally, I went back to my Alexandrian folks to gossip about those incidents to get a pretty common response; “Cairenes! What did you expect?” As clueless as I was when I heard those comments, I began to form what might seem as a subjective impression; the majority of Cairenes can sometimes be quite stand-offish and overly-practical. Whether it has to do with the stressful daily routine, polluted atmosphere and/or stifling jams, people can consequently get influenced by all of that. It, more or less, reminds me of those Mountain View Ramadan TV Ads showing people dressing up humanely but acting savagely as Hulks.
To Be Continued…