Monday, September 17, 2012

Things I have noticed

Well, about eight months ago, I was rushing and scrambling to complete my AFS application, suffering from lack of sleep from trying to fill out two additional (and very much separate) applications to the YES and NSLI-Y scholarships and cramming for mid-terms, telling myself that every last bit of the sleep deprivation and stress would be worth it once I arrived here.
And so far, I can say with great confidence that this is the truth. (:

So, as denoted by the post title, I am going to talk about things I have noticed or that have stuck out to me significantly since I got here.
I will make another post about my life here another day this week, inshallah.
And since it's SO FREAKING AMAZING, I think I am going to dedicate another post altogether after that to Egyptian juice.

So, anyway, here's my list:
1)There's really an audible difference between formal and Egyptian Arabic.
Some of the volunteers showed us this. Egyptian Arabic is very fast, smooth, and flowing, and in contrast, when they speak in MSA, it sounds really slowed down and controlled, as if they actually need to think about what they're saying.

2) People very often just walk on the street instead of the sidewalk.
We kept doing that as we walked around Zamalek.

3) My nickname, if the pronunciation of the "o" is changed slightly to an "oo" sound from the English "o" as in "OH!", is actually a curse word. 
It basically means "eff him." Therefore I'm introducing myself as Nicholas most of the time.

4) It seems that there are literally ALWAYS people active. 
Like, seriously! If I were to wake up at 4 am unable to sleep, I guarantee that there would be craploads of car horns honking and people moving around, even during the week.

5) The population, while composed mostly of Egyptians, is very diverse in terms of opinions, and lifestyles.
This is one of the first things I noticed, after landing in Cairo. Some people are dressed in completely Western clothes, sporting brand names like Nike and Levi's, and then there are people wearing gallabeyyas and full-body veils. There are also a lot of people in between.
These people are also very different in terms of their opinions. But I don't want to involve a lot of politics, so I'm just going to leave it at that.

6) NO ONE fastens their seatbelts while they're in a car. Additionally, driving is like an amusement park. Except not so amusing at times. xD
The seatbelt thing was very correctly labeled as my first culture shock by Ahmed Qamar, an AFS Egypt volunteer, when we boarded the taxi from the Cairo Airport to the Hotel President in Zamalek.
As for the driving...I've gotten pretty used to it. I'm not worried about any crashes, because, although they're all crazy, they know how to deal with each other.

7) Among hordes of cars and trucks in traffic, you'll randomly find people riding horses and donkeys.
Another culture shock.

8) There's a car horn morse code thing. No joke.
There are different ways that people honk to communicate with each other. For example, a very long honk is very insulting. If you add two short ones after it, then it's REALLY insulting. And, if some one lets you go in front of them, you give one short honk of thanks, and they reply with two short ones to say "you're welcome."

9) Everything tastes different here.
How to explain....? Everything seems to have a more genuine, fresh taste.

10) Weddings are a BIG deal here.
Yesterday my host mom called me out to the balcony to show me a couple that were exiting our building to go off and get married, and the group had a mini-party in the parking lot for about 15 minutes, complete with energetic dancing, lots of fireworks, and loud ululating and drums.

11) One of THE most widespread stereotypes about Americans here is that they're ignorant and don't know anything about the world outside the USA.
While I realize that this is at times very true (sorry other countries), I get annoyed by this sometimes, because (DISCLAIMER: I MEAN NO OFFENSE IN ANY WAY AND THIS IS NOT A CRITICISM), for all they can say about American ignorance, many people don't know that much about the world around them here either.
For example, when people ask me where I am from in the United States, the answer "Michigan" usually draws the response of " you mean California?" or simply blank stares.
To many people here that don't have a reason to know more, such as a passion for geography/traveling, or personal connections, like a relative living there (which many people do have), the USA is simply New York City and Hollywood with a whole lot of emptiness in the middle.

12) There are some weird cultural rules about the way that people of the opposite genders socialize and interact with each other that I, as a foreigner, find it very difficult to understand.
In my school it's hardly noticeable. I see boys and girls socializing with each other quite freely.
And I guess that the rules I've mentioned aren't hugely noticeable overall, especially in an environment of liberal people, such as Taymour. I mean, boys and girls are free to talk to each other and socialize and be friends and stuff like that. Most of them even date. But dating is weird here compared to the west, because it's often frowned upon by some more conservative Muslims. People still do it, because dating itself is not explicitly forbidden in the Koran. But it's perhaps most different in the fact that, basically, to stay culturally appropriate, the most you can do in public is hold hands, put your arms around each other, and give each other short little hugs.
If a hug gets longer, than it becomes a bit of a cultural problem.
And let's just say that even married couples hardly ever kiss in public.
As a Westerner, this is in many ways confusing and strange to me. I don't understand it, but I am happy to follow it, because I want to follow the culture of this mysterious but beautiful country I have chosen.
At the same time, however, I often am very frustrated by this in particular. I have a few friends here that happen to be girls, and at times I really wish I could give them the sorts of platonic hugs that would be completely normal back in the USA.
But here we have to settle for reserved, awkward handshakes to greet each other and also to say goodbye.
And, to be blatantly honest, I find this EXTREMELY annoying.

13) Arabic is an extremely poetic, emotional language.
I can't tell you how many times my host family has said to me "that would make no sense if it were translated. And honestly, I believe them, because some examples of the emotion include:
Have a good trip (terga' bissalama, which literally means "come back with peace."
The omnipresent greeting of as-salamu 'aleikum.* (peace be with you)
One of the many ways to say "how are you?," akhbarak/ik eh? (which kind of means "what's your news?" or "what's new?"
Other words I love are "maashi," which is like saying "OK," but it literally means "it is walking," "ma'lesh," which is pretty much an all-purpose-excuse-me-sorry-my bad kind of word, and then of course the famous word "inshallah," which means "God willing," basically used after any sentence where you describe something you'll do at any point in the future, weather it's as close as meeting up with someone in an hour or talking about what you'd like to be when you grow up. It may seem strange, but it comes quite naturally now and I actually have come to like this word quite a lot. Think of it as an all-purpose disclaimer. :)
By the way, if you wondered about the slashes, it's because there's a masculine and feminine you in Arabic.
*And NO Americans, it is NOT "Salam salikum." IT'S AS-SALAMU 'ALEIKUM. If you're going to say it, please say it right. *Cough cough my family cough cough. Haha I'm just messing with you guys :D

The funny thing is that, as awful as my Arabic is, people are still shocked by the fact that a Westerner knows any Arabic at all. Usually, anything I say, even if it's very simple, like "ezzayyak/ik?" (how are you?), "ma feesh mushkila" (no problem), or even just "inshallah," draws a smile and a hearty "mashallah!" (It sort of means "congratulations.." It's really hard to translate. It's kind of a word that you use when you're telling someone that they have something really nice. EX. you'd say mashallah if you see that someone has a nice report card or something of this nature.)
Also, Arabic love words are absolutely BEAUTIFUL. They're so poetic! Examples include:
1. Bamoot fiki, which literally means "I die inside you(a little creepy, I know. I thought that at first, but I don't anymore:P)." It's a way to kind of tell someone you're crazy about them.
2. Ba'shaik, which means something like "I adore you" or "you're my everything" (I've heard different translations from different people
3. Inta/inti omri, which means "you're my age" or "you're all my years of life"
4. Inta/inti hayati, "you're my life"
and then of course there's also bahebak/ik, simply "I love you." :)

14) Some people have told me that I do not look very obviously Western.
I've actually had people that I meet at school ask me if I'm Turkish, Lebanese, or Syrian!

15) EVERYONE litters, and therefore there is a lot of garbage in the street.
This is very annoying for me, as I am a bit of a tree hugger. :3

16) Most small children are extremely loud and rowdy and won't shut their mouths ever.
One of the more annoying things I've encountered.
And I think that if I see ONE MORE CHILD throw a piece of trash out of the school-bus window, I am going to scream. -_-

That's all for now.
I'm going to make this a boring post without a picture. Sorry. :P
I will post again soon as promised!
Ma as-salama!
^I thought to post this when I was writing about the love phrase "inta/inti 'omri"-this is a famous song by the legendary Egyptian singer Um Kulthum, who used this phrase in one of her most famous songs.
Check it out if you like!


  1. I'm glad you're having a good time! I was worried that you were going to be affected by the riots, has all of that been ok for you?

  2. thanks!
    I'm loving it so far :)
    no, I haven't at all!
    in fact, not a single person that I've met has been ticked off at me because of that just because I'm American. In fact, everyone I've met has been really sweet and delighted that there are Americans interested in fostering peace and learning about their culture and way of life, el7amdulilah :)

  3. Nice Nico. Alhamdulillah u're having fun over there. :)

  4. haha yes! I love it so far. I just need to improve my knowledge of the language....I only understand about 3% of what's being said...xDDD

  5. This post is life. After every point you made I was just like, "Yaasss". Seriously though, #16!! Kids will bump into me when running around at school or the mall and I kind of want to strangle them (I'd never actually do that). My friends laugh at me all the time because it annoys me so much. And the littering. -_-

  6. Hahaha thank you Corie!! I'm so happy to hear that there's someone who relates to my struggles XD