A jewellery shop in Luxor – an American tourist has decided on a ring he would like to buy and all is going well ………that is until he asks if it is possible for the jeweller to cover the ring in gold – it’s a silver ring. He wants a silver/gold ring that has been made in Egypt for himself (some special significance for him to have the two metals combined). The jeweller is getting more upset and defensive by the minute because he thinks the customer is accusing him of trying to pawn off silver as white gold. At the same time the American, is getting increasingly frustrated at his own inability to make the jeweller understand what he wants and is bewildered by the emotional behavior of the man behind the counter…….they had been getting along so well until now!
The conversation gets more intense and heated by the second. Neither is aware that the conversation has now taken a turn for the worse, and become two different conversations – because each one is so intent on getting his own point of view across that neither one is REALLY listening to the other!
The jeweller is an acquaintance of mine and I decide to intervene. When I pointed out what was happening everyone had a laugh about it and the situation was resolved.
You don’t have to be two different nationalites for this to happen but in Egypt it is what happens most of the time. It happens me every single day. I have more misunderstandings with my staff, with Egyptian tradesmen, with Egyptian professionals, (not to mention my neighbours and government officials) than there are debates in the United Nations Assembly!
Visitors to Egypt should be aware (if they want to enjoy an easy passage) that they are now coming up against more than one culture which is new to them. There is the Muslim Religious Culture, the Egyptian National Culture and for those coming to Luxor and Aswan there is the “Upper Egypt” Culture. Just because there are five star hotels, nice shops and Egyptians dressing in western style clothes who APPARENTLY speak English, French and even Japanese does not mean the Egyptians and the foreign visitors are going to understand each other at all. However, for the most part both sides are blissfully unaware that they are neither listening nor responding to each other despite the verbal exchanges taking place.
I have lived in Luxor (Upper Egypt!!) for 10 years. I used to get personally involved in verbal battles of my own probably 10 times a day. But now I appreciate how much our cultural differences are responsible for so many problems between tourists, foreign residents and the local Egyptians and we, also are (not so blisfully) unaware of this.
We don’t understand the differences in our ways of doing business, and when we see the differences we (foreigners) can’t understand why the Egyptians are not conducting their business the way we do – boy does this lead to frustration! We don’t understand that our laws are different, we cannot for the most part comprehend the Egyptian legal system at all! We don’t understand how our attitudes differ in regards to food (and I don’t mean the menu!), sex, love, marriage, children, life, death and morality.
All these cultural differences, plus visitors and Egyptians assuming there is not much of a difference, plus the fact that 75% of Egyptians in Upper Egypt do not REALLY speak or understand English. I am assuming it is the same for other languages. They do not understand English in any context outside of the subject they normally use it for i.e selling in the shop, market or bazaar, guiding in the temples, serving in the hotels etc.
4 TIPS FOR CLEAR COMMUNICATION while in EGYPT
- Ask the question 3 times – second and third time…look intently into the eyes of the person you are speaking with. – I am not trying to be smart or funny here!
- LISTEN very carefully to the answer.
- Repeat the answer you got just to be sure you understood it.
- Be patient, friendly and smile……the Egyptians are always smiling!
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