Customs of Egypt

Eating in Egypt

Koshary with fried onions

Fuul (beans) with eggs

Rice with meat and vegetables

Egyptian food is some of the most amazing food around. From fresh fish in the cities along the Mediterranean, to fresh fruits and vegetables along the Nile, it is a feast for the eyes and the palate. Egyptian food is similar to food in other Mediterranean countries. Breakfast in our hotels will be a large buffet of cereal, eggs, meat, fruit, cheese, and breads. Egyptians eat beans (“fuul”), tomatoes, and cucumbers for breakfast. Other meals consist of a round flatbread, rice, beans, an array of fresh vegetables, and a little meat for seasoning. Egyptian cuisine has a lot of onions, tomatoes, peppers, garlic, and potatoes. In general it is not very spicy, although a few select dishes can be quite hot! Almost any dish can be made without meat. In Alexandria, fresh seafood of all types is available. Dessert is fruit, or various types of cakes with a honey syrup (think baklava).

Restrooms in Egypt

Most toilets are western-style (a porcelain throne) and in public places are tended and cleaned by an attendant. There is an expected fee of about 1 Egyptian Pound, when you enter, to pay the bathroom attendant. The attendant will give you a very small amount of toilet paper – take your own packages of tissue! The knob on the side of the toilet or the faucet nozzle on the wall is to clean yourself after using the toilet (like a bidet – the small amount of toilet paper is to blot yourself dry). Dispose of all tissue in the wastepaper basket; Egyptian plumbing cannot handle paper.

Other toilets are Asian-style, a hole in the floor with tread marks for your feet. To use this toilet, position your feet on the treads and squat over the hole. Use the faucet nozzle on the wall to clean yourself after using the toilet, and blot yourself dry. Remember to dispose of all tissue in the wastepaper basket. If you’re still unsure, check out this very detailed article about how to use a “squat toilet.”

Feet and Shoes

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In Arab countries shoes are considered unclean, but there is also a very practical reason to take off your shoes: you keep the outside dirt outside and bring only your clean feet inside. If you don’t want to walk around barefoot, bring along a pair of socks.

Remove your shoes before entering an Egyptian home or before entering a mosque. When sitting, keep your feet flat on the floor or tucked under you sitting cross-legged to avoid showing others the bottoms of your feet or bottoms of your shoes.


Sitting on the floor

Mosques are the holy places of the Muslim culture, similar to churches for Christians or synagogues for Jews. It is customary and respectful to remove your shoes before entering a mosque, and appropriate to wear clothing that covers the shoulders and knees. Ladies should cover their hair. Mosques may be closed for a period on Fridays, the main day of worship. If you are in attendance at a Muslim service, understand that men and women worship separately. (Read a great article about visiting mosques.)

Shaking Hands

As a general rule, people of the opposite sex do not shake hands in Egypt, so in practice, men and women do not shake hands. Younger Egyptians may offer their hand in friendship – if they do so first, feel free to shake hands, but allow the Egyptian to extend the invitation.

Public Displays of Affection

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Egypt is a conservative country where public displays of attention will mark you as an uncultured outsider — intimacy between couples is considered a private matter for the home. Although tourists are generally exempt from the rules of polite Egyptian society, it’s probably better to keep your PDAs private.

(You may notice both men and women embracing and kissing each other’s cheeks – this is a common form of greeting among Egyptians and is not considered a public display of affection.)

Segregating the Sexes

Although Egypt’s larger cities (Cairo, Alexandria, Aswan, Luxor…) are thoroughly modern, there are still many of the old customs in Egypt — indeed, in many Muslim countries. Men and women are more comfortable in gender-segregated groups. In practice, this means that men tend to socialize mainly with other men and women tend to remain in the home. Younger Egyptians mix socially, but older, more traditional Egyptians tend to naturally segregate themselves.

Tourists, of course, are not part of this rule, and it is most comfortable for female tourists in Egypt to have a male escort (a tour guide, a male tourist, a male relative) simply to act as a chaperone. Women are highly respected in Egypt, but female tourists might feel uncomfortable with the male attention given to non-Arab women. Simply having a man in the group will head off any unwanted attention.