13.11.12

Strangeness and Charm: Round 2

So a few months back I did a post called "Strangeness and Charm," which documented some of the odds-and-ends cultural differences I have noticed here. I have been writing them down every time I notice them, and have accumulated quite the list. Now, my dad in particular liked seeing all the random little quirks that are different here, and has been pushing me to supply another list. So, without further ado, here is a list of some more strange little differences you wouldn't expect.

1) Door handles are decorative. Every door has a keyhole and a large door handle, but the handle doesn't turn. It is completely static; useless. The only way to open the door is with the appropriate key, so you had better hope you have it with you if you want to get into a room. This means that all doors automatically lock, also. (inside the houses, the handles are different and serve their intended purpose).

2) The weekend in Egypt is Friday/Saturday, not Saturday/Sunday. This means that Thursday nights are super busy in the city, and Sundays are very quiet. Because the staff at the school is primarily American, we still run by an American week-day schedule (thankfully).

3) If somebody is being loud and you are trying to shush them, you would normally "ssshhhhh" them. But in Egypt? Nope. You hiss at them. That's right. It's not "shhhh," it is only "ssssssssss." It took me a long time to figure out why nobody responded to my American shushing; because here it means nothing. As soon as I started hissing, people responded.

4) So in America, when you are trying to show somebody the size of an object/thing that isn't present, you hold up two hands or two fingers and use the space between them to designate the size. In Egypt, to show the size of something, you measure it on your arm. You start at your index finger, and then use your opposite hand to mark the distance from your finger to a certain point on your arm to show size. For example, the distance from your finger to your wrist shows something is small, and the distance from your finger to your shoulder shows something large.

5) In English we use the words "like" and "um" as filler words when we can't think of what we want to say. Well interestingly enough, this is not a phenomenon limited to just our culture. Somehow I think of "um" as the universal filler word... turns out it's not. In Arabic, the filler word of choice is "yani." You will here students speak, and it goes like this: A few Arabic words, yani....more Arabic...yani...yani, etc.

6) Cabbage here comes in one size: gargantuan. My Egyptian roommates were teaching me how to cook some local dishes, and one of them required one head of cabbage. When they came in the house with the cabbage, I flipped! It was the size of a large pumpkin. I felt like Alice in Wonderland.


7) When people want to salt their food here, instead of lightly sprinkling it over all their dish, they pour a small pile of it onto the corner of their plate and dip each bite in the pile. Or put a small pinch from their pile on their food every few bites. I can't lie, I definitely do this one now too.

8) Picking your nose is not offensive. Almost everybody does it publicly. I was so disrespected and confused when students in my classes would make eye contact with me as I lecture, and pick their nose simultaneously. I haven't joined in this activity, but I have grown accustomed to the behavior. The funniest part? They don't call it "picking your nose," they call it "playing in your nose."

9) Napkins and paper towels are nonexistent here. Instead? Tissues are used for your every need. They keep a box of tissues at dining room tables for meals, and everyone has a little pack of tissues in their pockets. One of my students calls tissues "atchoo papers." haha! So cute.

10). EVERYBODY eats sunflower seeds here like a maniac. Constantly. All the students' pockets are full of "seeds" which they will offer you profusely. I can't eat them, because I am no where near as proficient at it as they all are.

For now, that's all I got. I intend to do some more lists of these in the future, so if you found this interesting, no fear! I will have more quirky cultural differences for your reading pleasure.
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