Cultural Clues, Communication Guidelines for EGYPT

In Egyptian business culture, punctuality is not as much of a priority as for westerners. However, it’s best to arrive on time even though your contact may be late for an appointment.

Appointments with traditional Arabic businesspeople are rarely private occasions. Interruptions in the form of phone calls and visits from your counterpart’s friends and family are to be expected.

In accordance with tradition, an Egyptian will welcome you several times at your first meeting.

Business will not proceed until your counterpart knows and decides that he likes you. Consequently, the social side of the deal is just as important as the work-related side.

You also may find other businesspeople present and several meetings occurring simultaneously. Westerners frequently find these distractions frustrating, but it’s important to remain calm and understanding.

Egyptian names are written in Arabic. Because short vowels are not written in Arabic, translating from Arabic to other alphabets is not an “exact science.” Egyptian names may be spelled several different ways in English.

Friday is the Muslim holy day, and many people also take Thursday off. The typical business week is Wednesday through Saturday.

A typical business schedule is 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. in the summer, and 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and continuing 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. in the winter.

The Islamic calendar uses lunar months of 28 days, so an Islamic year of 12 months is only 354 days long. Consequently, holidays will be on different dates by the Western calendar every year. Any listed Muslim holiday dates are approximations since they depend upon actual lunar observations.

Any business paperwork should include two dates: the Gregorian (Western) date and the Hijrah (Arabic) date. Be aware that Coptics or Christian Egyptians have yet another different calendar, however this calendar is used only by Coptics.

Arabic men often walk hand in hand, but Westernized Egyptians rarely do this. If an Egyptian holds your hand, accept this gesture as a sign of friendship.

Egyptians tend to speak at a much closer distance than do many countries. Even if you are not accustomed to this close contact, don’t back up. If you keep your distance, the perception might be that you find your counterpart’s physical presence distasteful or that you are an unfeeling person.

Conversations often involves body language and touching but only between the same sexes.

While things continue to improve for women in Egypt, they constitute less of the Egyptian workforce. Most are employed in the professional and service sectors, however there are numerous female physicians.

In the professional sector, there are fewer female executives. If you encounter a woman decision-maker in business, she will probably be very Western-oriented in her behavior.

The left hand is considered unclean in the Arab world. Unless you are handling something considered unclean, always use the right hand. Also avoid gesturing with the left hand.

When sitting, keep both feet on the ground, since Arabs do not cross their legs when sitting. Exposing the bottom of your foot is considered offensive.

When you remove your shoes, as when entering a mosque, the soles of the shoes are always placed down to prevent them from pointing at anyone.

The “thumbs up” sign is thought to be offensive throughout the Arab world.

It should also be noted that many Egyptians are not practicing Muslims. Egyptian Muslims will adhere to Islamic values, however, compared to other Arabic cultures they are more open to Western ideas.

When an Egyptian says “yes”, he may simply mean “possibly.” Although you should feel encouraged by these positive responses, it would be wrong to assume that agreement has been reached.

5 Key Conversation or Cultural Gesture Tips

Egyptians may joke around and make fun of themselves. For example, Egyptian bureaucracy is a favorite target. Nevertheless, no matter how self-deprecating their humor gets, you should not try to make fun of Egypt or the Egyptians.

Egyptian achievements, both the ancient wonders and modern advances

The positive reputation of Egyptian leaders around the world

Egyptian cotton, gold and other elements of their economy

Sports, especially soccer (football), basketball, boxing (in which Egypt has won several medals), horse racing, tennis, and all water-related sports (especially sailing and swimming)

5 Key Conversation or Cultural Gesture Taboos

Avoid questions about the female members of your counterpart’s family

Don’t discuss Israeli or Palestinian affairs

Stay away from discussions about your private life or religion

Don’t compare Egypt to more westernized countries

Never talk about anyone in terms of inequality

Bon Voyage!

Join us in the future for Do’s and Taboos for ENGLAND!

To learn more about the Dos and Taboos for different cultures, and the cultural communication styles for Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East – order Gayle Cotton’s bestselling book SAY Anything to Anyone, Anywhere! 5 Keys to Successful Cross-Cultural Communication’ available on Amazon as a Book, eBook, or Audio Book.

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Emmy Award Winner, Gayle Cotton, is the author of this blog and of the bestselling cross-cultural communication book SAY Anything to Anyone, Anywhere! 5 Keys to Successful Cross-Cultural Communication’, which is available on Amazon as a Book, eBook, or Audio Book. She is President of Circles Of Excellence Inc. and a Professional Keynote Speaker. Contact Gayle if you need professional speakers for events, speakers on cultural diversity, conference speakers for events, or keynote speakers that specialize in cross-cultural training. She is a leader in the field of public speakers, motivational speakers, and international keynote speakers. She is among the best of female keynote speakers and women motivational speakers and is a ‘first choice’ request for international audiences!

Circles Of Excellence provides Corporate Training, Leadership Coaching, and Professional Keynote Speakers for companies of all sizes and in all industries, including over 50 Fortune 500 companies. Contact us about our customized training programs for Communication Skills, Cross-Cultural Communication, Cultural Diversity, Customer Service, Leadership Coaching, Presentation Skills, Sales Negotiations, Stress Management, Teambuilding, and Time Management Training.

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