Cross-Cultural Communication

   Welcome to Africa--Egypt



Acceptable Public Behavior

  • Egyptians tend to speak at a much closer distance than North Americans.  Even if you are unaccustomed to this level of contact, do not back up or shy away.  If you keep your distance, the perception might be that you find your counterpart's physical presence distasteful or that you are a very cold, unfeeling person.  Moreover, conversations usually involve touching.

  • Westernized Egyptian men shake hands with other men.

  •   Some Egyptian men will shake hands with Western women.  Western businesswomen should wait for an Egyptian man to offer his hand.

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

  • 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.

  • The "thumbs up" sign is offensive throughout the Arab world.

Business Attire

  • Visitors are expected to follow Egyptian standards of modesty.  Even though it can be extremely hot in this country, most of the body must remain covered.

  • Refrain from wearing traditional native clothing.  Egyptians may find it offensive to see foreigners dressed in their traditional garments.

  • Standard attire for men includes trousers and a shirt, preferably long-sleeved.  A jacket and tie are usually required for business meetings.  Keep shirts buttoned up to the collarbone.

  • Men should avoid wearing visible jewelry, especially around the neck.

  • Women business travelers are expected to dress modestly at all times.  They are advised to pack shirts, blouses, and dresses with high necklines and sleeves that reach at least to the elbows.

  • Hemlines should be ankle-length or well below the knee.

  • For women, a well covered, shapeless appearance is the desired effect.  While a hat or scarf is not always required, it is wise to keep a scarf on hand.

Conversations and Networking

  • Egyptians like to 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.

  • Some welcome topics of conversation include Egyptian achievements, both ancient and modern, Egyptian cotton, and sports-especially soccer, basketball, boxing, horse racing, tennis, and all water-related sports.

  • Some topics to avoid include women (inquiring about female members of your counterpart's family), and Israel.

  • The term "al" literally means "from" in Arabic. A name like al-Barudi could mean "son of Barudi" or "from the town of Barudi." It would be a mistake to take the term "al" for the Western nickname "Al."

  • Most Egyptians should be addressed by title and surname, just as you would address a Westerner.  Some Egyptians prefer a title plus first name.  In writing, use the full name.  If an Egyptian does not have a title, just use courtesy titles such as "Mr.", "Mrs.", or "Miss."

Meetings, Presentations, and Negotiation Tactics

  • You are required to have an Egyptian agent to do business in this country.  Moreover, if you're doing business in both Cairo and Alexandria, it's recommended that you have a separate agent for each city.

  • Business cards should be printed in English on one side and in Arabic on the reverse.

  • The Islamic religion is a critical component in Egyptian life, playing an important role in all aspects of society.  There is a prevailing belief that solutions to all problems are to be found in the correct interpretation and application of Islamic law.

  • Generally, Egyptians prefer to work at their own pace.  Attempting the "hard sell" or forcing them into making a quick decision will probably be futile, and not in your best interests.

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

  • It is standard practice to keep foreign businesspeople waiting.  Realistically, you may be able to keep only one appointment per day.

  • No business is conducted on Friday, the Muslim holy day.  Most people don't work on Thursdays, either.  Generally, the working week takes place from Saturday through Wednesday.

  • Government hours are 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Government offices are closed on either Thursday and Friday or Friday and Saturday.  This variation is designed to reduce traffic on congested Cairo streets.

  • Working hours for businesses, banks, and government offices are shortened during the month of Ramadan.

Dinner Etiquette

  • Hosting visitors is considered a virtue among Egyptians, and they will take car of most of the entertainment arrangements in their country.

  • Be prepared to remove your shoes before entering a home or other building.  Follow the lead of your host.

  • Customarily, the male guest of honor is traditionally seated to the right of the host.

  • Muslims are prohibited from alcohol and pork.  Consequently, unless you know that he or she drinks alcohol, if you invite an Egyptian to a social event, ensure that there is a selection of nonalcoholic drinks available.

  • Dining utensils will be used only in the most Westernized of Egyptian homes.

  • When eating in an Egyptian home, adding salt to your food is considered an insult, since this may imply to your hosts that the dish is bland or otherwise inadequate.


  • The capital of Egypt is Cairo, which is located on the banks of the Nile River.

  • Keep in mind that Cairo has some of the worst traffic jams in the world.  Delays are frequently caused by traffic congestion.

  • Egyptians consider their country to be a "bridge" between the European West and the Arab East.  Thus, business practices may resemble European or Arab tendencies or something in between.

  • Egyptians love language and you can expect a lot of rhetoric that includes exaggeration, poetics, emotion, and flowery language.

  • Make sure you give or receive gifts with the right hand, not with the left.  Using both hands, however, is acceptable.

  • If you are invited to an Egyptian home, baked goods or chocolates are good gift selections.


A summary of this information can be found at Executive Planet.
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