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(Coffee) Shop Talk

Welcome to the shop where I talk about things that go well with coffee, which is almost everything.

Things to know before vacationing in Egypt, particularly as a female:

1. DO NOT try “exploring” any cities during Ramadan, unless you packed you own lunch or like eating every meal at Pizza Hut or other such chain restaurants. People who are fasting all day are in no mood to sell you “authentic” (read: cheap) street food.

2. DO NOT go to popular tourist areas right after Ramadan. Teenage boys are very happy to be done fasting and enjoy celebrating by turning out in droves to harass nice white girls (and probably anyone else who catches their collective eye.)

3. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES try to swim at a public beach right after Ramadan. Being covered from neck to toe will not so much as dint the leering enthusiasm of aforementioned droves of teenage boys. Respectable lifeguards and beach attendants will tell them off in extreme circumstances, but chances are that your experience will have already been soured.

3a. ABSOLUTELY DO go to any beach at all to watch the sunrise, especially in Alexandria. It’s incredibly beautiful. But clear out before the crowds get there (see above).

4. It is virtually impossible to get small bills anywhere, and almost always impossible to pay for anything with a large bill. This is a fun catch-22 that applies almost everywhere in Egypt that I’ve been to so far. There’s really nothing you can do about it except be psychologically prepared, and to obnoxiously insist on paying for small purchases with large bills anywhere that you possibly can (such as large grocery stores and restaurants).

5. Be equally prepared to encounter shameless scam artists who appear to be friendly and helpful, and also to encounter people who actually are ridiculously kind and generous.

6. Be equally prepared to ignore people harassing you on the street, and to make a big scene if they really cross the line.

7. Buy lots of pistachios from the guys hawking them around shisha bars. They’re really cheap and ridiculously tasty.

8. DO NOT try ordering a dirty martini. No bartenders in Egypt know what olive juice is, and some are under the impression that a shot of Martini-brand vermouth with an olive in it is in fact a dirty martini. These people are very hard to dissuade from their opinion, and they won’t give you your money back. I’m told that it’s much safer and easier to order screwdrivers, but I haven’t tested that. I think I’ll just stick with beer from now on.

8a. However, it can be somewhat therapeutic to argue angrily with uninformed bartenders. It gets out some of the frustration built up from not shouting at hordes of teenage boys.

9. DO NOT try to travel between Egypt and Israel right after Ramadan. Egyptians are celebrating Eid, and Israelis are celebrating Rosh Hashana, so if anything goes wrong at either side of the border (which, according the utterly absurd experiences of my roommate and two of the other teachers at my school, it almost certainly will) all the places you might call to clear things up will be closed. This includes embassies and credit card companies.

10. DO NOT be discouraged from visiting Egypt by this list. It’s really awesome overall; you just have to know what not to do.

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I and all the other teachers at my school are now safely back in Cairo and almost fully recovered from our respective vacations. We are also eagerly planning new excursions. Yay Egypt :-).

(Above: dawn breaking over the Mediterranean, tea served with mint leaves, the famous Alexandria Library)

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