5 survival skills every Egyptian needs

Let’s face it. Egypt isn’t the easiest place to live. In fact, Reuters recently announced that Egypt was the worst place for women to live in the entire Arab region. It’s not a picnic for men either, but it’s basically a daily agonizing struggle for women -at least that’s the case for me.

That being said, it’s necessary for Egyptians (or anyone living in Egypt for that matter) to acquire a set of survival skills to be able to function. If you don’t at least make an effort to acquire those skills, you’re screwed -think of it as a “survival of the fittest” sort of thing.

Skill #1: Driving like a maniac

Grand theft auto? Pleaaaaaase!

Driving in the streets of Cairo is something that can easily and legitimately be an olympic sport. You have to learn to squeeze your car between other cars (other random objects), you have to learn to avoid insane drivers at the last second on the ring road and you have to do it all quickly so that you can get to your workplace/university/house on time and alive.

I know, not stressful at all.

Basically, you can consider driving in Cairo’s streets one giant, never-ending test of your driving skills -and your sanity.

Skill #2: Handling pushy grandmothers

If you succumb to each plateful of molokheya your grandmother (or any Egyptian female over the age of 40) force-feeds you, you’re going to turn into a green elephant. And if you say no to her big, bright eyes, you’ll break her heart.

A beginner might think it’s a no-win situation, but not a proper Egyptian!

There are several tricks you can use to make sure you stay a normal-sized human being without hurting your grandmother’s feelings.

a) Put food on your plate in really small servings so that you can come back several times and make it seem like you ate a lot. Is your grandmother the one serving the food? Have no fear, let’s move on to the next point to figure out how to handle that.

b) If your grandmother is the one serving the food, fill your plate with salad so that she doesn’t have a lot of space to put her huge spoonful of food. She will have to compromise and only put part of it, while you give her a big smile and claim to come back for seconds. You sly genius, you.

c) If you want to be extra careful, take FOREVER to finish your plate. Move the food around the plate with your fork, eat one grain of rice at a time or chew really slowly (slow chewing can actually make you feel full faster and therefore eat less..just a quick diet tip). Every time your grandmother will look she will be under the impression that you have a full plate and that you’ve been having seconds, and then pretty soon everyone else will stop eating and you can help clear the dishes and get bonus points.

Other strategies may include:

“I’m just saving space for your famous kunafa dessert, grandma!”

“Of course I finished my food! Just because the dog is sitting next to me and chewing does not mean that I gave him the food. No..it’s just a lucky coincidence. Really.”

Or you can go with a classic from the sitcom Friends and claim that a big pigeon came while you were eating on the balcony and snatched the food off your plate. How else could it have ended on the street?

Skill #3: Becoming a chameleon

This simply means that you must adapt to your surroundings. Say you’re stuck in a fight with a microbus driver. You must talk the same way he does so that he doesn’t think you’re some sort of high class idiot who went to a private school that he could scam or beat up. Embrace your inner baltagy; we all have one.

Similarly, if you are talking to some rich girls who keep shoving English and French words into every sentence, you must then talk the same way that they do so that they don’t think that you’re uneducated. It’s sad, but some people actually do think that way. Adapt, my friend, adapt!

Skill #4: Having a “guy” for everything

Our country does not believe in running things smoothly. Anyone who has ever tried getting governmental paperwork done knows that Egyptians thrive on creating obstacles, struggles and plain stubbornness. So if you need to get anything fixed (ex. your car, your bathroom..etc) or need something done you need a “guy”. You need a car guy, a government guy, an army guy..and so many more guys. Listing all the guys you need would be an endless task.

I’m not saying you need someone to get your procedures for you; I do not believe in the “wasta” concept. As difficult as it was, I got my driver’s license the traditional way and I’m proud of it. You just need someone who will tell you exactly what to do and where to go. This is especially beneficial for foreigners and expats.

Don’t get me wrong, the process will still be slow and painful (it’s Egypt!), but at least you can avoid delays and time-wasters by going to the right places with everything you need.

Skill #5: Self control

If you’re the type of person who can get pissed super easily, learn to stop. In your everyday life you will see people cutting you off in traffic, harassing you (if you’re a girl), mistreating you and trying to scam you. You have to handle it calmly.

In all seriousness, the country is in a state of absolute chaos right now. Some people are walking around with weapons and others are just plain insane. You never know when someone might snap. Are you really willing to give up your life because of a stupid argument over the price of a taxi ride?

Knowing the personalities of some Egyptians, I know some people may criticize me for saying this and claim that I’m one of the people interfering with tourism and all that crap, but I stand by what I’m saying. People need to understand the risks of coming here, and you cannot deny that you know at least one person that’s been in a life-threatening situation the past few years.

The bottom line:

Be safe and don’t let the country kill you. Egypt may be tough, but we are tougher! And trust me, the fact that I’m a female and I’m saying this means that you can definitely overcome anything that faces you.