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Hella: السّلام عليكم
Simon: و عليكم السّلام Simon here. All About Lesson 8: Top 5 Things You Need to Know About the Arabic-Speaking Society.
Hella: Well, society is a very broad topic and can't be summarized in a single lesson. That's why we're narrowing it down to the top five most important aspects of the Egyptian society.
Simon: This should be interesting.
Hella: I agree. It's a little different from what many think. So, how are we going to start?
Simon: Well, let's start with major cities and how they work. I'd definitely start with Cairo as the first city.
Hella: The best choice, and just to say the name of Cairo, I can see so many things in my head.
Simon: True. It's amazing what a single name can do to your mind. So, tell us more about Cairo, where it's located, and so on.
Hella: Well, Cairo is located on the banks and islands of the Nile River in the north of Egypt.
Simon: How about the population of Cairo. I mean, judging by what I see, it's got to be one of the most crowded I've ever seen in my life.
Hella: That is absolutely true, Simon. About 26 million live in Cairo. That is why it is considered the most populous in Africa and one of the most populous around the world.
Simon: And it's the capital of Egypt, and in Cairo you can see the Pyramids and the Sphinx...
Hella: ...The Citadel and the Hanging Church...
Simon: ...The Cairo Tower. Let's not forget that. Not to mention the amazing, everlasting Nile.
Hella: All simply wonderful. Ok. Do you want to hear an interesting name for Cairo?
Simon: Please! I can't think what it might be with all that's here.
Hella: Well, Cairo is known as the city of the thousand minarets, because of how many mosques and its minarets. That's a very old name for Cairo. If you ever go to a high point and you take a look, despite the pollution, you will see minarets for as long as the eye can go.
Simon: I have seen that, but it never came to my mind that it could be a name for Cairo.
Hella: Well, now you know.
Simon: You know, Hella, one of the things I love is that wherever you go, there is pharaonic monuments or Coptic or Islamic.
Hella: Plus, everything you find in a modern city. The city is so vast it would take years to go through it all. Believe me. I have been trying to do that, and I am Egyptian, and I know my way around, but I'm not done with it yet.
Simon: Well, that leads us to the second city, which is Luxor, one of my favorites. Located in Upper Egypt, or the south of Egypt.
Hella: Yes. We usually say Upper Egypt. It's a very old name. Luxor, with nearly 390,000 people living in it. Luxor you can see the Temple of Karnak, the Valley of the Kings, and the Valley of the Queens. It's most famous for its historical and pharaonic monuments.
Simon: There's lots of famous places. They're basically around every corner — the Luxor Museum, the Mummification Museum. It's simply amazing!
Hella: If you're going to Luxor, don't forget to go to Aswan as well. It's so close, and it's just as beautiful.
Simon: So what is the third city, Hella?
Hella: That would be Sharm El Sheikh. It's a city situated on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, in South Sinai Governate.
Simon: It's on the coastal strip between the Red Sea and Mount Sinai. About 35,000 people live there.
Hella: Yes, and in Sharm El Sheikh, you can enjoy the beautiful beaches and sands, mountains, beautiful, untouched nature. Also, Sharm is also known for its much smaller coastal towns such as Taba and Nuweibaa.
Simon: They are breathtaking. You can see Mount Sinai and Saint Catherine's Monastery and Ras Mohammed, one of the most beautiful natural parks in the world.
Hella: It's also famous for scuba diving, windsurfing, and snorkeling.
Simon: Everyone should know that people from Cairo are generally helpful, generous, open-minded, friendly, talkative, and sometimes a little curious.
Hella: Yes, but that's more of a friendly nature. We're not being intrusive.
Simon: While in Cairo, you might feel a little overwhelmed at the beginning, but you get used to it and the many contradictions you may find.
Hella: But you will enjoy every second of it, as it will always feel like it's new. Well, with that said, the number one thing you should know about Egypt society is that Cairo is generally the most connected city to the rest of the world.
Simon: Why is it the most connected city? How is that?
Hella: Well, a long time ago, since it was populated, it always had this great location facing the Mediterranean Sea, to the East we have the Red Sea, easily connected to Asia, already the gate to Africa, and not far from Europe. After the Suez Canal had been built, connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, things have changed drastically. It opened November 1869, allowing water transportation between Europe and Asia without navigating around Africa.
Simon: Where does it begin and end?
Hella: The northern terminus is Port Said, and the southern terminus is Port Tewfik at the city of Suez.
Simon: So how does this affect the people coming to Egypt? What does it mean to them?
Hella: Well, it's very common for people to come here and go from Egypt to other countries. Airfare is not expensive. You have ships and boats, cars, busses.
Simon: Ok. So what could I do with a one-month vacation if I'm coming to Cairo?
Hella: Well, if you have a one-month vacation, you can spend part of it in Egypt, then visit two more countries. That's not cities, but countries, in Africa or Asia, with very little money. For students and expats who live here, doing studies is not hard at all. You can also send and receive anything very easy and very cheap as well.
Simon: Also, from my own experience, most things are very cheap here, because it doesn't cost much to enter the country, not to mention the products you'll find here.
Hella: That is true, Simon. Cairo's location is really special, and yet it does not make it expensive, but the complete opposite.
Simon: The general focus of the city is tourism, economy, entertainment, culture, politics, arts, and more.
Hella: People in Cairo speak the Egyptian dialect, which is most widely spoken around the Arabic world and understood as well. It comes from Standard Arabic and has some effects from Coptic language. It contains a lot of English, French, Italian, Spanish, and Greek words.
Simon: That's due to many Greeks and Italians living in Egypt, mostly Cairo and Alexandria for a very long time. And Spanish due to the cultural mix between the two civilizations.
Hella: And with the current media sources, English was entered and used a lot. It's a little bit different from standard as we don't pronounce "jha" but we pronounce it "ga" and we don't pronounce "kah, but like "ah".
Simon: And the small differences like this, strangely enough, don't exist in Upper Egypt, as it's a bit secluded.
Hella: Yes, and also, there is a big expat community in Cairo, and as expected it's an important destination for people from all over the world.
Simon: Cairo is known as the sleepless city. In most places, shops and restaurants and cafes don't close.
Hella: You will always find a taxi at any time, and it's a very safe city. You can go for a walk at 2:00 or 3:00 AM without the least bit of worry.
Simon: Ok, Hella. What about family life?
Hella: Families in Egypt are traditional. Some common things that you may hear about families here that the boys and girls don't leave the family house until they get married.
Simon: I also heard that the parents will always help them to do that by offering them financial support.
Hella: Yes, and sometimes they could offer the place. Family ties are very strong here. Relations could go over to very distant relatives. Anything less than that is viewed as a bad behavior or bad manners.
Simon: With that said, the number two thing you should know about Egyptian society is that it's very easy to get used to and be a part of and feel very related to.
Hella: And also how important family is in this society.
Simon: So what's the average family like here?
Hella: Well, the average family consists of the mother, father, four children per household, and in Upper Egypt, it's eight to twelve children. It's usually very large and extended family.
Simon: I've noticed that single-parent homes are not common.
Hella: Yes, as when people get married, it's very unlikely to get a divorce, and especially if a child is involved. If the divorce took place, the mother moves back with her family.
Simon: But what about combined families?
Hella: Combined families are somehow common. Mostly these marriages take place between a widow and a man with the same situation, or one doesn't have children and the other does, so they make a family.
Simon: I've spoken about this with my friends. The government laws don't play a very big part in family marriages. It could cost a lot of money or nothing. It depends on the family itself and what they request.
Hella: Yes, that is true, Simon. Unfortunately, the bride's family asks for certain things that groom must provide. It could be really expensive or really cheap. The only thing is the government law requires everyone to be registered in a family directory.
Simon: I know for a fact that marriages are absolutely expected for families. It's impossible to make a family or have children without be married.
Hella: That is 100% correct, Simon. Anything other than that is completely unaccepted in our society. It really doesn't exist. The Arabic or Islamic society puts a great deal on marriage. Plus we also have a minority of Copts here, and it's the same thing for them. Same society, same culture and same rules.
Simon: So there's no boyfriend or girlfriend culture?
Hella: No. Not really. As scary as it may sound to some people who don't know about this society, but here, if a guy says to a girl, "I love you," that's as good as a marriage proposal. The girl's response would be "Ah! When will come to meet my dad and propose to me officially?" That, of course, after saying "I love you" back.
Simon: Well, now I know.
Hella: Yes. Do you think it's a little bit different with the high-class in Egypt?
Simon: From my experiences, I think it's slightly different. I think the upper class have more of a culture which is affected by European culture.
Hella: Yes. That I agree with as well.
Simon: So tell me about work culture and the economy.
Hella: Egypt's economy is ranked 67 in the world, and it's strong in tourism, agriculture, manufacturing, and services.
Simon: And the work revolves around family businesses, corporate ladders, friendships, parental pressure, and the status of an individual.
Hella: Yes. Parents often pressure their children to go into certain fields of work, and certain jobs have an appeal. The social status given by the job is very, very important as well.
Simon: What are the benefits of this work style?
Hella: Well, it provides a decent, steady income, a good social status, which is very important, and it gains the person an approval for so many things that he wants to do.
Simon: So what are the cons to this work style?
Hella: Mostly family relations or friends, and it's not easy to get it only by qualification. I'm not saying that this is the general case, but it's most like that. You need to have a connection.
Simon: Is this almost everyone, or?
Hella: Well, it's very common and very popular to be honest. Even if the income is not very high, but it's steady, which makes people feel relaxed and comfortable about the future.
Simon: Do you think this is an efficient system? If not, why not?
Hella: I don't think it is, as it doesn't depend on the person's abilities, but connections.
Simon: How does this style affect business?
Hella: Regardless of anything, business is business, so people must work hard to prove they are worthy of this position, and it's good for the business generally.
Simon: Is this style still in use today or is it changing?
Hella: Well, I would say between both. It still exists, but it's changing. The new demands of the market now demand certain people with very specific qualifications, so hard workers are getting better chances now.
Simon: Ok, and with that short introduction to the economy and the work culture in Egypt, the number three thing you should know about Egyptian society is it's very friendly, open-minded, and families are very important.
Hella: Egypt work life is easy sometimes. It could take some effort, but at the end it's worth it.
Simon: Is it common for girls to work?
Hella: Nowadays it is. Girls have a very important role now. It's actually a problem, sometimes, because a girl could make more money than a guy.
Simon: How is that a problem?
Hella: Ok, now this is not easy to explain, really, but most men don't like being married to a girl or a woman who makes more money than they do. It's still in their heads that the man is the main provider of the household. This does not contradict with the woman's freedom or position anyway. As I've just said, we get the best jobs, less working hours. It's just a cultural issue.
Simon: So how is this problem solved?
Hella: If they know each other before marriage, then it is not a problem. If it happened after getting married and knowing each other very well, it's also not a problem, but before marriage, it's no. That's really the tricky part.
Simon: Does that affect the family? Having children?
Hella: Not really. Most marriages are done with the first goal and purpose of having children. If the mother works, she always manages to deal with both. Also, our laws helps a lot.
Simon: I assume the family will be there to give a hand?
Hella: That goes without saying. So between excellent working conditions, family, relatives, and even neighbors helping, it gets much easier and it really goes smoothly.
Simon: You mentioned that girls have less working hours?
Hella: Yes. It's not very accepted in our society for a girl to be working late, so most of the jobs would have working hours from morning until any time before late afternoon. Anything that requires working late — night shifts, or simply working more hours — guys would do it. Now, this is not a rule though. Some girls do work late, but that is not very common.
Simon: Ok, Hella. What about politics?
Hella: Ok. Now, Egypt has a democratic political system. People have the right to vote for the president and the parliament members. The head of the country is the president.
Simon: What are the things that we should know about Egyptian politics?
Hella: The president chooses the ministers and the government officials.
Simon: Is the president elected?
Hella: Yes. With the new laws now, anyone who's interested in becoming the president can go for it. It's relatively new, as before that, we had only one choice and we voted based on that.
Simon: When did you start having candidates for the presidential elections?
Hella: The last election was nearly four years ago. It was the first time to have many people running for president.
Simon: What about parliament members? Are they chosen or elected?
Hella: Well, they are elected by people, and the parliament members who nominate themselves don't have to be highly educated, like to have college education or even high school. In very few and rare cases, they were illiterate. It depends on how they can serve the people who vote for them the best, and where they come from as well.
Simon: For example, the Upper Egyptian society?
Hella: The nominated parliament members will probably have low education level, but they will be very honest, decent, and hard-working for their people, as it's very small society. More like a family-oriented culture, so education doesn't come first in this case.
Simon: How common is that?
Hella: It used to be very common, actually, but now it's starting to change as the education is basically for free now, and it's available for everyone everywhere. The mentalities of people are changing, as well. People understanding more about politics now.
Simon: Do many people vote?
Hella: Unfortunately, no. They are very interested in politics, know a lot about it, inside and outside of Egypt, but the participation rate is still very low.
Simon: Ok. So far so go. Let's talk a little bit about generational trends.
Hella: Generally, the older generation and younger generation tend to do things differently. The older generation tends to be very patient and more hard-working than the younger generation. Traditionally, the older generation would have four kids in their family.
Simon: Also, eating together is the normal thing with the older generation and values, for example, filial piety, hard work, loyalty are important to the older generation so they make sure to pass it to the younger generation, no matter how hard it can be sometimes. These are things I've seen myself.
Hella: Yes. The younger generation tends to do things their own way. These days, the younger generation would have two kids in the family. Eating is normal also with old and young generations, it doesn't make a difference. Values, such as honesty, hard working, and loyalty, are important to the younger generation. People still wear جلبيّة in Egypt. That is interesting.
Simon: So what is the number five thing we have to know about Egyptian society?
Hella: Is that the majority of younger Egyptians or Arabic people will live their parents until they get married.
Simon: Is it easy getting an apartment or finding a place to live in?
Hella: Not really. Finding an apartment might be a little bit expensive and hard, so they could stay with the family after getting married, but that is not very common now.
Simon: Thanks, Hella. That was very interesting and fun to know. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did, and that now you have a better understanding for Egyptian society and culture.
Hella: Thanks, everyone, for listening. See you next time on All About Arabic.
Simon: Goodbye!
Hella: مع السّلامة