By Fanny Ohier
Ramadan is here. Early in the morning many shops are closed and the streets are eerily empty. There are fewer cars on the road and it feels very much like Friday morning, the one day a week that most Egyptians have off. For those who do not observe the month of fasting,the atmosphere during Ramadan can be surprising and navigating it properly can present some challenges.
During the day, from dawn until dusk, most Egyptians will not eat, drink or smoke. This year the holy month falls in the middle of summer, so the days are long and the heat will make people very thirsty. Also, this is a country where many people smoke. So the polite thing to do is to pay attention to your surroundings when you have a drink, eat lunch or smoke a cigarette; gulping down a bottle of water in the street in front of a group of fasting people would be a little rude. Not that they would say anything; it is very rare that an Egyptian berates someone for not fasting, but if you show a little sensitivity and respect they greatly appreciate it.
Also, have a little patience with your friends and colleagues. For some, the effect of fasting is that their tempers flare a little easier, while others get very sleepy. Caffeine and nicotine deprivation does strange things to people and it is good to be aware and prepared.
Traffic is usually calmer during the morning but the closer you get to Iftar, the crazier it gets. People are trying to get home to break their fast with family and friends and many are at the end of their patience after the long day of fasting. If you travel by taxi it is advisable to not leave it to the last minute because it may be difficult to find one.
As soon as the sun goes down people congregate to break their fast, and you will probably find you are going to be invited to a few Iftars. Be prepared for a meal of many courses, so make sure to not eat just before you go, and most importantly, be on time. Your hosts have been fasting all day and it would be very rude to make them wait for your arrival. Also, it is customary to bring something with you, and dessert is always a safe choice. Pastry shops are working overtime so pick up a nice platter of sweets as a gift for your host. Another good tip is to not call people around the time of iftar, wait for an hour or so and you will find they are more than happy to talk to you.
The best advice is simple, use your common sense. There are many wonderful things that happen during Ramadan only and overall people are very happy to include you in their celebrations. To show a little sensitivity and respect in return is the logical thing to do.