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Cultural curfew

The concept of time in Egypt is stretchable in ways that defy logic to most recent arrivals, but after a few unfortunate mishaps we usually catch up and adjust accordingly.


A big change is imminent if we are to believe the new government. They seem to feel it is time for a complete overhaul of the Egyptian culture, with time being the operative word. Merchants of anything should close for business at nine in the evening while restaurants should shut their doors at eleven. The powers that be are telling us it will help battle the electricity shortage, so off we should go, back home to sit together in one room. Wearing cotton clothes of course.

It is a new Egypt. A revolution came and went. January 25 was a long time in the making in hindsight, yet took everyone by surprise when it actually happened. Since then many changes have taken place, and it seems that the concept of time is following suit.

A next revolution is being planned; it has a start date and location which all seems surprisingly civilised. Who said it takes uncontainable passion, righteous indignation and spontaneous determination to change a country? That was the old way – we do things differently now. Matching t-shirts can be printed, carpooling can be organised and you can bring snacks. Wag the dog anyone?

I am imagining the schedules for next week around the country sporting things like Thursday: Iftar at whomever’s, Sunday: Eid-at-the-beach with family, followed by 24 August: 10 am Gym, sometime-after-Friday-prayers: Revolution.

Every culture has its rules, habits and traditions. Adjusting to and understanding the mores of a place is part of the fun of living abroad, no matter how often you end up baffled and confused.

Invitations to weddings tell you the festivities start at eight, yet the bride and groom seldom arrive before eleven. Note to self: have a sandwich before you don the dress and heels. “I am leaving the house now to come and meet you,” in no way means the route to the meeting point will not be interrupted by a quick stop for fuel or picking up another friend you weren’t aware was coming too and who lives in the exact opposite direction from where you live. Another note to self: do not leave the house until friends have arrived in front of the building.

Years ago I travelled to France with my family for a vacation. We had left Holland early in the morning and after a long car ride we had arrived at our destination at the end of the afternoon. Us Dutchies eat our dinners early, six at the latest, and by seven the dishes are done, the dog is walked and we are settling in with our coffees in front of the TV. Hungry and eager we set out in search of food, only to suffer the disdain that only the French know how to portray properly through a slightly raised eyebrow. Dinner was not to be had before eight we were snidely informed. My mum’s note to self: pack more snacks.

The first time a friend in Cairo suggested meeting up for dinner I forgot to ask the time we would get together. I had adopted a more French approach to evening meals so after arriving at the restaurant a fashionable 15 minutes late I spent the next two-and-a-half hours studying the menu and drinking endless glasses of water. She had said she was on her way so I was politely waiting to order until she would arrive. Note to, well, you get it: Book in bag at all times.

Our days last long in Egypt. We shop when we feel like it, in complete disregard of what time it is. We eat when we are hungry, and a meal at five in the afternoon is considered lunch and never dinner. Egypt is the land of the late and home of the free to-roam-the-streets till the wee hours of the morning. The idea of not being able to buy groceries at ten in the evening or that last order at your favourite neighbourhood restaurant will be nine-thirty seems as impossible to match with the core of Egyptian culture as banning shishas and redecorating the pyramids is.

I cannot begin to imagine what life will be like and I grew up with stores that shut at 6pm. How Egyptians are supposed to adjust to this latest proposal of reducing power consumption baffles the imagination.

Imposing earlier closing times is much more than just making sure you get your tomatoes in time. It upsets the structure of society, interferes with habits and thwarts traditions. As a friend succinctly put it, it would be a cultural curfew.

 

Topics: column Egypt time

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https://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2012/08/16/changing-the-fabric-of-egyptian-society/
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