Cultural Differences

18 July 2012, 12:49

One of the workers, let us call him Mohammed Ahmed, had a problem with his gadget, and I helped him solve the problem. End of matter, or so I thought. He was grateful and asked me if I would be his “friend”. What exactly do people mean when they ask this question? It depends on the person. My Egyptian friends told me that it’s usually best to say yes to everyone who asks this question. If they want to go further, you can stop them. Easy enough. Just be firm but respectful. They will get the point eventually. No point antagonizing people, is there? Anyway, I digress. When I returned to Luxor to visit fellow volunteers a month later, Mohammed Ahmed was really happy to meet me.

Late one night, we were having a written conversation when he asked me if I had a boyfriend. When I said I was happily single, he pointed out that as he’s single, and I’m single, we could get together. I declined, naturally. The next thing – “I’m tired, you can go to bed with me” Without a pause. I just wrote “If you’re tired, go to bed yourself, goodnight, I’m staying with my friends.”

Later on it transpired that Mohammed Ahmed was not single, but a married man with 5 children by 3 different women!

The next day, he visited us and tried to have it out with us by brandishing a piece of paper with the damning piece of information about him being married. My friends reminded him that he was the one telling lies, and why was he reading private conversations anyway? I’m afraid I was a bit hard on him, saying that I don’t like liars, and that saying sorry doesn’t make it right. Apparently he got really upset at that. (The others could hear it in his voice.)

A few weeks later I received a present of a piece of clothing from him, and a text message saying “I love you.” This, after all the hard words?!! Oh dear… I thanked him, but never contacted him since. He must have got the message.

Polygamy is legal in Eqypt and if a married man approaches you with forming a relationship in mind, it’s perfectly above board. So don’t take umbrage at that. If Mohammed Ahmed had indeed told me the truth about being married, I would have explained that due to cultural differences, it is impossible for me to have a relationship with him, end of story. He probably knew this and resorted to telling lies. However, telling lies is unacceptable in ANY culture.

Having said all that, all is not doom and gloom. I have great fun with my colleagues talking about wives and husbands. Men saying things to me like “You’re my old wife, I’m getting another wife, ok with you?” and “How’s my wife?” Seven marriage proposals later, I have come to this conclusion… it’s best to get into the spirit of things and be Egyptian in your approach to life. If you think you’re being treated in a way that Egyptian women wouldn’t accept, speak up! Otherwise, lighten up.

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