Yesterday I received the following email from an Egyptian guy:
I have a question for you if you don't mind, why would an American girl get in a relationship with an Egyptian guy? I mean there is many differences between us ( I'm an Egyptian guy) , different culture, different religion , different habits , different life style in general & the very first reason is "looks" 99% of us don't have blue eyes, or beautiful hair or white skin ?? American guys are much more "handsome" than us! there another big reason , most of Egyptian families don't like it or agree when their son decide to marry a forigner lady.
I have decided to answer his email here, instead of sending him a personal response, because I am sure that many Egyptian men who read this blog may have the same question in mind.
One of the reasons I started this blog was to help Americans (and other foreigners with an interest in Egypt) understand Egyptian culture. But it can work both ways, I imagine. Now here is an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.
Dear Egyptian Guy,
Yes, it's true that there are differences noticeable right off the bat. You nicely pointed out culture, habits and religion. However, when you stated that the most important reason is looks - 99% of Egyptians don't have blue eyes, beautiful hair, or white skin and are not as "handsome" as Americans guys - I felt a twinge of sadness come over me. I felt sad that you would think I would base an important decision such as marriage on eye color or skin color or hair quality - or even looks in general. But then I put myself in your shoes and it made perfect sense.
Let's turn the focus away from you for a minute and allow me to speak about Egyptian guys in general. How do Egyptian guys get married? Well, there are several different ways. He may have a crush on someone he meets at University and begin to socially "date" her going out for coffee with groups of other students - she will always be there. They may fall in love (although there is a strong belief that falling in love before marriage is wrong - you must not love your spouse until after marriage) and after a few months or years he may ask for a meeting with her father. Of course her mother may know that they are in love, but the father does not know this. If the father approves the guy and girl may get engaged. That is good for them because now they no longer have to hide their feelings for each other. They can officially begin to date. If the father does not approve both the guy and the girl end up heartbroken and she may, for years to come, reject all other offers of marriage that her father presents to her. But that is a different story.
Let's examine another way that, not you, but an average Egyptian guy might meet his future wife. This way if far more common, by the way. Let's say this guy has an older sister. His sister and mother will conspire to find an eligible girl for him. It may be a relative (his cousin) or the daughter of an old family friend. Either way his mother and sister will meet endlessly over coffee with other women until they find the one perfect girl who holds the following qualifications: religious and of good character, younger (so to be able to bear lots of children and take care of her husband when he gets old), and she must be good-looking (in order to produce beautiful grandchildren). When the mother and sister believe they have found the perfect woman they will begin to endlessly pressure the guy into going to propose marriage. Now, if this is the guy who was previously heartbroken, it may be more difficult to get him to do this. But if the guy agrees, he will go to have a meeting with her father. If the girl is his cousin or an old family friend he may have grown up with this girl, but he won't have spent any significant amount of time alone with her. So he will know very little about her except what his mother and sister tell him about her. Since he does not know much about her - the first thing he will notice about her is her looks. So in this case, it is easy to see why an Egyptian would consider looks to be an important factor to consider as a marriageable quality.
Let's look at it from my American perspective for a minute. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. First of all, not all American men have blue eyes, blond hair (or beautiful hair for that matter), and white skin. But you are right in saying that 99% of Egyptian men don't either. 99% of Egyptian women don't have this either (except in Mansoura or if she colors her hair). When you are living in a country where 99% of the inhabitants are dark haired and brown eyed, it is easy to see where you would consider anything different to be more beautiful. It's not that it is more beautiful - it is just unique. Blond hair and blue eyes are a novelty in Egypt and for this reason many Egyptian men consider foreign women to be more beautiful than their own. And vice-versa, why an Egyptian man would have a hard time fathoming why an American would marry someone who does not have blue eyes or blond hair.
Personally, even in the States, I was never attracted to blue eyes and blond hair anyway. There's nothing wrong with it, but i do not find it automatically "more beautiful". When I first met my husband I thought (and still do) that he was the most handsome man I had ever seen.
Now, different cultures and religions and habits...well again, in the US we are already used to this. Keep in mind that in the US culture and religion are two very separate things. In Egypt it is nearly impossible to see the division line between these two areas as they are so intertwined. As far as habits - well everyone has their own habits no matter what their culture and religion. Whenever two people get married they face the same challenges of learning to adapt to living with another person. You may be surprised to know that as humans, we are more similar than we are different.
As far as your claim that "Egyptian families don't like it when their son decides to marry a foreigner" - again, I must AGREE with you. Families in Egypt have tight control over their children even long after they become adults. (Unlike in the States where independence is encouraged after the 18th birthday.) Egyptian men typically live at home with their families until marriage, even if that marriage does not happen until he is 40 years old. They are usually against their sons marrying foreigners because marriage in Egypt is more like a business contract. It is meant to strengthen family ties and provide security to the family as well as to the family of the bride. It is interesting to note at this point there is a bit of a double standard here as Egyptian families do not mind marrying their daughters to foreigners such as Egyptians living abroad or other Arab nationalities.
But getting back to the Egyptian guy, his family would prefer him to marry an Egyptian woman. Thus begins his lifelong struggle to accomplish this seemingly simple task. Before marriage, the Egyptian guy must, against virtually impossible odds, amass a small fortune. He must buy an apartment, furnish it, come up with a considerable sum for a dowry, etc. Ask any average Egyptian how hard it is to get married and they will all tell you the same thing - extremely hard. This has nothing to do with Islam, by the way, but is purely a cultural practice.
So along comes a foreign woman. The Egyptian guy may see her first as beautiful, because after all, she has that novelty look. He may genuinely have feelings for her and love her and want to marry her, but he also sees something else that she has that Egyptian women don't. The foreign woman does not have high financial demands for marriage.
At this point, the family of the Egyptian guy may react one of two ways. They may forbid the marriage insisting that he marry an Egyptian. Or, they may encourage it seeing that their son now will have an instant visa out of Egypt. Some Egyptian families view foreigners in a higher "class status". Since marriage in Egyptian culture has become a means of elevating class status - having their son married to a foreigner reinforces this concept.
And last but not least, they may just be in love and the Egyptian family supports this wanting their son to be happy. That was the case with me. My husband was one of those rare Egyptian men who was independent. He lived away from is family alone in his own apartment for 7 years. When he took me to meet his family for the first time, they welcomed me into the family and were very happy for both of us. I married my husband because I thought he was a wonderful man. We have so many things in common. I love his compassion, his sense of humor, his love of animals, etc. I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with this man. I did not worry about cluture or habits - these things are adaptable. And I certainly did not marry him for his dark hair and brown eyes. I married him because I love him. Because he is my best friend.
Thank you for your question.
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