Friday, May 14, 2010

Culture Shock

This is hardly a scientific observation, just an informal one made as a result of many conversations with friends and other expats living in Egypt. It seems that Americans have a harder time adjusting to life in Egypt than any other nationality. Americans seem to complain more and longer about living here. The length of time Americans stay living in Egypt is far less than that of other nationalities.

What are your opinions, theories, and observations about this?


  1. I think you're right. Americans seem to tussle with everything rather than just 'going with the flow'. A lot of the Americans I meet seem to come from small towns and I wonder if some of the stress they feel is more about that small town to big city transition than country to country? (Though I know you're a city girl).

    Maybe America is different to the rest of the world in some ways? I'm back in London at the moment and was travelling around today and finding myself buffetted around in the rushing crowds and squashed sardine-style on the metro, worse than in Cairo.

    Also, there is something in the British psyche about being intrepid explorers dating back to the 19th Century where even single women would travel anywhere waving their British Passport about like a magic charm. We also have this 'stiff upper lip' 'just get on with it' 'war-time spirit' approach to life just below the surface.

  2. Well I may be a city girl, but I was used to small town living for the 10 years prior to moving to Egypt.

    You are right that British travel more. Many Americans don't even have a passport. One theory I had was that since Egypt was under British occupation for so long there are many similarities in the way things are done here that make it easier for the British to get along with.

    You say you are getting buffetted around in London - but one thing that bothers me in Egypt is how slow people walk. But you have to realize that in London people will be more rushed because there is more respect for "time" and "being on time". At least I think there is. There is in the US anyway.

  3. Americans are used to everything big style and extra service. Europe is definitely different that way and more similar to Egypt. Even though money could buy you any kind of service you like in Egypt

  4. Hi Fleeting Glimpse, I always enjoy reading your blog. It inspires me a lot. Thanks. Anyway I am not American nor British, am Japanese. Being here just over 9 months, met many expat wives from different countries (not many Americans though). Some have become my friends. Among those, a few decided to leave Egypt... The reasons, most of them are education issues. They are not happy with so many holidays this year (cos of HINI, + unreasonable sudden school closure).

    On top of that they've experienced many frustration (incl. myself); nothing can be done on time, inefficient.. people try to con foreigners.. etc, etc. Kids also cannot go out and play easily. There isn't much freedom.

    Japanese expats are quite ok. They are coping with lives. There are 2 kinds of groups: Group 1: just stay within their Japanese community and not mingle with any, observe local life as foreign thing, patiently waiting till their assignments are over. Quite often complain but laugh over about Egyptian. Group 2: try anything locals do, eat, try to talk, try to be friends. (nowadays, you don't see them very often)

    Then lately I come across with some international community (don't want to mention about nationalities, small world). I am quite sick of them. They keep complain Egyptians, look down them, talk about how stupid, and dirty they are every-time they gather. Whenever I hear this, it makes me so angry! But don't want to confront cos they will never understand and maybe try to make me and my family's situation in uncomfortable place.

    What I think is once you make yourself place into a group which always have negative ideas, no matter which nationality you are you cannot to stop complain. It drives you more to hate what you are talking about. To stop this you have to chose not to join this group. You are living here, there are bright side of life here!

    Hope you understand my poor English and hope this comment is appropriate for the topic.

  5. For me, I can deal with the people. I don't give people much chance to con me. I'm familiar with all their little tricks. My hardest part of adapting here is the weather and medical issues. I was sick the first 5 weeks I was here. I had german measels 4 times in 2 months! ...and I had the vaccine. :( The doctors here are clueless, and I had to self diagnose every single time I got sick. They prescribed 3-5 meds everytime I fell ill with something, and would never recover. I would tell my husband the Dr.s are stupid, and that I know what is wrong with me, and finally, after self medicating, I got better and haven't been sick since. Alhamdulilah.

    I don't have AC in my apartment, and have virtually no furnishings except a mattress, but even considering that and all these others difficult issues, I'm happy to be here. I know that once I can afford to furnish the apartment and buy and AC I will be fine inshallah.

  6. Americans complain more? But you have Cinnabon here! Egyptians try so hard to make you feel at home. I don't know, but whining about Egypt is so boring.

    I am from London and its such a mixed place that you have seen it all before.

    Alhamdulillah I have had no reason to whine about much here, but I think I came with a positive attitude. The inefficiency factor has not really shown itself yet, but I am sure if I was in a rough situation and coudn't get stuff done I might be angry at the way things work here.

    But for those who have a comfortable life, thank God you are not living like the poor here, who are a reminder NEVER to complain about material stuff.

    The Prophet Muhammad encourage that in material wealth you should look to those with less and feel so satisfied.
    And with spiritual and moral good, look at those with more that you and try to be like them.

    We British are intrepid explorers! I like that. Hmm sometimes true. Not in Spain we are not. We are a very bad example of hooligans.

  7. german measels for 4 time??? I think it's not possible. You can get them only once in life and after you are immune. So I think it wasn't german measels...

  8. For me, i lived in Oxford, UK for the past 2 years and lived about 6 months in London.
    I am Egyptian , and it's not about what nationality its about where in Egypt are u living and what places are u going to. In Europe u can find people of different social standards in the same place. u can find middle class, high, medium in the same club, but in Egypt it's difficult or impossible to find that. Same as for the medical care and education. I did my postgraduate studies at Oxford, which is one of the top universities, but before going there i did my BSc. in Cairo, and the education that i had was very good, but the thing is i went to a private univ. and the same thing is for hospitals. I am sure that u went to the wrong place (it sounds strange to say that), but its true, here not all the hospitals r the same, not all the schools,...etc
    To live a good life here u need to know the best places to go, the best hospitals, its not like the US or the UK where u expect everything is perfect.

  9. I am American and have lived in Egypt about 4 years. I complain from time to time but I don't think it has anything to do with any reasons stated above (and I am from a large American city). For me, the reasons are more centered around things that just don't make sense, the lack of organization, the senseless and time consuming ways of doing things that don't have to be that way.
    I think as Americans we reserve the right to complain about anything (not only in other countries) and this might seem like why we complain or cannot assimilate easier than other cultures. However, for the record, I find other nationalities complain just as much as I do. Egypt causes Egyptians to complain on a daily basis, I'm not really sure why it should be a surprise that someone not born into nor used to this culture/country should do the same.

  10. I think it's probably true, I lived in Buenos Aires Argentina for 2.5 years and Americans were the ones complaining the most, but not all of them off course. With all its flaws and the enviromental damage caused by it, the life in the US is the easiest on the planet.