To the women of Egypt

I need help. I really want to fit in here in Cairo, but am having some trouble. When I first arrived in Beirut, someone told me that I might as well give up any ambitions of ever having Lebanese girlfriends. Lebanese women just don’t do the whole true friendship thing (I was told) and especially not with a foreigner. I don’t know how true that is, but I do know that the only one I made grew up in France.

But this is not the impression I get from Egyptian women. They seem genuinely nice and open, which is why I feel ok asking you this:

How on earth do you dress in the summer without attracting too much attention???

Like I’ve mentioned before, I thought Zamalek (where I live and work) would be kind of like Beirut, but perhaps a bit more conservative. So taking the weather into consideration, I had no problems packing all my more conservative summer dresses. By conservative I mean they don’t show cleavage and they go down to my knees. They have short sleeves (like I said – they are summer dresses), but nothing that show shoulders or the like. Apparently this is still a no-go.

So I’d like to know – what do Egyptian women wear in the summer??

I’ve tried asking for advice and everyone keeps telling me it’s not that bad. But then they start to describe what things I should avoid and it’s basically a description of my entire wardrobe. I suggested (partly in fun, but partly serious) that I could just buy a few abayas to wear when I’m on the street. But then someone told me that that was a sign of prostitutes. So that probably isn’t the best way to go.

I know this may seem like a crazy thing to think about. But I’m actually finding this quite hard. My style is very inspired by the 50’s with floral prints and full skirts and pined waistlines. My clothes and make up and jewelry are very much a part of my identity and a way for me to express myself. So I feel like I have to be someone else in order to live in Cairo. And that’s not a nice feeling.

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3 Responses to To the women of Egypt

  1. Jonathan says:

    What a sad situation! Just go as you are and stay in the Open. Then Ignore\escape if somebody gets too close. Wear something that says “spoken for” or “go away”…?

    Maybe you could write a piecemeal about it for a Danish/Egyptian/Foreign newspaper to get it Of your chest?

  2. Dina says:

    first of all, you need to come to terms that you WILL attract attention no matter what you do, Cairo, Egypt and many other middle eastern cities are infamous for the sexual harassment phenomena, but i was told by non Cairens that Cairo is the worst. and if you look like a foreigner, unfortunately some shits would be encouraged to harass you more.

    that aside, I’d recommend you just opt for maxi skirts/dresses instead of knee length. mid calf won’t attract much attention in Zamalek i believe. three quarters and half length sleeves are also fine
    i personally lived in my linen pants all through summer, soft cotton tops also served me well. Harem pants are no brainer if you are into them, albeit not very widespread so might attract some looks or silly comments – but you will get those anyway from those who are out to give them –
    people in Egypt aren’t used to seeing skin, which is funny cause some girls would dress in painfully tight clothes that constrict their blood circulation and would still be seen as more “covered” than a girl showing her arms!
    in a nutshell, being inconspicuous is advised while you run around doing errands, individual style better be left for outings where you’d be riding a car and going to private places or semi private ones (clubs, pubs..etc) accessories of all sorts are no issue, actually girls in Egypt tend to overdo them.
    a final word, if your issue is one of harassment, in my personal experience it doesn’t work to ignore the harassers esp the persistent ones, it kind of feeds their madness and excites them. so if someone won’t lay off i would just stop and yell at them, the level of my obscenity depends on theirs of course 🙂 but i guess that’d be scary for a foreigner to do, esp at the start.
    if it is just looks that concern you, just watch the skin showing thing and never mind the rest.
    best of luck there!

  3. helenhajjaj says:

    Hi Dina,

    Thanks for the reply! So far I haven’t experienced any kinds of sexual harassment (knock on wood). But I’ve also mainly been in Zamalek, where I’ve heard it rarely happens. But I would like to see other places in Cairo (and not only Heliopolis and Maadi), so I want to be prepared 🙂
    I don’t look completely foreign, but I don’t look Egyptian either. Sometimes I feel that the combo actually makes people more curious, but that’s ok. I also have no problem with the comments, seeing that I generally listen to music when I walk and only understand half of them anyway. But some women I’ve spoken to feel that the comments are almost worse than being grabbed.
    Anyway, I’ll take your advice into consideration next time I go shopping (which will be soon seeing that it suddenly got really hot here).

    All the best,
    Helen

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