Thursday, December 15, 2005


One of many things different in Egypt is the way you deal with people. It is culturally inappropriate to "tell it like it is." If you have a problem with someone, you don't go and tell that person--you lightly comment on it to someone else, who might mention it in passing to the person in question. You don't say you don't know something--you make something up rather than tell someone you don't know what they are asking (this is a real problem when one is asking for directions!). And, if you are sick, you don't say you are "sick" or "ill" or even "unwell." You say you are "tired." In fact, even when people are really quite ill--as when the person in charge downstairs had a stroke--one still does not say he or she is "sick." There's some sort of superstitious thing involved--saying someone is sick means they are very sick and will probably die, and you caused it by calling them "sick"--but also there's a general hiding of the truth from the public. One's private or family affairs are not the business of anyone else, even close friends.

This week I have been sick for several days. Every time I've had to turn down an invitation or call in to the school, the people have said "oh, are you tired?" The correct answer is "yes" even though I wasn't tired. I'd been in bed for two and a half days and was ready to leave it, if only I could stand up and not throw up. You may be wondering what you are supposed to say if you really are just tired--you went to bed too late, had to wake up early, or didn't sleep well. The answer is....I don't know. But I understand why when the teachers have asked me in the mornings "how are you?" and I say "tired" they all look horrified and say "why???" When I answer that I simply didn't get to bed until much too late, they look relieved, but don't tell me what the appropriate word is. It's a very strange situation. Perhaps another instance of Arabic not having the same depth as English? Or perhaps that's a convenient way for the culture to continue to hide from the truth? I don't know. In any case...these last few days, I have been "tired" but I think I'm pretty much well now. I guess that means I'm "awake"?

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