As Arabic countries go, Egypt is fairly liberal. However, if you’ve never travelled within the Middle East or North Africa before then even a holiday in laidback Sharm el Sheikh can be a bit of a shock to the system. Firstly there’s the practice of haggling for goods to get your head around, then there’s all the rules about visiting mosques. However, help is at hand our guide explains all that you need to know.
If you’re not a Muslim then check beforehand that the mosque you want to visit allows non-Muslims. Although most do, there are still a few which are only open to followers of Islam. Try to find out the daily prayer times from your hotel reception first so that you can avoid visiting during that time. If you do find yourself in a mosque around prayer time then just sit quietly at the back and observe.
Women should ensure that all their skin is covered before entering a mosque. Skirts or trousers should cover the ankles and hair should be covered with a headscarf. Men and women should avoid wearing any clothes with slogans on them.
Before walking into the mosque, remove your shoes, sunglasses and any hats that you may be wearing. Shoes can be left on a rack outside the entrance and many mosques will provide plastic covers for you to place on your feet.
When arriving at the mosque you may find that men and women are required to use separate entrances. Observe a few guests walking in until you’re confident that you’ve got it right. It is a Muslim tradition to enter the mosque right foot first and then leave with your left foot.
Once in the mosque, show respect. Turn off your mobile phone, avoid chewing gum and bringing food and drink into the mosque.
While sitting down ensure that your feet aren’t pointing in the direction of qibla, the main wall inside the mosque which indicates the direction of Mecca.
Haggling For Goods
Another Egyptian custom that can be daunting for first time visitors is haggling. It’s a way of life here and refusing to participate will be met with confusion. First see if you can get an idea of what the product you want is worth. Is there a trusted local you can ask? If not think how much you are prepared to pay for the item.
Make sure the seller names a price. If you’re coaxed into saying a price first then you may mention a price that’s way over the odds which the seller will exploit. To start with offer a price that’s roughly half of what you are prepared to pay. You’ll then take into turns to alter the price, meeting somewhere in the middle.
Once you have agreed a price it’s rude to go back on your word. Another useful tip is to take out your money as the negotiations are about to draw to a close. This shows that you want the bargaining to cease and that you’re coming close to your final offer.
Don’t be afraid to walk away if you’re unable to come up with a price that you can both agree on. Thank the seller for his time and don’t be surprised if he runs after you prepared to accept your offer after all and if he doesn’t then at least you have some time to think about it and decide how much you’re willing to spend.
Guest post from Stacey.