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On Egyptian friendliness and design

6) 31.03.2008

The Egyptian people are famed and praised worldwide for their friendliness towards strangers, tourists in particular, and their open manner. What westerners often forget is their total lack of understanding for the concept of privacy. 

Westerners (and I include myself amongst them on this subject) are raised to believe that some things are private and need not be shared with anyone you don't know intimately. 

For instance, imagine my surprise when Ahmed (not his real name) asked me to help him clean his room. This is a man whom I met the day before yesterday, who cottoned onto the fact that I am a graphic designer and asked me for help designing flyer. I responded with a couple of graphic design basics, the golden cut, clarity, information hierarchy. That was the help I was willing and happy to give, but the final result should be his design, not mine. 

Weirdly enough, this people that spent a few milenia writing in graphics and who, even today, use one of the more graphic alphabets, have no concept of how a simple informative flyer can be designed. 

Egyptian design is oft overcrowded and cacophonic. Just like the city most of the Egyptians I have dealt with up to now originate from: Cairo. An invincible anthill sheltering or housing about twenty million people. The city is the approximate size of Berlin and having this many people living on top of each other, as you would say in arabic, naturally results in the loss of some privacy. To the point where no-one is surprised to find their friends show up unexpectedly, or relatives inviting themselves over in the middle of the night aftera long absence. 

Egyptians are also very good at finding new friends and sticking with them. Politeness generally forbids you from telling them to piss off. People are generally very adept at small talk, meaning that you can be stuck with a guy who decided that you were in absolute, desperate need of their company for ever, until they find something better to do, or they have to be somewhere. As long as the talk flows, they will stay with you, an innocent, yet somewhat irksome presence, like the other Ahmed, a border officer, who stuck with us for about two or three days. I wonder what we will turn into, should he tell this tale at home.

Am I uncharitable? 

Possibly, but I am not going to start putting a theory to tis practice. That I don't enjoy it doesn't change the fact that most of the annoyance is caused unintentionally, by people who, most of the time, just want to spend the time and have a laugh with you. It is, in fact quite an admirable trait to be able to laugh with strangers and make aquaintances at the bus stop. 

Maybe I'm just unsociable.


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