Skip to main content

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.


Popular posts from this blog

IGAF: Lying on Camera // Astounding Armaments

Nizar Qabbani wrote his epic poem "When Will They Announce the Death of Arabs" in 1994.

He was living in London at the time, far from his native Syria, watching the world he had grown up in and represented as a diplomat from afar. America had launched operation Desert Storm- a storm that lasts to this day- two years prior, and marked 1993 with the launch of 23 cruise missiles on Iraq. Qabbani will die of a heart attack in 1998.

In 18 stanzas, he explores the wishes and dreams he once carried, describes, however tribes and nations at war, that believe that secret services (like a cold, or a headache) are part of some heavenly order. He bemoans that the idea of the "Arab Nation" (possibly derived from the Pan-Arabist ideology that was crystallised during the Nasser years) has never come into being. He has been trying to draw a picture all his life, but his crayons have been taken away. He has watched wars- on TV, he has tried to imagine the idea of a peaceful Arab unio…

In Taheyya we Trust - How an Egyptian bellydancer found her posthumous stage in Berlin

“You should have winked at her,” Aida said dismissively, as if such a possibility had been imaginable for someone as timid as I was. Tahia Carioca was the most stunning and long-lived of the Arab world’s Eastern dancers (belly-dancers, as they are called today).
Edward Said, Farewell to Taheyya

My story with Taheyya begins in the summer of 2016, at Bulbuls Caféin Görlitzer Str. in Berlin. It ends two blocks down on Wiener Str 17. 

Bulbuls is a café and art space around my corner that I have grown to like to sit in and drink smoothies (1). He had commissiond us- a crew of Syrian and Egyptian artists, as well as myself, to paint the walls inside the café. El Tenneen (the Dragon) is the one who ended up drawing Sheikh Imam, with the help of Salam Alhassan (known as Salahef/ Turtles) and Sulafa Hijazis (whom we call El Hayya/The Snake’s) beamers’ illumination. The Sheikh sits happily in the place to this day and Crew El-Zoo was born.

Tenneen had the advantage of knowing immediately what he wa…

Two minutes: Addiction is Life is Yellow.

Addiction is a much-maligned, muddy word. Until (ca.) the 18th century, it connoted tendency and drive, rather than (self-) affliction. Opium changed that- reportedly. 
Lives described as addiction: to the approval and company of peers, to power and its accumulation, to enjoyment and personal satisfaction (to some people, this may be suffering) and to basics such as air, food, water… and possibly even living. When framed this way, and defined in reference to this word, life suddenly becomes a selfish pursuit in which the living will do anything to get their fix, devoted addicts all. 
On that note: Marylin Manson - I Don't Like the Drugs, But the Drugs Like Me. 
Also: Addiction is apparently yellow.