By Tim Marshall
At the beginning of 30 years of travel in the Middle East I scratched the surface. This appears to have disturbed a bug, which bit me, and I have remained bitten and smitten. I’m still only at surface level with only enough Arabic to not ask for two beers and a packet of crisps in a Mosque, nevertheless I have picked up a few tips, sometimes by making some of the mistakes listed below.
They are not so much for staying in Sharm el Sheik, more for some dusty town, including those places to which we alas can no longer go. In 10 years, when perhaps can go to those places, the following will still be relevant.
Don’t wear shorts. Eventually you will realise you don’t feel cool.
If on business and offered tea (chai) or coffee (kahwah) do accept.
Don’t confuse Salaam with Shalom, even if they do mean the same thing. This may or may not have happened in the Sinai just a decade after the 73 war.
If asked if you believe in God, it’s better to say yes but not go into details.
Don’t confuse Western technology with Western thinking, but do learn how it is possible for people to think in different ways.
Do haggle in the souk. See Life of Brian for details. Take 60% off starting price, relucantly go to 50% off, then walk away. If you’re not called back, you’ve got it wrong, if you are – you can settle, or perhaps go slightly higher. This can be fun for both sides sometimes involving jokes about buying family members. These are based on Arabs knowledge of our strange views of them and are not to be taken seriously. Done! You probably have been.
Don’t mistake radical Islamists for Islam.
If in the Gulf you can make jokes about the Egyptians. If in Egypt you can make jokes about the ‘Gulfies’
However, under no circumstances say “Did you hear the one about Mohammed…”