November 4, 2009

To Tell or Not to Tell

I'm always faced with the decision of if I should tell people here my background of growing up in the US or not.

When shopping or at, for example the hairdressers, I avoid it. People tend to think if you came from America you must be rich like on "Za bold and Za beautiful". They'll charge me more, it's not right but it happens. I also have to make sure the kids don't speak English in a cab or a shop for the same reason.

In social settings, when meeting someone new, I'd rather they know. My looks and Arabic can get me by as a born and bred Egyptian for a short convo, but when talking longer people start to notice. I feel like to someone who doesn't know, I'd sound pretty stupid messing up conjugations and tenses. So I'd rather they know than think me a simpleton who can't speak correctly.

Also, I guess I have a slight accent or say words differently even when speaking correct Egyptian dialect, because I always get the "Where are you from? You don't sound Egyptian.". Either way, people here, especially in Hurghada always ask each other where they are from because a lot of people move here from Cairo or other cities. They usually want to know what kind of area you came from, so I usually just give my standard answer: My parent's are from Cairo, but I was born and raised the US and moved here 7 years ago.

It's always a sort of awkward exchange and most of the time people ask if I wore hijab in the US and are surprised to learn that many women do. I always tell them how Muslims in the US don't take Islam for granted as is often the case here. They ask if I met and married my husband there and which of my kids were born there, etc. Some people go on to ask lots of questions about life in America and the people there. A lot of people assume all Americans hate us though but I tell them that there are so many intelligent, open minded people and the bad one's give American's a bad rap, just like bad Arabs give us a bad rap. On the other hand, some don't have any interest and treat me like everyone else, which is fine with me.

The odd thing is that most people still think of me as "coming back" to Egypt. Even though I was born in the United States. They assume America was a strange place for me or that Egypt is my real home. I guess they don't think it through. If they were to move to America after 25 years in Egypt would they feel the same? No, so I use that comparison and it usually makes things clear for most. But there's always some who don't get it.


  1. Our friend told us not to speak English in the cabs when we were in Egypt either. I was wearing hijab and my hubby could pass for egyptian as long as he doesn't talk :-)
    I think your way of handling it is good. I don't think you need to tell people at the hairdresser or grocery that you grew up in the US, especially if it could result in you paying more for stuff.

  2. I wish being in the USA meant that you are automatically rich lol!

  3. Mom of 212:32 AM

    I guess you better not mention you American background for a sensible you've already mentioned "American people DO HATE US" and we know it.We r always a threat to them whatever good intentions we show.I have soooo many examples declaring my theory about the American hostility and enmity to Arabs,one of which was that they made our honeymoon "which we unfortunately decided to spend in the States"like saying that you have an American background might make Egyptians think you consequently hate,underestimate or despise them and accordingly you might lose good Egyptian probable friends ..According to my own personal experience I can tell that the only 100 % American citizen who really showed love to us as Egyptians was "Afifa" an American Muslim who used to be my 3rd grade classmate!!!LOL..I used to have Half Egyptians ,half Americans classmates at high school or Egyptians with American background like you and they were all so friendly and nice and were quite ready to mingle with us .I guess the Egyptian blood give them some "warmth" somehow.
    Sorry dear 100 % American readers but can you deny that 90% of you "at least" hate us!!sorry to say..

    My opinion is "make your kids talk,behave and communicate with others like "CIVILIZED" EGYPTIANS not Americans "as far as they can" so Egyptians whom they were destined to live with won't get the impression that they r somehow arrogant or snobbish.

    I thought profoundly before sending this if you see that my comment might bother or annoy your 100% American readers "even slightly",don't publish it.Actually I don't recommend publishing it cuz I know many of ur readers feels so itchy towards whoever and whatever is 100 % Egyptian,so publish it if you want me ASSASSINATED here :D LOL.I am the last one who can be called a trouble maker or confrontational.I just like to speak my mind and thinking out loud and thats what I felt.I would have said more if this wasn't so public.I also hate hiding behind the "Anon" better consider my comment some personal opinion or advice sent to u by mail and not for public reading..

    Dun worry..I won't get furious if I didn't find my comment in the comment section..I UNDERSTAND ;)
    and Sorry for my long comment anyways..!

  4. Stacy aka Fahiima, Yea, even coming in the summers here as kids, my dad made sure we didn't speak English in the cabs!

    Khadra, yea, where money grows on trees!

    Mom of 2, You can delete your comment if you wish but I don't feel I should. To be clear I never said American people hate us. I said It was a common misconception that Egyptians have about Americans.

    It's very unfortunate that the experience you had in the States left you with the feeling that all Americans hate Arabs or Muslims. It's simply untrue. I know many many many people who don't judge people that way. I wish I knew what happened to lead you to feel so strongly though. It's a double edge sword, everyone thinks the other one hates them, when really that's not true, a lot of the time.

    My kids don't "behave" Egyptian or American , they are just themselves.

  5. it makes sense to me that you'd prefer to tell people you've just met that you're from America. like you said, its so they wouldn't think you're weird for using the wrong dialect..

    and as for them liking you or not because you've told them of your American roots, well... its really up to them, right? its their right to like you or not.

    as long as you have family and friends who love and like you for who you are, i think you're just fine.

    i understand why you won't tell hairdressers/cabs that you're from america though, it happens here too! hehehe. as in most places, local business will always try to get more out of visitors. heh.

  6. Great Post Mona, I agree that we should stop making our progeny choose which to be, We are who we are and our children will be unique individuals with both cultures, in my case, my children will be what is called "third generation children" Born in one culture, influence from American parent, roots from another culture and from a parent (Egyptian), and currently living in another culture (Saudi). I am more American than anything else... No matter how many times I try to introduce myself, it is always complicated but if we can just be, it would be simpler. I really don't care what others think anymore as long as we are not offending anyone...I have decided that I can't stop my children from speaking whatever language they are comfortable speaking... I didnt like it when Dad tried to suppress our English... and as long as I know the going rate for something I should be ok not getting ripped off I guess, it's just too much to worry about. Besides, more and more people are speaking a global english language. I LIKE your comparison at the end though, really puts things into perspective... I say, live and let live, let everyone be themselves, whatever that looks like. Isn't that what makes the world so great?

  7. Kit Pryde, Yea you're right. I don't need to be liked but I don't think it's right for people to not like someone based soley on nationality.

    Eman, I like your outlook. I think I need to care less what people think. Thanks!

  8. My husband is Egyptian and while I was there, we made sure not to talk in cabs. Or near shops. It's a good strategy for sure!
    Didn't work most of the time though... I guess I'm too obviously not Egyptian.

    When I went to work and took the taxi by myself while I was there, I started just getting in and giving the money at the end. I knew how much it should cost (4LE or so at the time, and I offered 5LE) but I soon learned that they asked for 15 most of the time and I had to deal with that crap. One of the guys wouldn't stop asking for more. I had to just throw my 5LE at him and run out of the cab.

    So after that, I always asked the driver if he would accept 5LE to go to where I wanted. It sometimes took up to 3 before I got one that would accept! But at least I knew I wouldn't have to deal with them.

    And yeah, weird that the Egyptians see you as "coming back". My husband seems a bit like that. Someone I know is Egyptian, but had never been until recently (at 20 or so years old) and he had trouble accepting her as a real Canadian. She was Egyptian to him, living in Canada. I see her as equally both!

  9. Candice, you dealt with it well, I'd do the same. Thankfully now there are these new white cabs in Cairo that have working meters. We were there yesterday but I'll post about that soon.

  10. Mom of 27:17 PM

    So you want me hanged in public..ha..I didn't think u r that cruel.. :D LOL
    I didn't intend to talk more about this cuz actually i hate heated discussions besides I 'm not here to talk about my own personal experience cuz its kinda off topic and its just not the right place "it's YOUR blog" not mine and i respect that..but ur denial of the "western" hatred to Egyptians kinda motivated me to send a reply anyways!!
    I still insist I had a long list of sensible reasons proving this "western" enmity for us.and I'm not talking about Americans in particular,its kinda western negative prevailed concept about Egyptians.I can't count how many times I 've read long furious posts about how uncivilized,chaotic,empty -headed,lazy asses and most probably home wreckers Egyptians r!!..It saddens me a lot to be reading this all the times everywhere especially in the blogging community..I'm of a forgiving nature by the way and I usually count to 100 till i make my own judgment on anyone but this enmity is quite obvious that I wonder how u r denying it!!.You r a blogger yourself and a prominent one and you must know well what I'm talking about..!!
    I guess I had to shut my mouth cuz "thinking my mind out loud"is causing me troubles...lots of...:D

    Have a nice day..and please pardon me for my "always" long comments..I guess it has to do with my study ;)..

  11. Mom of 2, no I just don't have comment approval so they just post and I didn't feel it was my place or necessary to delete your comment.

    I Don't know about "Western Hatred of Egyptians" but I'd like examples. I myself can seem frustrated to the point of hatred of aspects of Egypt or Egyptians at times. It doesn't equal all Americans or Westerners hating Egyptians. Any generalization is not fair. I don't want to get into an argument about it but I'm all for civil debates.

    My side is that while not all Westerners hate Egyptians, most Westerners who experience Egypt and Egyptians come away with the feeling that they are less civilized more chaotic and lazy. It's just how it is to me anyway.

  12. mona,
    i loved this post!
    i have also made my son suffer the "no english in public"

    its the smartest thing to do when it involves cash :)

    mom of 2....
    i was really sad to read when you wrote that anyone should keep their children to their own people.
    i'm american lebanese...and even though lebanese is my blood..and i lived half of my life their....i'm american first! and you are very wrong about how americans hate people from the middle east.

    in the end we are all people... and unless people stop seprating themselves from other...their will continue to be segregation of some type...
    its really sad!

  13. Angie Nader, Yea, ask kids we'd just be quiet instead of talk at all in the cab.

  14. Mom of 29:10 AM

    I'm really so sorry to know that good Egyptians are sorta invisible now that most Westerners haven’t really came across any except the “lazy, chaotic and LESS civilized” ones!!!That’s what I’m calling “hatred” and that’s what you r surprisingly denying.. "rolling eyes"!!!

    Pardon me..but "most" Westerners r not angels either..Let me rephrase your very same statement Mona.."While not all Egyptians hate Westerners, most Egyptians who experience the west and westerners come away with the feeling that "MOST NOT ALL" westerners r cold, selfish, rude, resentful, money lovers who get so anti social towards whoever can be called Egyptian even the good ones !!.

    Please notice the capitalized "MOST NOT ALL"..I'm not generalizing here cuz I do believe that generalization is not fair when talking about any race..!

    I definitely don't mean all the real GOOD Westerners by the above description..Me and my beloved hubby had awesome American and Western friends whom we really like and respect. We wouldn't have chosen the States as our honeymoon destination if we hate it in the first place ,we still have unforgettable memories there. I'm just talking here about those who deliberately deny the existence of any good Egyptians at all ,those who decided to hate and defame us religiously, and insist on declaring how much they detest us at every occasion and looks sorta relieved doing this for no real reason!.I wonder why they married Egyptians in the first place!!...INSERT A GIGANTIC FULL STOP HERE CUZ I REALLY DUN WANNA TALK MORE ABOUT IT!!I'm not a big fan of debates either BTW..

    Hope u enjoy ur stay in Cairo Mona
    Salam :)

  15. Mom of 2, Good Egyptians are not invisible. The bad ones give the whole lot a bad name. I'm not denying that some Westerners hate some Egyptians but your view seems to be really extreme. Something really bad had to have happened, more than a few times, to give you this impression.

    It's true that there are stereotypes and generalizations on both sides but there are many exceptions.

    Who are you talking about here? Who "deny the existence of any good Egyptians at all ,those who decided to hate and defame us religiously, and insist on declaring how much they detest us at every occasion and looks sorta relieved doing this for no real reason!"

    Feel free to email me privately if you'd like.

  16. well im a westerner and i dont hate egyptians or muslims.

  17. Ange, lol that makes one!

  18. I don't hate Egyptians or Muslims either! And I'm a westerner (Canadian) :)

    Egypt, especially Cairo, can be infuriating sometimes with the chaos and crazy behaviours (cutting in line, not letting people get off the bus before pushing their way through, trying to scam non-Egyptians) and Egypt can be discouraging when you think of Islam and how mixed culture and religion is and how so many people cannot separate them. But the chaos is bound to happen in such a crowded place, and religion is supposed to be a system for all of life, so it can get confused.

    But the reality remains that Egypt is hard to take for people who have known different!

    Doesn't mean I hate Egypt or Egyptians overall! I could even go further and say that now that I'm more immersed in Islam, I get to see how backwards it is here, people going out, etc. I always hated it, but I accepted it as part of how some people live. I guess I still accept their choice, but I cannot help but notice how pointless and destructive it is. It is much easier for me to live here because it's what I know, but I can accept that some parts of the society are backwards. And I know there are many good people too.

    So I feel similarly to how I feel about Egypt in the end. Just Egypt is much harder to "take".

  19. salams mona, Im egyptian from australia and when I was in egypt last year, I got the same question "what made you come bak to egypt etc etc" I smile and agree with them and say masr om el donya because at the end of the day I am egyptian and they are my people so I guess if i was going to go anywhere else besides australia it would be egypt. I also like to agree with them on that point because I dont want to come across as snobby or that egypt is not good enough. And when they notice that I am not good at speaking egyptian I just tell them about my background and most of them ask a few questions but thats normal of course, theyre just curious because its outside the norm. But there was only one occasion when they constantly kept asking questions, and thats when they were coming to propose to me for marriage for theyre son that said alot!

    Love your blog!

  20. Mom of 211:14 PM

    Thanks Mona for providing me with your email.Thats so sweet :)..But I would rather not talk about this issue any more..I guess my point already reached u, " Actually talking about what I call the unjustified Egypto Phobic syndrome some Westerners have annoys me "VERY" and recalls very bad experiences I had..
    Anyways its good to be in contact with u and send u some cool stuff through emails..

    My warmest regards :)

  21. Candice, I agree, it's possible to complain and vent about how insane Egypt is and not hate all Egyptians.

    Sara, Hi!ha I love that you play along. I can't do it! Thanks.

    Mom of 2, no problem, I thought I had it up on the sidebar but I guess I must have taken it off at some point. I respect your not wanting to talk about it anymore even though I'm reaaalllyy curious what happened! :p


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