Egyptian Culture, Part 4: Powdered Sugar Mustaches

Hospitality is every Egyptian’s middle name. I swear I’ve been lifted to an unbelievable level of good manners here, and I’m enjoying it much more, now that I’m getting used to it. Our first year back, we lived in our city apartment. All of my husband’s huge social circle beat a path to our door, welcoming him home and greeting his new foreign wife. I cringed whenever the doorbell rang, but now it’s getting easier, as I’m learning the rules guiding everyone’s behavior. For example, Islam encourages nicer replies to any greetings received, and often this inspires beautiful rounds of compliments and blessings. It’s lovely, but so much sugar is rich for my etiquette-challenged blood. There are huge numbers of correct responses to correct greetings. Also, speaking to different classes of people requires an unending variety of appropriate titles to address your guests, particularly in gatherings with people whose names are found (or needed) in your contact list!

There are also proper responses when offered anything, and a correct number of times to refuse anything before finally accepting, and you must learn to eat the disastrously crumbly teacake covered top to bottom with an inch of powdered sugar without it exploding all over your formal-length business ensemble. hit Refresh to display this! And if you do manage to bite it without it disintegrating, carrying the leftover crescent carefully in your palm back down to your lap, now how do you remove the powdered sugar mustache from your lips?! Trust me, napkins are nonexistant! And these powdered sugar bombs are popular, treacherously offered at every gathering. I’m secretly suspicious of a conspiracy to uncover my less than desirable social roots.

hit Refresh to display this!


Most Egyptians are incredibly clean people. They can eat feasts with their fingers and never spill a drop. I need six napkins for teacake, but I’m trying hard to adapt. The trick, I believe, is never letting anything touch more than just your fingertips – if it slips, it’s usually within the first inch of altitude away from the plate, quietly disintegrating in place without your neighbor scandalizing your upbringing when she returns home! And you can avoid the mustache by drying your lips on your neighbor’s cheeks while kissing hello… or wipe it off while kissing her goodbye! Of course, keeping my mouth shut completely is my preferred strategy, especially regarding visitors. It’s easier now that I recognize the routine only requires teacakes, tea and chitchat, and in my case this consists of very little chit, and no chat at all, since I am failing miserably at Arabic. I just sit politely like a pet cat on the sofa, all dressed up in a formal-length business suit and head scarf, meowing once in a while if somebody smiles at me.

Happily, I’m learning to meow very nicely! I’m eating my teacake without crumbling, and no mustache, and no napkin, thank you. I’m also able to offer the same hospitality in return now, even offering a few of those lovely phrases for coming and going. Honestly, I’m enjoying this lifestyle completely, especially now that we’re living in our nice countryside home. Very few cityfolk like traveling to us here, thank God, because there’s nowhere to buy those treacherous teacakes, and God knows I wouldn’t like cleaning up the explosion after making powdered sugar in my food processor!


"Care for tea, anyone?"

Click Here to return to Egyptian Culture, Part 3: Don’t Forget Yourself Or Click Here to continue to Egyptian Culture, Part 5: Lady Chicken Vendors


19 thoughts on “Egyptian Culture, Part 4: Powdered Sugar Mustaches

  1. Greetings from NY, Love your entry!!! thats something i loved about visiting Egypt, everyone was super nice:)….you are looking lovely too!!!!:) hope your doing well!!!


  2. Well you’re doing a marvellous job of looking the part, at any rate. 😉 I’ll bet everything “clicks” into place with your Arabic before long too and you’ve clearly mastered tea cakes! 🙂


  3. I’ve been to Egypt, but only to Sharm, and it was lovely. Am very familiar with the Arab culture though, as I go to the Holy Lands quite often, Alhumdulillah. Really enjoying your first hand experience coming from the US into this culture of overbearing hospitality and bargaining.
    The bargaining part sometimes drives me crazy though, where it seems as if everything is negotiable. I’m used to seeing a price tag and paying the allotted price. Loving it… Masha Allah..!


    • Lol, yes, the bargaining! I’ll probably get to that topic, too! I would love to go to sharm but mohamed thinks of sharm the way I think of disneyland… I guess we’ll never go to either place! Thanks for reading, I’m really happy you enjoy it, and I love your encouragement – barak Allah fiki/God bless you!


  4. I get culture shock just moving from one place in the U.S. to another. How wonderful that you are enjoying the culture and your new home. I am sending you lots of good wishes on learning Arabic! I really enjoy reading your posts. There is always something new and interesting ::)


    • Thanks very much, Robin! Lol I definitely appreciate your good wishes on learning arabic… and for you reading my posts! I’m really happy to find out that English is Egypt’s second language, and almost anyone with a decent high school education, and certainly college, has learned some english – and is really excited to find a ‘real’ (!) English speaker to talk with. It is such a relief for me!
      Thanks again for stopping by, and I’m really happy you are enjoying it!


    • Thanks very much! It’s been a dream come true with an obstacle course attached! I hope you will come to Egypt someday, it’s an incredible country. Hunt online for a tour that covers all the things you are interested in for your first time here, tho, it will not erase the culture shock, but it will definitely be more convenient and comfortable! I share this same advice with everyone, even the DIY’ers.
      Thanks very much for reading, and I really appreciate your encouragement!


  5. this is the second post on your blog that I’ve read top to bottom and I’ve enjoyed it immensely :)) you are such a good writer :)) would love to learn more about the place where you live through your blog… Egypt through the eyes of an expat… that’s an unique perspective and I’ll be following you with pleasure :))) greetings from Bulgaria.. :))


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