Egypt Was Good Enough for King Tut
August 23, 2009 9:51 PM   Subscribe

MovingFarAwayFilter: GF is dead-set on moving from Brooklyn to Cairo, Egypt, for at least a year. I'm pretty resistant to the idea since I love NYC and, if forced to move outside the US, there are hundreds of cities I'd rather move to. I desperately need some 1st/2nd person accounts of living in Cairo / Egypt to help make this decision.

General background: we both work for magazines in NYC, are in our late-20s, social, pretty culturally-oriented (go to concerts/readings/etc. as often as possible, go to parties -- of friends, at warehouses, etc. -- regularly on the weekends), and generally live the lives that you might expect from young, social Brooklynites.

Her background: works in literature/poetry, certified Third Culture Kid, moved around as part of a US State Dept. family every two years, has lived in various Middle Eastern countries (including Cairo in high school for two years), speaks and reads Arabic at a decent level, is desperate to move away from the US, seeks "adventure" but scoffs at the idea of living anywhere in Central America, South America, and Europe. Seems to be basically zeroed-in on Cairo, Alexandria, or another Middle Eastern country. I've floated the idea of staying somewhere / various places for three-four months at a time, but she would rather spend one or two years in one place. At present time, she also seems to value moving away more than job prospects, so she's not necessarily looking for an editing/writing job.

I grew up knowing that I'd move to NYC and have loved living here, love our extended group of friends, love pretty much everything the city offers. My job is here (although could be done, with some effort, outside of the city), my friends are here, and so is my heart. I really, really don't want to move (but love to travel, just not relocate). But, I love my GF (long-term) more than any of it, and she wants to head out, no question.

Were I forced to move, I'd probably pick either a metropolitan city in Central America, South Amerca, or Europe: Mexico City, Quito, Buenos Aires, Sao Paolo, Lima, Belmopan, Barcelona, London, Dublin, Rome, Budapest, Vienna, Berlin, etc.); or, a sleepier town, bucolic town in C/S America or Europe, of which I know hundreds, and there are probably thousands that I don't know about that I would love.

Basically, what are the chances that I would enjoy living in Cairo? How heavy is the cultural bend towards Arab/Muslin trends? Will there be clubs to go to at night? Might I enjoy the music scene there? Is there a healthy cultural conversation w/r/t Western literature? Would I be somewhat shocked by what the law disallows? Is there a chance that I'll feel as if I'm in a European metropolis? Will I have a tough time continuing my online work from Cairo? Can I get by with English, or will I have to spend serious time learning Arabic? I get the feeling that I might like Cairo over other big Middle Eastern cities, but I can't shake the supposition that I'd other big cities that I know and love over Cairo.

I'd love to hear any 1st/2nd person experiences about living in Cairo, or any suggestions of websites/blogs that chronicle what day-to-day life is like in Cairo. I'd like to be open-minded about the prospect of living there, but I can't seem to find any information sources that will help me make the decision, and I think I have a deep-seated wariness of being a Westernized guy living in Egypt / Middle East. Any help at all would be much appreciated
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches to Grab Bag (43 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
As a girlfriend who has had to coax her boyfriend into some long-term developing country living, I can tell from your attitude that you're not going to be happy there.
posted by k8t at 9:57 PM on August 23, 2009

Honestly, even the (two) natives I have known from Cairo say that, although they love it because it is home, think it's an ugly shit town with very little to offer. But that's the opinion of two people who chose to live in the US, so are obviously biased. I myself have no opinion.
posted by greta simone at 10:47 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I hate to say it, but this would be a deal-breaker for me.

As much as you love her, "more than any of it", would you say that she's even a little open to something different? What about moving somewhere in, say, Europe, and taking trips to Egypt more often than is possible now? What about you leaving, let's face it, most of your life in NYC, while she picks up threads of life she may have left there years ago?

If she's unwilling to compromise - if it's Cai-ray or the highway - then I'd be packing my bags, because I don't think either of you would be happy staying together in either place. This dream is something you describe her as following with a zeal that is basically unmatchable by you as you've never been there.

Furthermore, on a practical basis, I doubt that English will be sufficient for everyday encounters at the bakery in your neighborhood, or with the little kids who play soccer in the street in front of your house, or reading your electric bill. So I could see this work out for her, but for you...less so. It's not that it's impossible, but I feel that you'd have to give up way, way too much to make it work.

I live abroad too - and gave up most of the ease and comfort of life to follow a dream. It's awesome most of the time, but I would never dream of dragging another person along who was even 10% less into than I was. It's a very full-time experience, and there are days when I just want to be HOME, with my friends and family, and it's just financially and logistically impossible. To ask someone else to take that on - in fact, to take it on more than I have, as I've adjusted to it somewhat - would be too much.

posted by mdonley at 10:59 PM on August 23, 2009 [4 favorites]

Is there a chance that I'll feel as if I'm in a European metropolis?

Not unless you sustain some kind of massive brain injury, no. Cairo is by design not a European metropolis.

Will I have a tough time continuing my online work from Cairo?

It depends. Do you need constant, totally reliable internet service in your home? Or would getting online at an internet cafe a couple of hours a day be enough in case of emergency? Because the Cairo infrastructure is pretty fragile, and even fancy neighborhoods can lose phone/power/internet connection for a day or so at a time.

Can I get by with English, or will I have to spend serious time learning Arabic?

You will certainly have to learn some Arabic.

Check out the Community Services Association website; it's a key resource for English-speaking expats living in Cairo.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:06 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I had a friend that lived in Cairo. Cairo is very big, very polluted and very loud. If you like living in New York, you can probably handle it. Cairo is the biggest city in the Arab world, which is going to make it a cultural center in a lot of ways, even if it's just pop culture. I'm also a State Department kid, so I understand your girlfriend's attitude.

I'd be less concerned about moving to Cairo per se, then that you'll be spending at least a year away from a place you already like. Even if Cairo has a lot of interesting things to offer, you'll be missing a life you already know and enjoy, not to mention whatever effect this has on your career. I don't know what kind of work you can get there without speaking Arabic. If it's anything like Asia, you can probably get work as an English teacher.
posted by Loudmax at 11:23 PM on August 23, 2009

Best answer: I've never lived in Cairo, but I've been there, as an American businessman, a number of times.

Cairo can be an interesting place, but you have to work at enjoying it, a bit more than you do in New York. In my experience, Cairo's pace is not that different than NYC, but the culture is more reserved, and more nuanced, a lot further down the socioeconomic ladder, than is NYC. I think that is due to the fact that Egyptian culture, in general, is somewhat more class aware than American culture, and especially NYC, tends to be. If you're not comfortable negotiating subtle class issues, you'll either lead a circumspect life in Cairo, or not be sure of yourself much of the time.

As an expat, you don't have to speak Arabic, but if you are out and about much, you are going to be talked about a lot, in front of your face, in a language you don't understand. Cab drivers, merchants catering to ex-pats, doctors, lawyers, and other ex-pats will speak English reliably, but if you head out to the larger city, particularly some of the suburbs, you may not always find it so easy to make yourself understood. And you'll find yourself unsure, a lot, if the price you're paying for a cab ride (most cab meters don't work) or a coffee is really right. In some ways, Cairo is not unlike our own city of Memphis - the first big city for people coming in from rural areas in a 100 mile radius, and only a stopping over point for many on the way to the bigger world; accordingly, I think that you do come into contact with a lot more minimally educated "country" people in Cairo, on a percentage basis, than you might in other Middle Eastern national capitals. As a (presumably) well off Westerner, you can expect to be expected to pay for your ignorance, if ever you let it show.

If you love Middle Eastern food, Cairo is a great place to eat. There isn't probably the vast variety of food types available in NYC, but food in Cairo is generally inexpensive, and good. More lamb, fish and chicken than beef, and rice in everything. But the beer is good, if not really cold, when you find it (Egypt is Muslim, and not all restaurants serve alcohol). You can expect street food to be cooked, or reheated, immediately as you watch; that's your basic defense against most food borne disease in a country where temperatures can be hot much of the year, and refrigeration less than certain in all phases of the food supply chain. You stick to bottle drinks and stay away from fresh fruits and vegetables, in favor of cooked options, in any situation that is unfamiliar; basically, the same precautions you'd observe in New Orleans or Tampa on a summer day, if you were eating from street carts. In the international hotels, or the better nightclubs, you can let down your guard, as reputation matters, and good health practices are enforced.

As for cultural and entertainment opportunities, there are probably as many niche activities and opportunities in Cairo, as in NYC. There are certainly world famous opera, dance and theater companies, and a vibrant film scene, although many Hollywood releases take a while to get to movie theaters there. The problem with many local entertainment and cultural events is learning of them, and then, as a foreigner, getting into them. The diplomatic community in Cairo is vast, and fluid, and the source of much that would be of interest to you, from your comments. The local culture has a heavily commercial public face, with many well-advertised night clubs and discos, but most locals don't visit such establishments much. If you form friendships with locals, you'll spend more time in their homes (and they in yours), or in parks or other public spaces, than in restaurants or nightclubs, which is a very different cultural situation from NYC.
posted by paulsc at 11:37 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

It seems like such an extreme thing to ask someone to do. It's not just any place, but CAIRO. It has next to nothing in common with the place you love, NYC. Is it at all possible that she is trying to start separating from you? Did she actually *ask* you to come with her?
posted by rio at 11:55 PM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Many thanks for the input thus far.

mdonley, I've floated the idea of maybe moving around different places for 3-4 months at a time, but she's convinced that it's not worthwhile unless we stay somewhere for at least a year, two ideally. And believe me, I'm well aware of the pluses for her / minuses for me. I'm just trying to figure out whether I'm exaggerating the minuses. The deep language barrier (at different points in my life I've spoken Spanish and French well enough to get around, but it's been all Romantic languages for me so far) kind of scares me, especially since I'm really not excited to learn Arabic.

Sidhedevil, crap, I was hoping that, given Cairo's placement as a center for Middle Eastern culture, it might at least have some run-off Western feel. I guess a few hours of me on my laptop in a Cairoan internet cafe would work fine, although obviously not ideal. Many thanks for the website-- will do some researching over there.

Loudmax, I thought that for my own job prospects my big push would probably be for some English-language newspaper/media outpost. Depending on what kind of job my GF might get, there's also the chance that she might just be the breadwinner and I can stay at home and write. It does sound like not speaking Arabic will create some problems, though.

Input this far much appreciated, by the way.
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 11:57 PM on August 23, 2009

Best answer: Uhmm, I lived in Cairo for about one year.

I'm American and have lived outside the country for about thirteen years in a variety of countries. As trite as this might sound, Cairo is different, more than likely very, very different from your point of view.

The experience your girlfriend will have going back as independent adults will be very, very different than her times as a high school student. That's the first thing that leapt out at me, reading your query. More than likely there was a lot of support and coordination going on behind the scenes that she was unaware of. Stuff that facilitated her pleasant experience.

I say pleasant as Cairo can be one frustrating place to live, even to visit.

Also girlfriend is apparently desperate to leave the United States? I guess I'd ask why?, what's the driver here? You folks really don't want to reboot your lives in another country, only to find out in three / six / twelve months this isn't the place and be forced to move again.

"How heavy is the cultural bend towards Arab/Muslin trends? "

Egypt is an Arab country, first and foremost. They might tolerate Americans & Europeans, but it is by no means a remote, Eastern outpost of European culture. Religion figures largely in many aspects of daily life there, but its not as in your face as some other cities I've lived in.

"Will there be clubs to go to at night? Might I enjoy the music scene there? "

There are clubs to go to at night. Egyptians like to get out and enjoy music, much like anyone else. If you're open minded you'll find a place to enjoy yourself. If you're trying to recreate a US based experience or "scene", you'll have a problem.

"Is there a healthy cultural conversation w/r/t Western literature? "

Uhhm, the intellectuals I met while working there were curious about Western culture & literature. If you're asking will Western literature DOMINATE any conversation you might have while living there, the answer is NO. Curiosity does not imply obsequiousness.

"Would I be somewhat shocked by what the law disallows? "

Probably. This is a city that tolerates some Western values. It by no means embraces them, or at least all of them.

"Is there a chance that I'll feel as if I'm in a European metropolis? "

Not a chance in hell.

"Will I have a tough time continuing my online work from Cairo? "

No, things will be fine there except from time to you might have connectivity problems into North America. Don't remember anything too annoying about living there in terms of the internet.

"Can I get by with English, or will I have to spend serious time learning Arabic? "

Ok, flip this around - you're a young Egyptian, contemplating a move to New York. Will you have to spend serious time learning English? That's the position you're in. You might be able to get by with just English (many Egyptians are polygots) but you'll clearly get far, far more out of living in Cairo should you speak even a little Arabic.

"I get the feeling that I might like Cairo over other big Middle Eastern cities, but I can't shake the supposition that I'd other big cities that I know and love over Cairo. "

Yeh, I've lived and worked in several other cities in Africa and The Middle East. Cairo can be viewed as a gentle introduction to life in those regions, to Arab culture as a whole, but its still an Arab city.

I seriously suggest you AND you girlfriend move there for a short term trial, perhaps three months. If things go well you can return after closing down your lives in America. This will also help you folks get a feel for the city, learn where you might want to and where to avoid.

You've seriously need to get more of a plan in place than to just go.
posted by Mutant at 11:59 PM on August 23, 2009 [7 favorites]

I have only visited Cairo, but I have lived in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. As someone said, it can be challenging to articulate the width and breadth of how different life is in that neck of the woods.

I know that doesn't address the question, nor does the thought that, especially with zero Arabic or contacts, it will probably be damned hard to get work at an English-language newspaper or an English-language anything.

I've met a ton of teachers who teach at English schools in the region and they've got teaching experience in the region. Hard to see how you'd be better candidate than them.

Work aside, being a Westerner there isn't necessary a ticket to Hell and isolation.

If you go, make absolutely sure to search for and find the local Hash House Harriers.

On on.
posted by ambient2 at 12:21 AM on August 24, 2009

Could you possibly compromise intially and go there for a longish (say month long) holiday to see if you'd like it? Of course, it will never be the same experience as living there but at least you could get a taste and see if it is somewhere you could possibly move to. It might save you making an awful mistake and uprooting your life if you knew for sure it wasn't a place you could live in, or alternately, you could move knowing what you were getting into.
posted by Jubey at 12:22 AM on August 24, 2009

Response by poster: paulsc, many thanks for the overview. As far as the class system goes, I'd obviously prefer something bordering on classless rather than assumed class status. I'm not sure where my ethnicity/country of origin (white, USian) would place me. I imagined that my language skills would make me out as a rube, so it sounds like, if I'd want to penetrate even the most superficial levels of culture there, I'd really have to do some intense Arabic study. Ugh.

It's nice to know that there's at least some sort of nightlife. One of my big worries (and this is based in total ignorance) is that, despite being a big city, Cairo might have a palpable Muslim / Middle Eastern influence. I.e., drinking, dancing, and general revelry / carnival atmosphere is frowned upon. Is this comparison accurate--

US (Xian nation) : NYC (not-so-Xian city) :: Egypt (Muslim nation) : Cairo (not-so-Muslim city)?

I'm having a hard time figuring out how religious Cairoans are, and how much it affects the day-to-day interactions. My GF says that it's hardly an issue.

No cold beer?!?!? Fuck, what am I doing :)

, fair question. She's never stayed in one place as long as she has in NYC; if you're familiar with Third Culture Kids / Global Nomads / however you'd term it, it's common to get antsy if you've stayed in one place too long. Even though it's not convenient to me, I do understand her push to move. it's unlikely that this is a power-play on her part to separate (she seems pretty desperate for me to move together). At this point, I'm more worried about assessing the possibility that I might enjoy Cairo than assessing our relationship, which seems fine. The stubborness on Cairo -- especially with lacking a plan once we move there -- is worrisome, but I think that might have more to do with "her" rather than "us."
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 12:36 AM on August 24, 2009

i have some friends who were together for a decade and finally got married for things like basic partner benefits (hospital visitation, etc). but during much of their relationship, their lives were taking them to very geographically disparate places. for extensive periods of time they lived in different cities. they weren't monogamous, but they still maintained their serious emotional connection. their relationship is one of the most stable, healthy and happy i've ever witnessed. when their careers and lives finally reorganized so that it made sense for them to live in the same place, they did, and then they eventually bought a home together.

i feel like this is a similar situation. it is noble and touching of you to say that she matters more than anything. it is also unrealistic. if you had a deep urge to give up your happy life to relocate somewhere where you knew no one, had no job and didn't speak the language, that'd be one thing. but you don't. i absolutely believe in sacrificing for love, but one person sacrificing heavily while the other person gives up nothing is not fair.

my opinion is that you should maintain your relationship while she moves to the city where she wants to live and you stay in the one in which you want to live. i suspect she might change her mind once she finds out how things have changed since she was in high school.
posted by groovinkim at 12:43 AM on August 24, 2009 [4 favorites]

Having left the US twenty years ago, I second what Mutant has to say: if you even ask if you need to learn a language, then don't go: you'll end up sequestering yourself in a cocoon of ex-pat exclusivity. Living abroad is demanding - do you want to have somebody hold your hand every time you have to go downtown to pay your gas bill in cash or find out that bank checks are not cashable within two months or that you may have to wait three months to have your Mac serviced? Living in a place is a lot different than being a tourist. You had better be sure that you want to be in a place before you go.

That said, have you seen Anthony Bourdain's view of Cairo?
posted by zaelic at 12:47 AM on August 24, 2009

Sounds like your biggest problem will be leaving NYC when you aren't convinced... all the same: why not take a vacation and spend a week/few days in a couple of Arab cities and see which one you can tolerate living in?

Give Cairo/Damascus/Beirut/Amman a shot - they're all rather different and cater to different crowds. In the end every big city has an expat community its just about how hard you have to work to get to know the places/people... and having someone there to be your guide and introduce you to the hip/underground spots would make a big difference. Easy starting points would probably be the American universities [American University in Cairo/American University of Beirut]

I personally find Beirut to be the most open between them with a healthy underground scene in music/art/theater - large expat communities - great nightlife - and its rather easy to get around speaking nothing but english.

Wherever you decide to go don't be fooled into expecting a european city, these are developing nations with the associated problems [infrastructure/poverty], for some people that provides the opportunity to live the different life they're wanting, for others its too much to handle.
posted by xqwzts at 12:50 AM on August 24, 2009

We're drifting off the topic, but I have twice lived abroad in Arabic countries without speaking the language, managed to pay the gas bill and things like that. It can be a real challenge, but it is doable, can be a challenge in a good way.

To each their own, but lots of expats enjoy some time in the expat cocoon, some time out of it.
posted by ambient2 at 12:57 AM on August 24, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you, Mutant. W/r/t the desperation to move, I'll echo what I said before: it really is a symptom of kids who grew up moving around from country to country. She probably lived in eight very distinct places growning up, and from what I've read, it's not uncommon for military brats to get this really driving urge to move onto another place.

I'm happy to hear that the religion isn't very in-your-face. And it's good to know that I won't be dreading nighttime and holing up with a bottle of scotch every night, pining for a good party or corner bar.

I think my question about Western Lit was kind of imprecise; I think the more general question is whether my background in Western Arts is just going to be dead weight, and whether I'm likely to enjoy the arts that Cairo has to offer. My tastes are pretty catholic but Middle Eastern music/lit/etc. is a big I dunno for me. Curiosity on their part is great, and I really hope I'll be able to match their curiosity.

I'm not sure if the language question is so cut-and-dry. Obviously it would be better if I learned Arabic. But Romantic languages share a lot in common with English (including an alphabet), and learning Arabic at this point in my life is gonna be rough. I thought that maybe Egypt might be English-friendly just by virtue of the heavy Anglo influence pre-1952 Revolution. I'd never expect anyone in a non-primarily-English country to speak the Queen's English, just saying that I don't think the Egyptian-traveling-to-NYC could ever expect more than 5% of the NYCers to understand him. Still, point taken, if I make the move, I should really put some time into the Arabic skills.

As far as a quick feeler visit, that would be ideal. A few problems: just the sheer bank-account drain of the plane tickets and the headaches of organizing the whole thing seem prohibitive to a few-month stay. Plus, it sounds like, if I were to ever enjoy myself there, it would probably be after a good four-six months of language/cultural work. And, as it stands now, a short visit is out of the question on her side (hopefully after more back-and-forth this will change).

That's very interesting, groovinkim. Her parents had a similar (but monogamous) situation-- father would often have to move away for work for large chunks of time; and, similarly, they credit that arrangement as one of the reasons they've stayed happily married for 30+ years. That's definitely an option.

zaelic, I really wouldn't have a problem with the language-learning if it were French, Spanish, Italian, even German, Dutch, Portuguese, etc. But it's Arabic, which I know will take a lot of time to learn having had absolutely no contact/familiarity with. And I guess I do fear that there will have to be a lot of hand-holding for a long time before i get enough Arabic down to feel comfortable.

xqwzts, unfortunately (not that unfortunate), we'll be spending the next month traipsing around via JetBlue's month-long pass during Sept.-Oct., so I fear that most of our travel money will be spent at least until 2010. But since you mentioned it, Beirut is a city I've always wanted to spend some extended time in and does seem like a decent compromise city.
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 1:24 AM on August 24, 2009

I liked Caïro a lot to spend the weekends after having been in the country side (Fayum) during the week. But I'm not sure if I'd like it for a whole year. Feel free to take a look at my pictures of this 3 month winter in Egypt.
posted by Zinda68 at 1:36 AM on August 24, 2009

Best answer: So I actually live in Cairo. Some of the things people have said above are correct, but visiting here as a tourist is very different than living here.

I've been here two years now. My older son is most likely at the school your girlfriend attended. I am married with kids, but I have a lot of friends who are single and married without kids. I also know a lot of people who come here and love it and never leave.

I say, give it a try. It's just a year. Your girlfriend seems pretty focused on Cairo. I know a bunch of third culture kids who love Cairo and who have come back here, happily, as adults, though certainly it will be different as an adult. I wouldn't make her compromise on some other random city. Just come to Cairo. You love her, and she'll get it out of her system--or else realize she wants to live internationally. You might like it here too.

She probably lived in an area called Maadi when she was in school. As an adult couple, you'll want to live in an area called Zamalek. It's got more of a European feel to it, whereas Maadi is more American, but that has to do with the expats who live here rather than the city architecture itself. Everyone I know who lives in Zamalek loves it. It's pretty cosmopolitan, and a lot of the apartments are neat old big apartments with interesting architectural details. And most seem to come furnished.

Egyptians love going out at night. There's lots of music, bars, clubs, etc. Alcohol choices are limited, but it's widely available. You'll find plenty of fun stuff to do at night. There's a place called El Sawy Culture Wheel that often has very interesting shows. Plus the American University in Cairo often has interesting speakers (Jimmy Carter! others!) downtown and plays at their new campus east of Cairo.

As for Arabic: you actually don't need it. It helps to know a few key words for the taxis and for the market, but many people hear speak English. I hardly want to confess this, but my kids know more Arabic than I know. The more you know the better, but you're fine without it as well.

Cairo is a very international city, and you'll find it easy to meet Europeans and Americans and educated Cairenes as well.

Plus there's some amazing traveling you can do. The Sinai Peninsula is gorgeous, and Dahab, an overgrown former backpackers' hangout, has an incredible Red Sea reef. You can go to Upper Egypt and see ancient temples. And of course you'll see the Pyramids as you drive around town. Plus it's a short hop to Petra in Jordan and Beirut, Lebanon. And, actually, it's easy to get to Europe from here as well, not to mention East Africa and the rest of North Africa.

We came here for a job opportunity for me, and because we thought it'd be a great way to grow our wold a bit. My husband tagged along, and he's been even happier here than I have.

One real advantage of Cairo is that's it's a very safe city. Okay, maybe not so safe for driving around (the roads are crazy), but there's very little street crime or burglaries. Your girlfriend could walk home at night alone and not have any problems. (Well, she might hear some lewd comments in Arabic, but that's another story.)

There are real problems--it's crowded and polluted--but I think the happiest people are those who are coming for one year, who take advantage of it and really enjoy being over here. Egyptians like Americans (they love Obama!) and are generally friendly, warm people interested in chatting with people from other places. Even during the Bush era, taxi drivers would make sure to tell me, "Bush bad, Americans good." You can get McDonald's, Hardees, all that stuff, as well as some delicious Lebanese-style food. Plus sushi, dal, pizza, everything.

This is the chance of a lifetime. Your worldview and experiences will change--in a good way. It's particularly great that you'd be in Cairo with someone who knows at least some Arabic and knows and loves the city.

Your friends are great--they'll come visit you. And you chat with them on Skype. And then you'll go back to New York in a year having had an amazing year abroad.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:19 AM on August 24, 2009 [13 favorites]

Best answer: Some blogs for you to read:

Blogs by expats in Cairo
The first three were written by childless adults in Zamalek so might be particularly useful.
Jack's blog
Kaddee's blog
Cairo/Giza Daily Photo
Heissatopia in Egypt
The Fugate Family
Whazzup Egypt
We Four in Egypt
State of D'Nile
S-Rs in Egypt
Living in Egypt
Americans in Cairo

Blogs in English by Egyptians
Rantings of a Sandmonkey
posted by bluedaisy at 2:31 AM on August 24, 2009 [3 favorites]

Many of your concerns seem to be of the "will it be weird and foreign, or nice and regular just like the USA?" variety... which makes me wonder about how much you have traveled anywhere before. I live in New York, too, but there's no way in hell it's the be-all and end-all of the world's experiences. More like a handy working place full of conveniences.

A year from now, will you be better off having lived in Cairo for a year, or staying where you are? You see, I don't know anyone who regrets taking a long trip or living in another place temporarily, rather than staying put.

So I say go. It's just a year, after all, and even if it's awful somehow, the value of the life experience will still be huge, and a hell of a lot better than sitting at home and trying to find excuses to never leave.

At absolute worst, living for a year in Egypt will give you a deep well of new and different stories to chat about at every party back in NYC later... which can't but help you a little more interesting to talk to.
posted by rokusan at 2:57 AM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

A friend of mine lived in Cairo for about six months last year - Here's his blog. Let me know if you'd like his email, I'm sure he'd be happy to chat about the experience.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:08 AM on August 24, 2009

I've never lived in Egypt before but I have stayed there for several 2-month stints, mainly in the countryside but also a few weeks in Cairo. I also have American and British friends who live there.

Cairo is very Arab and it will be like nowhere you've ever seen before. With 17 million people living in greater Cairo, it's one of the most densely populated cities in the world- noisy, crowded, dirty, with the most insane traffic, but also very vibrant and dynamic. Religion is a big part of everyday life for the most part, but you will also meet many people there who are barely religious at all. The sheer numbers of soldiers and police everywhere is startling at first but it makes the city pretty safe. You mention being slightly worried that carnival atmosphere is frowned upon- on the contrary, it's at night that Cairo really comes alive and the streets are thronged with people, whole families out strolling with ice creams at midnight, people eating at restaurants with patio tables spilling into the streets and going to the cinema. Egyptian culture predominates but the city also has a jazz bar, an opera house, and a small amount of other western-style culture. And it is definitely possible to find cold beer, you just need to know where to go.

As bluedaisy said, living in Zamalek would probably make things easier for you, since it does have somewhat of a European feel with all of the embassies and consulates there, nice restaurants, lots of greenery, right by the river, and more of a small neighbourhood feel. I also have a friend who lives in New Cairo which sounds just like an American suburb with all of the big box stores and fast food joints.

I'd suggest that it's actually probably slightly harder living in Cairo as a woman rather than a man. And also a good reason to have you with her since it makes things a lot easier when you have a guy with you! I'm curious as to how old your girlfriend was when she was living in Cairo because if she still looked fairly young then she may not be aware herself of all the hassle you often get as a western woman. Things get easier once you become known as a resident in the area you live rather than a tourist but whenever you go anywhere else on your own you're inevitably bombarded by unwanted attention that can get rather exasperating.

That being said, Egypt is an amazing place and Cairo would be the perfect base to explore the country and some of the rest of the Middle East. I would strongly suggest visiting before committing to the place though. Perhaps if your girlfriend is adamant about moving without any prior visits, maybe you could compromise somewhat: she could move there with you visiting with her for the first couple of months. If you like it, you could move too, otherwise you could commit to visiting her again for a couple more extended stays over the period she's living there.
posted by Kirjava at 3:58 AM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

There are some practical questions that need addressing (you may have addressed them and not posted them), that are key to making such a drastic transition. First and foremost-- do you know where your income will derive? You apparently can work online, so I assume you'll have some sort of salary, but will it be sufficient to support you (and to qualify for visas to stay that long). Will you have some way of developing a support network (will you be a student, have a job, join a church, do volunteer work, does she have prior connections?) It would be difficult, not to say wrenching, to move to Peoria let alone Cairo* if you had no way to meet people other than sitting around in cafes hoping someone will talk to you in a language you don't speak.

I think you're scaring yourself too much with scenarios of how your life is going to be so completely different from the one in NY. Of course it is. It's a foreign country with a different culture and a non-European language. I completely see your GF's POV here-- that seems like the attraction. It's okay to step out of the box; you can handle it.

On the other hand, you are willing, obviously, to actually consider doing this wonderfully mad thing that goes a bit against the grain. See if GF will compromise in the other direction, for instance moving somewhere a LITTLE less alien (Turkey?) or taking someone's suggestion upthread to do a trial run. (Don't try to convince her to go to Europe because it's more like NY. She already knows what NY is like.) I really envy you this opportunity. If you are confident that you can come home and more or less pick your life back up, you have faith in your relationship (sounds like you do), and money isn't much of a worry, I honestly can't see that much of a downside to this. Trust me, you are NOT going to do this when you're 40. It's an awful truism, but you're more likely to regret not doing this than you are doing it and having it bomb.

Take classes in the language and culture prior to moving there. Both of you. Seek to meet people in NYC who are part of the Egyptian diaspora so that you can start developing a network for once you get there. Take your time setting it up. Just dropping everything and leaving is NOT a good plan.

I say go for it. Have a great time. I'm so envious.

*Illinoisian joke
posted by nax at 5:03 AM on August 24, 2009

I lived in Cairo...married into an Egyptian family. Language was difficult, but I pick up language quickly, and learned enough in three months to get by. Learning the culture, what is acceptable and not acceptable was truly a challenge. There are so many nuances of behavior, and they are convoluted as can be.

I simply adored living there, and would have, given the chance, lived the rest of my days there.

Be open and embrace the culture even when it's vastly different than yours. It's a year of your life. You can do anything for a year, and I bet you'll never regret it.
posted by littleflowers at 5:55 AM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

As an American, you generally have to work to enjoy any other culture. Sure, you can live in another foreign city and strictly live in the ex-pat community but that is as boring as hell and you may as well stay in NY. Otherwise even in European cities, finding a place for yourself is not easy and takes a sense of adventure. But if you've got an open mind and are willing to give it a chance it can be an eye-opening experience. Definitely getting out of your comfort zone in a place like Cairo can be a good idea especially for a young guy.

I'd say that nothing is going to help you try to assimilate but Cairo is close to southern Europe and Israel. Even Israel is a culture shock but has many qualities which may make it appealing to Americans.
posted by JJ86 at 6:38 AM on August 24, 2009

In order to assess how difficult it would be for you to learn Arabic, there are many lessons on the web. Or pick a college or community education center near you and see if they offer classes.

My wife really likes the Pimsleur language learning technique.
posted by reddot at 7:30 AM on August 24, 2009

Response by poster: bluedaisy, thanks for the 1st person account, and huge thanks for those blogs. And it's nice to hear that there might be some neighborhoods that have a strong mix of expats and Cairenes-- as excited as I'd be to mix with Egyptians, I also like the idea of living in an area that has a cosmo feel to it. The safety thing is a big plus, too. We've actually never had any safety problems in NYC, but that has a lot to do with constantly keeping one eye peeled late at night; it would be nice to live somewhere and be able to let our guards down a bit. And although I doubt we'd have too many visitors from the US, there will always be the possibility of meeting halfway in Europe. And thankyouthankyouthankyou for that blogroll-- that's exactly what I was looking for to help make the decision. Feather in your cap, bluedaisy.

rokusan, I've lived in Mexico, Ecuador, and Peru for extended periods on my own when I was younger, and have done a ton of traveling through South America and everywhere in Europe but Finland/Sweden/Norway/Denmark and Ireland. There are huge swathes of the world (weird and foreign places!) where I'd like to travel or live, but in general the Middle East is at the bottom of that list. India, non-Northeastern Africa, Russian Federation, South Pacific, and many more would get me excited. Places without a lot of cultural flow, extreme danger, or Sharia Law aren't that attractive. I love weird and foreign, but a lot of that depends on whether I want to be there in the first place.

Happy Dave, I'll add your friend's blog to the blogroll-- much appreciated.

Kirjava, more great stuff, thanks. She lived there in high school (Abu Dhabi before that and Dubai afterwards), so she's well aware of the inherent hassles.

Thanks, nax. There are definitely serious considerations that absolutely have to be addressed before I'd go, primary our financial/job situation. I figured that deciding whether it'd be a good move would be the first thing to figure out; if so, then we could start planning the other stuff in earnest. We're certainly not flush right now, so there are serious constraints on how we can approach this. But, if we decide that it's a good decision to move, we'd have a good opportunity to prepare financially for the move. And yes, Turkey (along with Hungary and Morocco) is somewhere I've considered. "Let's move to Budapest/Istanbul/Tangier!" is, at this point, something I'd be more apt to get behind, but I'm just so ignorant about Cairo/Egypt that it wouldn't be fair to dismiss it out-of-hand. There's always the Hoosier in me thinking, "Cairo, really?" :)

For those who have lived / have friends in Zamalek, what kind of rents would we expect? And overall how much cheaper will day-to-day living be in Cairo?

Huge thanks to everyone for the help, by the way-- this is all helping a great deal.
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 7:53 AM on August 24, 2009

I traveled through Egypt for a month alone. I know that's a lot different than living there but I'll chime in for what its worth. As a woman traveling alone Egypt was the place I've been hassled the most and I've traveled a lot. I was hassled less in Cairo overall and the men doing it were a bit more subtle. Obviously, this is more of a problem for your girlfriend and I wonder if she'll see more of that coming back as an adult. I suspect that growing up she might have been a bit sheltered from how things really work.

The air in Cairo was pretty polluted and I'd say it was more dirty than NYC but not too bad compared to a lot of developing countries I've been to. I don't see if you've spent time outside of the US or Western Europe before but its somewhere between the West and somewhere like India. Amman, Jordan on the other hand was very clean but smaller and less lively.

I found that most of the McDonalds in the center offered free wifi and you could stay there for a long time. There were also some cute cafes with free wifi around American University but they got pretty crowded.

I took taxis, haggled and even went to the post office and navigated customs without speaking Arabic. Some people speak a bit of English but you can get by pantomiming or with a few basic phrases. Living there it would be hard to have meaningful conversations with locals or find a 'scene' without Arabic though. If you go you'll have to be open to relying on your girlfriend if you want to have experiences outside of the ex-pat bubble.

If you can continue your job I say give it a try for a year. It will probably be really exciting for the first month then get a bit tedious. If you stick it out past 6 months you can start to see if you really like it or not. It sounds like you have a great life in NYC and it would be hard to give that up. A year goes by fast though and I always encourage people to take adventures while they don't have too many attachments (house, kids, career etc.). Good luck on the decision.
posted by Bunglegirl at 8:51 AM on August 24, 2009

On Zamalek rent, from a friend of mine who lives there: it is one of the most expensive places to live in Cairo. A modern one bedroom place close to the main street is 3600 LE ($650)/month, plus another 200 - 300 ($35-55) for bills including internet. Shared accomodation is usually about 1500-2000 LE ($270-360)/month. And a word of warning, looking for a place in June-August, is more difficult, because at that time many places are rented out to rich Saudis by the day(!), though things go back to normal in Sept.
posted by Kirjava at 10:17 AM on August 24, 2009

Best answer: A little late to the party. Lots of good comments in here already.

Honestly, I say a lot of how your experience goes depends upon your personalities and your ability to be flexible and go with the flow when you're out of your comfort zones. Have you spent much time overseas? Because Cairo most definitely ain't Manhattan. Also, living in Cairo as an independent adult will be *nothing* like being a kid living with parents. As someone else noted, when your girlfriend traveled before there were doubtlessly a lot of people behind the scenes making life easier for her. Does it have Western aspects? Well yeah... there's a KFC across the street from the Sphinx. But it is also uniquely Arabic.

Egyptians are incredibly kind, funny, emotional, headstrong, loyal, proud and lovely people. Egypt can be a WONDERFUL adventure, and I would love to go back and spend more time there although not to stay. I loved my time in Cairo, but when I was there I was very much protected. I got to see bits of the dark side, but heard more about it than I saw. Which is a good thing. I still saw my life flash before my eyes a few times. But I loved it, it's an adventure I'd have again in a heartbeat.

Language-wise, if you take Arabic lessons you will learn Classical Arabic (fuscha) which nobody speaks, and then move on to the Egyptian dialect. The Egyptian dialect is unique and much easier than Classical Arabic, and it's the most widely understood version of Arabic since Cairo is pretty much the Hollywood of the Middle East. Most Arabic speakers can understand it, however if someone from Morocco or Lebanon speaks to you, you might not recognize their dialect in return. Arabic dialects vary geographically, and the further the country is from yours, the less recognizeable their dialect becomes. A lot of times Egyptians will not expect you to know any Arabic, and this is one of the reasons you should learn as much as possible. By knowing Arabic numbers you can see that the price for something is 12 pounds and not the 140 pounds you're being told by the smiling guy who's complimenting you on your good taste.

There is actually a pretty good arts and entertainment scene from what I gather, so that would be promising. Are you a night person? Because Cairo is HOT in the summers and people live at night. At 3am, you'll see crowds of people playing soccer in vacant lots. Dentists will be doing root canals at 10:30pm. Due to air pressure, flights only come and go into the airport between 8pm and 6am or so. The schedule there is much different than what you'll expect, because people live around the heat. Are there clubs and nightlife? Yes. Hell, there's even a Cairo TGI Fridays on a showboat docked on the Nile. Is there drinking? Yes, but don't expect Egyptian alcohol to be much good... I only found one wine that was decent and Egyptian whisky will make you sick. Trust me. There's also a lot of hashish around, but I wouldn't recommend getting involved with it. Also, homosexuality is considered haram (forbidden) and people can be imprisoned for going to a gay club. So yes, it's far different from New York.

Cairo is vibrant. But it is not westernized in comparison to what Beirut was a few years ago or anything. It's not a place people go to party and drink. You'll see a lot of women in headscarves, and religion has taken over the culture much more than 30 years ago. Religion will definitely be something you need to learn to be respectful of. Some of your Muslim friends will be abiding by Sharia, the social laws, and you'll need to understand that stuff. While Cairo is more modern in comparison, a lot of Egyptian Muslim women don't date, marriages are still arranged, and there is more of a social wall between the Coptic and Muslim Egyptians than there used to be. There is more religious social pressure now than there once was. This is unfortunate because it drives walls between people that didn't used to exist.

More women in Cairo have jobs than in other parts of Egypt. Traditional muslim men and women still lead very separate lives, though. Women mostly hang out with women and men with men. If not married, a man is not supposed to be alone with a woman. You might not be judged for being alone with your girlfriend, but you'll need to be aware of these kinds of stigmas because things we take for granted as harmless can cause shame to someone else. Also, you will need to know about this stuff because there may be times where you will be invited to something and you will not be allowed to bring your girlfriend. Women in the mosques sit separately, and when Egyptian men get together the women generally stay at home. Again, this all depends on who you hang out with. If you're entirely in an expat environment this won't necessarily apply, but it might.

There are simply going to be differences that will shock you and your girlfriend, and that's that. You'll have to learn to respect, understand and accept these cultural differences because they are what they are. Things have been the way they are there for FAR longer than our country has even existed. It is not your job to judge them, you're in their country so just make note of them and live around them. Some things are gradually changing though... case in point, up until very recently, 92% of women in Egypt were forced to be circumcized at 7 years of age in order to make her more suitable for a suitor. Fortunately, that's not the case any more but most of the women your girlfriend will meet will have gone through the procedure.

The driving is insane. Many of the people on the roads bought their licenses, and when for the hell of it I asked a taxi driver what the white lane lines on the road mean, he said "I don't know." There are only two real rules to driving there: 1) the car in front has the right of way and 2) It doesn't matter how that car got in front. At night, some Cairo drivers have a strange belief that they will save energy or something if they only use their headlights intermittently. So, that's an experience, too.

A lot of people prefer to get around town using the subway or cabs instead of driving. Your girlfriend will have to deal with it that there is a separate car for the women, so you may ride the subway separately. The female car is mainly to keep women from being harassed more than for segregation purposes, so when she's traveling alone it may be welcomed.

Cairo is relatively safe, yes. But it has crime. Robbery is almost non-existent, I saw people leave their cars open and unattended with wallets on the seat. The only robbery problem I really heard about was dognapping... dogs are a sign of wealth (very Western) and so people think they're worth money and will steal them. The other kinds of crime Cairo has are more old school. Women do get harassed, so your girlfriend will have to learn some choice Arabic words. Violence-wise, people don't get shot like in NYC. Criminals in Cairo are experts with knives. A friend who works as a tour guide had to go through paramedic training, and the majority of it was how to help someone whose stomach has been sliced to bits. I'm just trying to be real here, I'm not trying to scare you... much worse could be said when describing Manhattan, I'm sure.

I seriously loved Cairo. I couldn't live there... I considered it, but I'm in my 40s and too stubbornly independent. I wish I could've tried it for a short time when I was younger though. I do think it'll be a good experience for you all, you'll learn an insane amount about the world, yourselves, and the things we take for granted. You'll also learn about just how misunderstood the region is... I found less anti-Americanism in Egypt than I have EVER found in Europe. They were incredibly wonderful to me. My time in Egypt changed me. It was a deep and meaningful cultural and emotional life experience. When you're traveling in Turkey or Germany, there are parts that remind you of California or France. But when you're in Egypt... you're in EGYPT. It's overwhelming and unlike anything else. So go and have a good time. Don't regret any of it. Just be careful driving and try to learn about and embrace Cairo for what it is instead of comparing it to New York. It ain't New York.

Oh, and you MUST MUST MUST go to Sinai and the Siwa Oasis. They're AMAZING. Seriously.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:06 AM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all, again. I'm happy to hear that "expensive" will still be relatively cheap (although obviously whatever jobs we'd get in Cairo won't pay as well as the jobs out here). Sounds like, were we to do this, a healthy six months of money-saving here in NYC would make the transition much easier once we got to Cairo.

OK, off to start reading some of those Cairo blogs and start the Big Research. Thank to everyone for offering their insight/advice-- honestly it will go a long way in helping me make the decision.
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 11:09 AM on August 24, 2009

Oh, and on preview... to the "rented by Saudis by the day" comment... people from Saudi Arabia tend to go to Cairo for crazy weekends. I witnessed a bit of this. (See last 2 paragraphs here.)
posted by miss lynnster at 11:12 AM on August 24, 2009

Something interesting to note:

Cairo: You can get beer occasionally, if warm. (I actually didn't know this, until reading it here.)
Other Arab Cities: You can be sentenced to corporal punishment for having a 40 in your hand.

Cairo: Religion is ever-present, but tempered by the rest of life.
Other Arab Cities: You get a stern talking-to for walking about when everyone else is busy kneeling for prayer-time.

Cairo is a bit "lighter" as Arab cities go, but it's still hugely different from the west in ways you just have to experience personally to grok. I think that expecting it to be anything relatable, as the original question implied, will lead to disappointment.
posted by Citrus at 12:04 PM on August 24, 2009

Response by poster: Wow miss lynster, invaluable post-- thanks! I think you're touching on a lot of the cultural worries I have. I can understand that, in general, Cairenes are really lovely, affable people, but then they're generally lovely, affable people for whom homophobia, misogyny and strict abidance to Sharia law is de rigueur. Personally, I think I would have a tough time maneuvering around these things. On one hand I've been in these situations before and, despite the friction, been able to get through it; on the other hand, I never felt great about it afterward. Does this make sense? This is one reason I've always bent toward Western cities-- many of which have their own peculiarities and peccadilloes, but usually without basically massive, over-arching differences in ideology. It sounds like you're saying that it's possible to "live around" these differences; if that's true, then all the better.

That stuff aside, it sounds like there will still be plenty of attributes for me, so I'm happy to at least know that I could be positive about the move. And yeah, Sinai and the Siwa Oasis won't be missed. Thank you so much for your Cairo-breakdown, miss lynnster.
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 12:19 PM on August 24, 2009

You're a Hoosier? If you survived the transition from Indiana to NYC, you can handle NYC to Cairo. ;)
posted by nax at 12:42 PM on August 24, 2009

miss lynnster is correct about somethings, but, as a Cairo resident, I know she is wrong about others. I have never heard of anyone getting their stomach ripped to shreds. I'm sure it happens (?) since she has heard about it, but in two years of being here, the biggest crimes I've heard about are one woman's purse getting snatched. And that was a weird freaky thing that everyone talked about for weeks because it was so uncommon.

There are gay men here. It's difficult, but not impossible. I actually know a few western gay men who have no problems whatsoever (being a white man in Cairo is the most privileged thing to be). There are underground scenes for Egyptian gay men as well. I think it's easier for Egyptian lesbians.

People here do NOT follow Sharia law. The government is officially secular and the president's wife does not cover her hair. The women's car is OPTIONAL--not required--for women but not open to men. Women are perfectly welcome to go on any car (and do, by themselves, quite often). And you see male/female couples on the regular cars all the time.

A lot of this stuff you won't have to worry about if you are here for a year.

Yes, the harassment can be difficult--but it's verbal, not physical, and she won't deal with it at all when she's with you. Also, sunglasses and ear phones go a long way towards making things better. And, on Zamalek, a lot of this stuff just isn't an issue. And since she's the one who wants to come here, she'll learn to deal with it.

Are you looking for reasons not to come? (I'm asking sincerely.) I say, just go for it, open your mind to the experience, and make the best.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:55 PM on August 24, 2009

Oh, and planes land and take off all day long, not just at night. I see them in the sky and have myself arrived at 4pm in the afternoon.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:32 AM on August 25, 2009

I just talked to a friend of mine who lives in Zamalek in a very big, very nice furnished apartment. He estimates someplace like this costs 4000-5000LE/month, or $722-900/month at today's exchange rate. He says you can definitely find things cheaper though.

He also suggested the Cairo Scholars listserv as a good place to find apartments and cost of living information (you have to register for it).

A friend of mine just moved from Zamalek. They had a very big apartment, two stories, with a view of the Nile, and I think it was $1200/month.

Zamalek is not necessarily the most expensive part of town. Maadi, near the k-12 private American school (and where your girlfriend probably lived before), has apartments that cost something like $3000/month. Yikes.

However, you can also get a yummy, fresh tamiya (falafel) sandwich and coke for 3LE, which is less than $1. And you can hire someone to clean your apartment each week for very cheap.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:27 AM on August 25, 2009

When I was living in Cairo on weekends and when I wasn't working I wandered all over the city between 9PM and 6AM and never had any trouble at all, on the contrary, folks were very welcoming and some even opened their homes to me, a complete stranger passing by in the night (but American! and someone they wanted to talk to ... )1

I think a lot of false perceptions regarding crime are based on the sheer chaos of Cairo; it is one crazy place, the streets are very, very active pretty much all the time (far more 24x7 than New York), and in the Islamic Quarter or pretty much any other area where roads are ancient and thus narrow, the confusion is concentrated and much intensified.

As I'd mentioned before some folks find this appealing while others simply can't stand it. Hence the need for a shorter visit before moving, even for a relatively short period of one year.

Speaking as a long term American ex-pat I've seen lots of my countrymen return to the United States ahead of schedule, even in places as benign and familiar as London or Paris. Looking at places like Lagos or Accra or Cairo or any city in any other developing nation that rate is much, much higher.

The simple truth of it is some folks from the United States just can't stand living in places like London or Paris. Relatively familiar places, where cultural bonds are very strong, still, the small differences between, for example, the French and Americans frustrate or enrage some folks. And they just leave.

The differences between New York and Cairo are by no means small, and not to be underestimated, lest one return home abruptly or, worse, spend a year self sequestered in one's own flat, intentionally shut out from Cairo.

While I don't have any hard data I know intuitively far, far more people who are sent to Cairo for work return than any of Europe's western cities. Even so, some folks intentionally return home from Western Europe.

While working in Cairo we'd bring people over for short periods of time and even some very well traveled folks were a little weirded out by the city. Hiring for us was very, very difficult; tough to find Europeans or Americans who would move there, even on a full ex-pat package.

So you'll have to think about all this; advise to "just go" is seriously questionable if you've never been to Egypt before. Surely you and your girlfriend can get a cheapo package deal, one that will let you at least see the place before relocating.

1But 'The Cities of the Dead' are to be avoided at night. Some parts are dicey even during the day, so just avoid the place totally at night.
posted by Mutant at 4:13 AM on August 25, 2009

I guess I should be even more specific than I was trying to be... many people won't see some of the things I mentioned (people being stabbed for example), same as most New Yorkers don't see people getting gunned down, etc. However, they apparently do happen and there are darker aspects to the city just like any large hub.

The person who taught me about the stuff I mentioned is from a very old Cairo family, not an expat and the perspectives of a native Cairene will probably never be the same as what you're going to go through. Doesn't mean it's not important to be aware of them though.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:57 AM on August 25, 2009

I should also add... just because things are frowned upon doesn't mean you won't find a zillion people your age doing them. So keep that in mind. Just because Sharia exists, doesn't mean there aren't a lot of people *pretending* to abide by it for society's approval when in truth they don't.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:02 PM on August 25, 2009

I've spent more than three years in Cairo and am back for a fourth. I live in Brooklyn with my boyfriend as well, and I would give my right to have him with me right now! It would be such an amazing experience to live here with him as opposed to having him visit once a year. On that note, you and your GF should come -- together!

Living in Cairo for a year is a great opportunity for both of you. Even if you decide that you don't like it, being here for more than a few weeks or a few months will be an enlightening and enriching experience. And who knows, maybe you'll love it!

You're both young and your lives in NY will still be there when you get back. I've been back and forth between Cairo and NY countless times and my friends and family are always there. So are the movies at Film Forum and the restaurants in Cobble Hill. None of that is going anywhere.
posted by anonymous78 at 1:50 PM on September 22, 2009

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