What's living in Alexandria, Egypt like?
March 3, 2008 5:39 PM   Subscribe

What's living in Alexandria, Egypt like?

I'm considering stopping out of university for a year next year. Ideally, I'd be living somewhere other than home. I've been reading Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet, & to be honest, I'm quite taken with the idea of living there. That said, I realize reality isn't quite like that, & especially not 70 years after the books take place. Basically, I'm looking for general experiences, or thoughts on living there.

Things that have been on my mind lately:

1) I speak English and French. How prevalent are these two languages? Would adding Greek help much, or is Arabic really the only way to go?

2) How would one go about finding an apartment? Craigslist has a handful for Cairo and not much else, so I'm guessing there's some other method. The prices in Cairo seemed to be about 1500 EGP -- is that a reasonable guess?

3) How easy is it to find work? I've thought about getting a TEFL certificate - would that make finding work significantly easier? What's the viability of a bar-type job without much Arabic? Are Egypt's visa requirements significantly different from western Europe?

4) What does the city feel like? General impressions or conceptions of areas, etc. would be terrific.

5) Would there be any major concerns with being an American in Egypt right now? I'm interested especially in what it's like subjectively, even if it's not really dangerous objectively.

Any recommendations on other resources would be terrific, too.
posted by devilsbrigade to Travel & Transportation around Alexandria, Egypt (2 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I've never lived in Alexandria so I can't offer much advice, but I have visited the city twice before which was enough to learn that English is a lot less prevalent there than other major cities in Egypt. Doesn't mean that no one there speaks English, but I was stuck by the fact that we couldn't find a single taxi driver who could understand a request to drive us to the Catacombs (one of main ancient tourist attractions). I don't remember hearing anyone speak French, but that's just a general impression.

I really liked the city a lot though- apparently it's the place that Egyptians from across the country go for their holidays and it certainly felt like that when I was there. It seemed like there was a bit of a carnival air to the place, and tonnes of families would be out enjoying themselves with their kids until past midnight. It's really beautiful by the sea with wonderful sunsets and the main squares, buildings, and palm trees are incredibly picturesque.

I'm Canadian, which means most people would assume I was American, and I didn't experience any actual problems when I lived in another part of the country for two months. Many Egyptians in the tourist industry can be rather harassing when they think you're a tourist and they're trying to get your business, but the rest of the population is generally nice and generous. Your profile doesn't state your gender, but a word of warning if you're female- I found harassment by men much worse in Alexandria than anywhere else in the country. It's generally harmless and mainly concentrated along the waterfront, but it can be rather psychologically stressful to be propositioned every couple of minutes.

Sorry I can't give more practical advice- hope you can find out more. Whether you end up going to live there or not, you should definitely visit Alexandria and the rest of Egypt!
posted by Kirjava at 4:02 AM on March 4, 2008

Durrell's cosmopolitan Alexandria is gone forever. The Jews, Greeks, and other long-resident "foreigners" were forced out a half-century ago. (An excellent book by a Sephardic Jew whose family had lived there for generations is Andre Aciman's Out of Egypt—NY Times review here.) I'd suggest you try your best to put Durrell out of your mind completely and think of Alexandria as an Egyptian port city with an interesting past, then read as much as you can about what it's like today. If you go with images of Durrell and Cavafy in mind, you're just going to be disappointed.
posted by languagehat at 6:50 AM on March 4, 2008

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