Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Egypt: Language Barriers

When traveling to another country, there are enough things to worry about in regards to what to pack, what do I want to do while I am there, do I need to get any travel immunizations, how much money do I need to save, who will feed my hamster while I am gone, etc. Traveling to a country where the language is unfamiliar is another concern to add to the list of worries.

Be prepared and know what to expect regarding language barriers. Do not expect to go to Egypt and have all the locals speaking perfect English. The major native language, spoken by 68% of the population, is Egyptian Arabic. The minority languages spoken that make up the rest of the population are various versions of Arabic dialect.

The main foreign languages of Egypt happen to be English and French while the main immigrant languages include Greek and Armenian. Like most countries, English is spoken by many people in major touristy areas. French is commonly spoken in big tourist areas as well.

Learning a few phrases in the local language will help you get around town. Also, being able to communicate with the local population will enrich and enhance your travel experience. If you are spending more than a week in a country, it might be helpful to buy a phrasebook. It might also be useful to by an Arabic/English dictionary to assist with other language issues you may have such as ordering food, asking how much something costs, trying to get directions somewhere or simply trying to hail a cab.

It might also be useful to look up some non-verbal communication gestures that may be appropriate or inappropriate to use in Egypt. For example, the left hand is considered unclean, so always use your right hand when offering an Egyptian a gift or shaking hands. Also, showing the soles of your shoes is considered offensive in Egyptian culture; always sit with both feet on the floor. Lastly, don’t be worried if you see a lot of Egyptian men holding hands in public. This gesture is considered a sign of friendship!

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