2. Never Forming Lines

Call them lines, call them queues – it makes no difference.  Egyptians are physically unable to form and stand in straight lines, no matter where they are.  You’d think that with the cramped conditions the majority of the population lives in, they’d be interested in an organized system of standing, but you’d be wrong.  Whether Egyptians crowd around trying to procure official documents, storm a bakery for bread, or simply pass through passport control at the airport, they’re certain to make a cluster out of the situation.

Lines just make sense.  No one has to touch each other, you don’t have to hide personal information from the nosy woman to your left, you don’t have to pop your collar to ward off the breath of the person who may as well be standing on top of you.  But Egyptians like to make sure roughly 80% of their body is on someone else and that their right arm is just THAT MUCH farther forward than the next person so as to prove they were there first.

Not so much in an attempt to create order, but more so out of traditional and societal mores, one can often find male and female queues.  These lines tend to be just as disorderly, as women will elbow their way to the front of male lines and demand immediate service so as to not have to stand next to men for extended periods of time.  While women do tend to receive prompt service in these lines, men’s frustrations are fueled and greater chaos ensues.  Well-off Egyptians may also send their minions to queue for them, creating even more chaos as minions push to the front of the line in order to finish their business quickly.

Reasoning with Egyptians who don’t stand in line is pointless, too.  An Egyptian will always have an excuse as to why lines need to be fourteen people wide and two people deep.  No attempt should be made to explain to Egyptians why standing in a line is beneficial to them.  Egyptians will call the line-supporter anti-Egyptian, khawaga, or ‘GET THE HELL OUT OF MY WAY.’

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1. Foul (fava beans)

Foul has allegedly been THE Egyptian staple food from time immemorial. It is typically consumed cooked to within an inch of its life, mashed and scooped into baladi bread, or in sandwiches. In sandwich form it is a sad envelope of paste, resolutely unadorned with vegetables or other additives considered appropriate by other sandwich-eating cultures. Repeated attempts to convince foul vendors to include some tomatoes or cucumbers in foul sandwiches have been met with naked derision and in one case the hanging up of the phone.

Foul is usually seasoned with salt, pepper, lemon, oil (the type and quality of which depends largely on the establishment), cumin and sometimes tahina. A key, nay, indispensable, side, is onions, particularly green, and hard-boiled eggs, which may be mashed into the plate.

It is sold everywhere from donkey-drawn carts to “touristic” restaurants, and is a beloved cheap food for penniless, authenticity-seeking foreigners and office breakfasters alike. Other Arabs have come up with their own versions of foul seasonings, many of which are far tastier, particularly the Lebanese version. It is now considered practical, smart and modern to purchase foul in cans, available from foreign companies in a variety of forms. This saves the casual consumer from the historical method of foul preparation, a process which involves a large pear-shaped pot named an edra and more than 12 hours (tadmees).

Foul is used, in Egypt, for the manufacture of ta3miya. Not falafel. But that’s for another post.

Egyptians attribute sleepiness, hardiness, virility and flatulence to eaters of foul. Flatulence has been the only physical effect this writer has observed, along with a certain burst of self-pity that a whole meal should thus have been wasted. Most Egyptians, however, have little choice but to eat foul every day.

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