Friday, January 14, 2011

Shopping Etiquette

This is somewhat of a follow-up to a previous post about obnoxious, overly eager employees. This post is for my fellow shoppers looking for some non-neon-colored (read "colors that actually occur in nature") clothing in the sea of highlighter chic known as Cairo.

In this country, it is enough of a triumph just getting out of your house, into your car, and arriving at the mall without being killed by a microbus or sitting in hours of traffic because the president's second cousin decided to cross the street. If you make it to the mall, you are among a select few. And, if you are even more fortunate, you may actually escape the aforementioned harassing employees. There is, however, another silent killer.

Maybe this is a Western thing. In America, there is an unwritten shopping code that, if you have your eye on something that someone else is looking at, you pretend to be looking at something else nearby until the other person moves on, you swoop in and make it all look natural as if you didn't notice the item until just that moment when they walked away. We're all very good at this. Don't lie. It's absurd, but it's subtle and it works.

Sadly, subtlety isn't a very popular concept in Egypt. Here, the above scenario plays out like this: You're carefully considering an item of clothing, looking for your size, when you suddenly feel the eyes of another shopper burning through the back of your head. She steps closer and closer, hoping to make you feel so uncomfortable that you give up the item. You try to stand your ground, try to look unfazed, but eventually you surrender the item in favor of regaining your precious personal space.

And this is where you can always tell who is the real Egyptian, the one who wins the stand-off. The one who has no concept of personal space. She could stand there all day elbow to elbow with a complete stranger. I guess that counts as some odd sort of talent.

Between the employees and the other shoppers, shopping in Egypt is just no fun. What now? Minimalism?