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What is the Egypt Intercultural Program (EIP)?
Egypt Intercultural Program Description
E-Briefing for Canadians Coming to Egypt on Short-Term Assignments
Working with the Canadian Partner
Understanding the Egyptian Culture
More Information

What is the Egypt Intercultural Program (EIP)?
The Egypt Intercultural Program (EIP) is a CIDA-Program Support Unit (PSU) program that supports the process of on-going intercultural learning. It aims at providing intercultural understanding and insight as well as methods and practices that would enable both Canadians and Egyptians to overcome professional and social cultural barriers that may obstruct the development of considerate and respectful partnerships and therefore delay achievement of project/program results.

This is done as a process; and through a network of inter-related activities and services that are tailored to the needs of Canadian and Egyptian partners at the different stages of project/program implementation.

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Egypt Intercultural Program Description
Services for Canadians
Services for Egyptians
Integrated Sevices
Other EIP Services

Services for Canadians:

On-arrival Intercultural Orientations for Long-term Canadian Partners and Spouses:
1 day session within the 1st 10 days of arrival in Egypt. Participants are provided with Long-term On-arrival Kits that include maps, guides, directories and other relevant materials.

On-arrival Intercultural Briefings for Short-term Canadians:
1 to 3 hrs. session within the 1st 2 days of arrival in Egypt. Participants are provided with Short-term On-arrival Kits. Briefing material/answers to questions can be provided upon request prior to the consultant’s arrival in Egypt through e-mail.

Post-arrival Intercultural Orientation Sessions for Long-term Canadian Partners and Spouses:
1-2 day session, 2 months after the On-arrival Intercultural Orientation and followed up by on-going support services and one-on-one advice and counseling as needed.

Advise on Obtaining Arabic Language Training
Pre-return Sessions and Support Services:
1 day session within the last 3 months prior to return to Canada.

Information Services:
  • On-arrival Kits (English/French) for long-term and short-term Canadians.
  • Customized Post-arrival materials/kits.
  • Customized Pre-return materials/kits.
  • Quarterly Newsletter (English/Arabic/French) cultural and intercultural articles.
  • Other cultural and intercultural reading materials and information.

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Services for Egyptians:

Pre-departure Intercultural Briefings for Egyptian Project Trainees/Staff/ Partners:
1 day session prior to departure to Canada.

Pre-departure (Francophone Scholarships) Intercultural Orientations for PCBF Recipients:
1 day session and follow-up as needed prior to departure to Canada. Pre-departure French Kits provided and French audiovisual presentations made available.

'Exit Interviews' for Returning Project Trainees/Staff/Partners:
1 day session in Egypt upon completion of the short-term assignment in Canada.

Intercultural Seminars and Workshops for Egyptian Project Staff/Partners:
1-2 day workshops/seminars.

These seminars and workshops focus on intercultural understanding and learning, aim at more effective communication and interaction with Canadian partners as well as at supporting stronger intercultural relations and sound Egyptian-Canadian partnerships. Purpose and expected results of these activities are determined in response to needs assessments.

Information Services:
  • Customized Pre-departure Kits for projects’ trainees and PCBF students.
  • Quarterly intercultural Newsletter articles.
  • Fliers on local training and professional development opportunities.
  • Other cultural and intercultural materials and information.

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Integrated Services:

Cultural, Intercultural and Related Presentations, Seminars and Workshops:
0.5 -2 day presentations/seminars/workshops.

These presentations, seminars and workshops aim at enhancing intercultural learning and encouraging action planning with respect to themes or topics of interest as identified through on-going needs assessments.

Socio-Professional Intercultural Events for Canadian and Egyptian Staff and Partners:
0.5-2 day events.

Events aim at providing CIDA Program Egyptian and Canadian staff and partners with recreational and social opportunities for intercultural learning and professional exchanges that would further networking and Program synergy.

CIDA and Projects’ Workshops:
1-3 day workshops.

Assisting CIDA and Projects in fostering effective intercultural learning and communication in the implementation of various types of workshops dealing with a wide variety of subjects. EIP can participate in pre-planning, needs assessments, planning and design, selection of consultants, providing pre-workshop information and training for resource personnel, providing administrative and logistical services as well as co-facilitation and follow-up activities.

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Other EIP Services:

Other Special Assignments as requested by Head of Aid or by clients and approved by Head of Aid.

All services are provided free of charge, with the exception of CIDA and project workshops, which are on a cost-recovery basis in addition to some activities such as socio-professional intercultural events, which may involve cost sharing.

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E-Briefing For Canadians Coming To Egypt On Short-Term Assignments
Before your departure from Canada
Cairo Airport
At the Hotel
1st Day in Cairo
The City (Cairo)
Culture Shock
Meeting with Egyptian Officials
A Few More Tips
Let us Learn Some Arabic
Comparing Cultures with a 'Broad Brush'


The following is some helpful information for Canadians coming to Egypt on short-term assignments, particularly those who have not been in the country before. This does not comprise a full briefing. Once you are in Cairo, it is recommended that you attend a 2-3 hr. On-arrival Intercultural Briefing. An appointment can be set-up with:

  Sana Hafez
  Intercultural Coordinator
  CIDA-Egypt Program Support Unit (PSU)
  4 Latin America St. Garden City, Cairo
  Tel:   (202) 519-9007
  Cellular/Mobile:   (010) 152-5922
  Fax:   (202) 796-4148
  Tel:   (202) 794-5901/ 794-8967/ 794-1098

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Before your departure from Canada:
  • Discuss your mission ahead of time with the Project Manager, CIDA PTL/Officer or CPD to ensure that timing for the mission is appropriate. Also ensure that enough lead-time is available for in-country arrangements such as appointments, logistics, etc. If these arrangements will be done by the PSU, it is advisable to forward your contact numbers and e-mail address to the PSU: ( and/or
  • Contact your family physician in Canada or a travel clinic for any necessary vaccinations.
  • Be in contact with the nearest Canadian government office in order to obtain the latest Canadian government advice related to any potential political unrest in the area.
  • It is recommended that you arrange for some kind of travel medical insurance.
  • Temperatures in Cairo (in the winter, November to April) range from 15 to 21 degrees; and in the summer (May to October) from 26 to 42 degrees. Bring with you suitable clothing. Add one suite, a couple of shirts, tie and shoes for formal meetings. Women should be dressed conservatively (i.e. skirts should at least cover the knees, sleeveless tops and open décolleté are not recommended). Pants (not too tight) and pantsuits are O.K. Comfortable shoes or sandals (better no high heels) are advisable for Cairo’s sidewalks and sometimes-rough roads.
  • Carry with you one of the widely acceptable credit cards such as Visa, Master Card, or American Express. Bring your money in US$ Travelers’ Cheques as well as cash. Exchange rates are posted in newspapers, banks and foreign exchange bureaus. Recently, the Egyptian Pound is a ‘floating currency’ (i.e. its value has de-valued and changes according to market rates). Refer to the web page: to check current rates.
  • Egypt (Cairo) is ahead of Canada (Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, etc.) by 7 hours. If you leave Canada today for example, you arrive to Egypt the next day. Try to reduce jet lag by adjusting your normal routine 7 hours ahead as much as possible. During the flight, drink lots of water and fluids (but not too much liquor).
Learning a few Arabic words and sentences will make communication easier and will save you time.

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Cairo Airport:
  • You can purchase your entry visa (US$15/month of stay in Egypt) upon arrival in Cairo airport.
  • You must declare items such as computers, cameras, etc.
  • If arranged with the PSU, a driver will take you to the hotel. He will be carrying a sign showing the Canadian flag and the word CIDA. The PSU charges L.E. 40 for the trip from the airport to the hotel. Airport limousines charge around L.E. 60. You will have to negotiate the rate with Taxis (do not pay more than L.E.50). The PSU driver will give you an On-arrival Kit containing a map of Cairo, intercultural information and other documents such as your itinerary and letter from the CPD, PTL/CIDA Officer or Project Manager. Read the kit. It has useful information.
  • Purchases can be made from tax-free shops only during the 1st 24 hours following arrival.
  • With the exception of local beer and wine, liquor is expensive. You are allowed 2 liters of liquor and 2 cartons of cigarettes from tax-free shops.
You can change your US$ or travellers cheques at the airport bank, the hotel’s and other banks as well as at foreign exchange bureau’s.

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At the Hotel:
  • The PSU’s CIDA rate at most 5-star hotels is about US$78 + 19% tax per night. Breakfast is not included.
  • As soon as you check in, the hotel will take care of your registration procedures (requirement of GOE for all foreigners).
  • 5-star hotels in Egypt are very luxurious. Most employees speak English and/or French. Good physicians (general practice) are available. Make yourself comfortable, use the facilities (pool, gym, etc.) and ask for what you need.
  • Try to go early to bed at least the 1st couple of days.
  • At the hotel, people who assist you with your luggage and clean your room expect tips. Tip with 1-10 Egyptian pounds (or more if you wish). Keep with you in cash small change (1s, 5s, 10s and 20s).

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1st Day in Cairo:
  • Working days are Sundays to Thursdays. The weekend is Friday and Saturday. Government offices close on Fridays and either Thursdays or Saturdays. Working hours from 8:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Most other businesses start at 8:30 or 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 or 5:00 p.m.
  • If you arrive on the weekend, rest and take advantage of a tour in Cairo. This can be arranged through your hotel. A reliable person that the PSU uses at times for tours in the city is Ms. Laila Mandour, cell phone # (012) 350-5462. You can visit Cairo Museum on your own; but, to avoid hustlers, it is advisable that a guide or a knowledgeable Egyptian accompanies you if you go elsewhere such as the Pyramids.
  • During your first visit to the Canadian Embassy, register yourself as a Canadian citizen in Egypt.

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The City (Cairo):
  • Cairo, the 'city of the thousand minarets', is one of the oldest cities in the world. On the one hand, it is beautiful and full of ancient sites and monuments as well as modern architecture. When you know your way around, almost everything available in Canada can be found in Cairo. On the other hand, Cairo is one of the most populated cities in the world. It is very crowded. Cars and people are everywhere. Noise and pollution levels are high. For the first couple of days it is not uncommon to feel tired, disoriented and headachy. You may also develop a sore throat and stuffed nose due to pollution – it will go away.
  • Drink mineral water, eat in clean restaurants and avoid uncooked vegetables and fruits that are not peeled.
  • Traffic is very heavy and rules are usually not obeyed. Avoid using public transportation and be especially careful when crossing streets. Taxi drivers do not use meters. Before getting in, settle with the driver the cost of the trip. A better idea is to ask an Egyptian (e.g. hotel reception) how much to pay, add a pound or two extra and pay the driver when you reach your destination.
  • Do not give beggars money. However, tipping (5-10% depending on your satisfaction with the service) is common in restaurants and in other places where you have been served. Bargaining is common only in open markets (souks such as Khan El Khalili) but not in shops where prices are tagged.
  • Relatively speaking, Cairo is a safe city and violent crime is rare.
  • Police and army personnel are everywhere. Nothing to worry about. They are there for a few reasons. One reason is to protect you and make you feel safe when you see many of them around (I am not sure the latter makes people feel safe or more anxious!). Another is that there are so many of them and the government has to place them somewhere to earn their small salaries.
  • International communications such as faxes, telephone lines, e-mail and Internet are easily accessible in businesses, offices, and Internet cafés.
  • In general Egyptians are hospitable, warm and kind people who are always willing to help. They are tolerant and coping with whatever difficulties they have (and they have quite a few). They enjoy laughter and humour. Try to act in a relaxed manner and to respond to people with a smile. This helps to make them feel more at ease. They have enough problems of their own.
  • Egyptian Gazette (daily), Al Ahram Weekly and Middle East Times (weekly) are three good English newspapers. Egypt Today (monthly) is also a recommended magazine.

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Culture Shock:

Although your mission to Egypt is short, culture shock is still a possibility. Generally speaking, change, though stimulating, is in varying degrees stressful. Seek to understand the new culture without getting over involved. Don’t blame Egypt or Egyptians for your discomfort or dissatisfaction. Try to discover and account for conditions as they are through an honest analysis of the circumstances that created them. Try to maintain your sense of humor.

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Meeting with Egyptian Officials:
  • Appointments are usually made by telephone. Most Egyptians would like to be informed in advance of the subject that will be discussed.
  • Egyptians will generally keep their appointments and be on time, although some waiting may occur. Some senior officials will be called off when they have already scheduled an appointment. They will often call to set up another appointment. It is wise to confirm an appointment particularly if it has been set ahead of time.
  • Upon arrival for your meeting, check with the office director or secretary and hand in your business card. Always try to treat the outer staff with courtesy. It is common that other people will also be present with the official you are meeting. Many Egyptians believe that an honest business should be conducted openly; and they generally prefer to discuss issues as a group.
  • Particular attention should be given to modes of communication and interpretation. Check to make sure there are no misunderstandings.
  • Although the Egyptian official usually prefers dealing with someone in authority, be careful that your manner of speech does not sound too authoritarian or aloof.
  • Getting things done with Egyptian officials can be time-consuming and most frustrating. Being upset or angry will lead to nowhere. Be calm and accept the inevitable. This can help you achieve a lot more.
  • Use the appropriate title and name when addressing Egyptian officials, such as ‘Dr.’, ‘Engineer’, ‘Minister’, and ‘Mr.’ Followed by the person’s first then second or last name.
  • Formal dress (suit and tie) is recommended although in many cases not necessary. Do not attempt to break the ice with ‘unfamiliar’ western informalities.
  • If you are offered a drink (tea, coffee, etc.) it is polite to accept the offer.
  • Most Egyptians regard the eyes as 'the mirror of the mind'. Do not feel uncomfortable if your host stares at you directly in the eyes. Respond in kind.
  • One of the greatest affronts to an Egyptian is crossing your legs allowing the sole of the shoe to face your host.
  • The Egyptian senior official will usually tend to be more interested in the general nature of the transaction and prefers leaving the details to his subordinates.

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A Few More Tips:
  • Try to maintain a healthy lifestyle and a positive outlook. Eat balanced diets, drink enough water, exercise in your hotel or take walks (stay away from stray dogs). Take some breaks and be patient with yourself and with others. Maintain a sense of humour and treat yourself to something special once in a while.
  • Refrain from judging or responding prematurely. Acknowledge that others are different from you.
  • Seek out people with a positive attitude towards Egypt rather than those who feel very negative about the country (Egyptians often criticize certain aspects of the culture, particularly the government; however, they are patriotic to their country and do not like foreigners to criticize it).
  • Do not refrain from asking for assistance.
  • Do not have high expectations and if necessary, reset your objectives to make them more realistic (if you are set out to accomplish 10 tasks a day, it is satisfactory if you have accomplished even less than half)

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Let Us Learn Some Arabic:

Greetings and Responses:

  Hello, Welcome Salamo alikom, Ahlan
  How are you? Izzayak
  Fine, Very well thank you Alhamdu LELLAH
  Good Morning Sabah el kheir
  Good Evening Messaa el kheir
  GoodBye Maa el salamah


  I want to go to Ayez arouh
  Here Hena
  There Henak
  Where? Fain?


  Yes Aywa
  No Laa
  I don't want Mish ayez
  Thank you Shoukran
  No problem Maalesh

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Comparing Cultures with a 'Broad Brush':

The Theory of Cultural Context:

Culture, as defined by anthropologist Edward Hall, is "The way of life of a people. The sum of their learned behavior patterns, attitudes and material things... It is not innate, but learned; the various facts of a culture are interrelated."

In almost any country there are separate cultural groups based on differences such as race, ethnicity, religion, region, gender, etc. Each of these cultural groups may have significant differences from the dominant society. Hall has developed a concept that is useful in understanding the differences among cultures as well as cultural groups. He places cultures on a continuum from high to low context. The term context refers to the interrelated conditions in which something exists-the social and cultural conditions that surround and influence an individual, an organization or a community.

In high-context cultures (e.g. Japan), the surrounding circumstances of an interaction are taken into account; in low-context cultures (e.g. Switzerland), the surrounding circumstances of an interaction are filtered out.

In high-context cultures, much attention is paid to the surrounding circumstances of an event. In an interpersonal communication, for example, the parties involved use such factors as tone of voice, gesture, posture, social status, history, social setting, etc. to interpret the spoken words. High-context communication requires time. Factors such as trust, relationships, personal needs and difficulties, etc. must be considered.

In low-context cultures, the circumstances surrounding the event do not warrant attention; instead, the parties involved focus on objective facts that are conveyed. Consequently, speed and efficiency characterize interactions.

Hall has identified a number of dimensions of human activity, five of which are crucial in understanding cultural differences in societies:
  1. Association (relationships with others)
  2. Interaction (verbal and nonverbal communication)
  3. Territoriality (use of space)
  4. Temporality (time)
  5. Learning (how knowlege and skills are developed)
Within a culture there are also a number of ‘micro-cultures’ such as urban or rural groups as well as gender groups. For example in any culture, rural groups and women tend to exhibit more high-context characteristics than urban groups and men.

The high/low-context framework can be used to conceptualize patterns of behavior for cultural groups. However, it is important to re-emphasize that the framework should not be seen as a set of boxes in which individual people are placed. Individual differences such as level of education, profession, and exposure to other cultures affect position on the H-/L-C continuum.

Relative to Canadians, Egyptians are a higher-context society. Using 'contextual characteristics' as a framework, we developed the following comparison between Canadian and Egyptian cultures. It should be noted that this is a guide for the reader and should not be used indiscriminately.

Generally speaking, the following dimensions may comprise some differences between Egyptians and Canadians. In Egypt:


Relationships depend on trust and build up slowly. Things are done through relationships with people and paying attention to group processes. Social (and work) structure and authority is centralized with responsibility at the top; therefore, initiative and risk taking are not encouraged hence minimal.


Verbal message is implicit. Context such as the situation at hand and people involved play an important role in interactions. Use of non-verbal elements (e.g. gestures, voice tone, facial expression and eye movement) carry a significant part of a conversation. Communication style is circular (goes around the point), indirect (meaning is conveyed implicitly/suggested), and attached (with display of feelings/emotions). Disagreement is personalized and handled subtly so that relationships do not get affected and 'face is saved'. Conflict is avoided or must be solved before work can progress.

Time Orientation:

Time is a process (not a commodity). One’s time also belongs to nature (God’s will) and is shared with other people; hence efficiency is low and activities are not easily scheduled.


Thinking is deductive and proceeds from general to specific. Knowing 'factual information' is more important than 'learning how to learn' (professor versus facilitator). Learning occurs by knowing and understanding facts/principles, observing then practicing (rather than experimenting then drawing conclusions). Groups are preferred for learning and for problem solving.

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Working with the Canadian Partner
Understanding Canadian Culture
Understanding the Canadian Work Environment
Working Effectively with Your Canadian Partner
Situations and Responses - What would you do?


Working with a Canadian Partner - Version 2 is produced for the Canada-Egypt Development Cooperation Program in Cairo by the Egypt Intercultural Program of the CIDA-Egypt Program Support Unit. It is translated into Arabic to serve all partners from Egypt as well as other Arabic-speaking nations from the Middle East and North Africa.

Working with a Canadian Partner originated as a series of guides designed to help Canadians and Asians work together effectively. The first draft was prepared by PANICLE International and based on literature search, surveys and focus group interviews. It was revised and edited by Stiles Associates Inc. Ottawa.

The purpose of this guide is to provide inter cultural direction for Egyptians, as well as citizens from other Arabic speaking countries, working with Canadians, particularly those who journey to Canada for training, on business or in official capacities.

Since inter cultural understanding leads to developing effective inter cultural communication and thereupon successful international partnerships, this guide is intended to help the reader understand the Canadian culture with emphasis on the cultural context of various work environments. The guide deals with some practical issues such as communication and expectations in a variety of professional settings including corporations, academic and research institutions, government agencies and non-governmental organizations.

It is noteworthy to mention that any attempt to describe the culture of an entire people is risky. It may lead to generalizations that may not be true or accurate in all cases. Furthermore, because individual perspectives and interpretations of the reader are necessarily involved, some traits may be emphasized over others. As such, this guide is intended to be used as a tool to help the reader have an overall understanding of the Canadian culture.a

Comments, suggestions and insights of readers will be appreciated and gladly received.

Egypt Intercultural Program
CIDA-Egypt Program Support Unit
4 Latin America St., Garden City,
Cairo, Egypt
Facsimile: (202) 796-4148
May 2001

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"If we seek to understand a people we have to put ourselves, as far as we can, in that particular and cultural background... One has to recognize that countries and people differ in their approach to life and ways of living and thinking. In order to understand them we have to understand their way of life and approach. If we wish to convince them, we have to use their language as far as we can not language in the narrow sense of the word, but the language of the mind." J. Nehru

Culture for people is like water for the fish. We are in it and part of it but we do not see it. Anthropologist Edward Hall defines culture as "The way of life of a people; the sum of their learned behavior patterns, attitudes and material things... It is not innate but learned; the various aspects of a culture are interrelated..."

A great temptation exists to assume that others are or should be like us, and if they are not it is because they must be either 'defective' or 'superior' in one way or the other. There is no culture that is superior or inferior to another; they are just different.

In almost any culture there are separate cultural groups or 'micro-cultures' based on differences such as race, ethnicity, religion, region, gender, etc. Moreover, within the cultural groups of a culture, there are individual differences based on such factors as level and type of education and exposure to other cultures or cultural groups.

The external manifestations of culture like dress, food, buildings, etc. are easy to notice; they are too obvious to ignore. But there is another dimension of culture that is not readily visible, that is implicit and subjective. It is that dimension that is most likely to affect human interaction.

Difficulties in intercultural communication and interaction can be best decreased by knowing about and understanding the cultural factors that are subject to variation, coupled with an honest and sincere desire to communicate effectively across cultural boundaries.

'Working with a Canadian Partner – Version 2' tries to make the Canadian culture more explicit to people from the Arab world. This guide has three main chapters: 'Understanding Canadian Culture', 'Understanding the Canadian Work Environment', and 'Working Effectively With Your Canadian Partner'. The forth chapter, 'Situations and Responses – What Would You Do?' is a simple 'quiz' based on your understanding of the previous sections.

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Understanding Canadian Culture:


Canada is an individualistic society, which began with the need for the early Canadian settlers to survive very difficult conditions and to build their own security using their own wits. Individualism is deeply rooted in Canadian thought and action.

In Canadian society, ties between people tend to be loose and impermanent. Individuals are supposed to look after themselves and their immediate, small families. The relationship between employer and employee is primarily one of mutual interest. If an employee is no longer needed, he/she is dismissed. Similarly, employees will readily quit their jobs for a better one or even for the sake of change and different experiences.

Since Canadians usually change their jobs, including the cities where they live, many times in a career, they tend not to develop enduring personal relationships with fellow workers. This is a normal attitude and does not mean that colleagues do not like each other.

Individual performance on the job is very important. Much is demanded of Canadian workers because it is the individual, not the group that is seen as more important. Employees are expected to work independently, show initiative and good effort, make suggestions, express own opinions and when needed, disagree with others even if they are their own boss. Most importantly, they are expected to produce specified results within a designated period of time. Work is assigned on an individual basis and each employee is given a personal written job description, which outlines objectives, roles, responsibilities and duties. Although teamwork is becoming more common and a part of an employee's appraisal is related to successful team performance, individuals often work alone and meetings are usually held only when group discussions are needed. When working in teams, members usually decide amongst themselves clear tasks for each individual to accomplish before the team meets again.

Individualism implies that people are held personally responsible for their work and performance of employees are individually appraised. Canadian performance standards are high. Employees are expected to be both effective and efficient and punctuality is essential. There is often strong competition among employees because individuals are concerned with furthering their own careers.


Canadians place a high value on equality and therefore authority often carries less weight. Values regarding authority are learned at an early age in the family. With little or no assistance from extended families, working parents raise their children alone and without help. Consequently, parents encourage individualism and independence at an early age. The young are allowed to express disagreement with their parents who consider the point of view of their children as important.

The educational system is child-centered. Students are expected to show initiative and interest in their own education. They are encouraged to discuss issues with teachers and even disagree if they need to.

When the child reaches maturity, his/her respect for authority is selective and is determined by the individual's assessment of the authority figure's general presentation rather than solely by the person's position or formal status. The person in authority must earn respect. That being said, it must also be recognized that there is a clear boss-employee hierarchy where roles are distinct yet subordinates readily approach their bosses to discuss workplace issues and often question their managers' decisions.

Skepticism for authority also extends to high level politicians who can be subject to intense criticism by the media and by the people. Canadian politicians are always being reminded that they are no better than the people who elected them and that their decisions can be questioned.

In Canada, equality applies to the sexes and to minority groups and human rights laws are becoming progressively stronger.

Compromise and Conciliation:

Canadians tend to settle dispute by negotiations and compromise. In the workplace, negotiations often focus on searching for solutions where both parties make adjustments and both parties benefit to an acceptable degree. The first step in resolving a conflict is for those involved to state their position and objectives ("putting your cards on the table"). Next, people attempt to come to a compromise. To achieve agreement, various methods are used from assistance of a mediator and hiring outside consultants to resorting to unions who strive to protect the workers' interests.

Canadians are expected to speak-up if they are unhappy about a situation and disagreement is not taken personally. However, to reach a win-win resolution, they must be willing to negotiate and compromise. When one side offers a compromise solution, the other side is expected to accept it or to offer an alternative. It is not acceptable to reject a compromise without presenting an alternative.

Self Determination:

Individuals respond differently to the 'unknown' depending on their culture. Canadians tend to believe that people can accomplish almost anything through enough effort and hard work. They generally believe that it is the individual who is ultimately responsible for his/her own present and future and, therefore, one is responsible for his/her own destiny ("you are what you make yourself to be"). The role of external factors such as fate is minimal.

If a person dislikes a job or any other aspect of his/her life, he/she works hard to change it and to make it more suitable ("a job is what you make out of it"). If the person does not succeed, he/she moves on and searches for a more satisfactory job or way of life.

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Understanding the Canadian Work Environment:

The more partners know about each other's country and culture, the better they understand one another and the stronger is their intercultural partnership. Egyptians and other Arabs are often surprised to see how little many Canadians know about them. Until recently, most Canadians did not feel the need to learn about other nations. This attitude is slowly changing as Canada is now more and more integrated with the outside world. It is important not to assume that Canadians already know enough about you. Tell your partners as much as you can about your country and its culture and sub-cultures. Since Canadians expect that responses to their questions and queries obtained from their partners are authentic, information given should be factual and not based on individual assumptions so that knowledge acquired first level is adequately reliable.


Canada has two official languages, English and French. All laws and official documents in Canada are published in both languages. English is more dominant in nine of Canada's ten Provinces and in its three Territories. Although French is not just limited to the Province of Quebec, it is, by far, the language of the majority there.

Partners coming to Canada for the first time may initially be discouraged by their inability to communicate clearly in English or French, despite the fact that many of them may have had advanced language training at home. This is because Canadians speak English or French with a different accent than what visitors are used to, similar to the distinct Arabic accents and dialects of many Arab countries and even within different regions in the same country. Another reason for difficulties encountered stem from uncommon or idiomatic expressions commonly used by Canadians. For example:
  • "To break the ice" (to loosen the tension particularly when people meet for the first time).
  • "To cut to the chase" (to make a deal, to get to the point).
  • "To be a fly on the wall" (to observe but not participate).
  • "To beat around the bush" (to be circuitous or speak roundabout the subject).
These expressions are not unlike an enormous number of idioms, proverbs and other sayings that are commonly used amongst, for example, Egyptians:
  • "orbut al ragel men lesanoh", 'to tie a man from his tongue' (a man's words hold him accountable for what he says; get him to say what you want).
  • "elli yekhaf men el afreet ye giloh", 'if you fear a ghost, it will come to you' (positive thinking will influence your life for the better while negative thoughts breed only the very things you fear).
  • "hot fee batnak batikha seifee", 'put a summer (seasonal) watermelon in your stomach' (don't worry; it is guaranteed; be 100% sure).
  • "fee el agala el nadama wa fee el ta'ani el salama", 'hurrying results in regret; it is safer to do things slowly but surely' (be patient; think well and take your time before making decisions).
  • "tegri garie el wohoush, gheer rezkak ma tehoush", 'run like a beast if you will but in the end you'll get what is only yours' (no matter how hard you try, you'll only get the fortune destined for you)
It is important to clarify what your partner means otherwise misunderstanding can occur. Canadians are not offended by questions of clarification or requests for further explanation.

Spoken language as opposed to non-verbal communication, such as posture, eye contact, facial expressions and gestures, is more important in Canada than it is in Arabian and other countries. In Canada, simple and direct communication is the norm. Canadians usually ask direct questions and expect straight answers and generally assume that what was said or written constitutes the entire message. They are often unaware of non-verbal contexts. Moreover, communication style of Arabs in general tends to be more indirect and implicit. What is a said or written does not necessarily constitute the whole message. More attention is usually given to the context in which communication takes place. How things are said and 'who is saying' rather than what is said, can make a difference in the conveyed message.

Canadians appreciate directness even if it involves some confrontation and they will accept criticism if it is given constructively. Arabs, on the other hand, prefer cleverly or shrewdly delivering a negative message so that the relationships are not affected. As Canadians are usually polite and soft-spoken when discussing a conflict, others may understand that they are not firmly convinced of what they are saying. In this context, the saying goes that when a Canadian says "maybe" he/she means "no". Partners from different cultures should learn about and be sensitive to each other's styles of communication.

Generally speaking, government organizations in Canada require a lot of written communications and oral agreements are rare. Although many deals or transactions begin with verbal understanding, they are usually concluded in writing.

Communication barriers are the greatest challenge for partners from different cultures and overcoming them is the key to successful collaboration.

Gift Giving:

In Canada, it is uncommon to give gifts or financial incentives in a professional or business context. Canadians may interpret gift giving as prospects for reciprocation. In such cases they may refuse or feel uncomfortable. Small, inexpensive gifts, symbolic of your country are appreciated.


The notion of saving face is generally little understood by Canadians. At times Egyptians may feel 'insulted' by their Canadian partners who may unintentionally cause them to lose face, by being too frank or 'blunt', particularly in presence of other people. In these situations, it is best that the Arab partner overlooks such 'perceived' insults because based on Canadian culture, they were not said or done on purpose.


In Canada, introductions do not necessarily follow specific rules such as acknowledging an individual's gender, age, social or professional status. Business cards are exchanged at the beginning of a formal meeting; but in informal situations such as receptions they are usually only given when people wish to follow-up with each other.

Greetings, particularly between colleagues and friends, are informal and first names are used. Pronouncing and remembering names can be problematic for both Egyptians and Canadians. Partners may wish to suggest to their each other short forms of address and correct pronunciation as much as possible and necessary.

Women in the Workplace:

Discrimination against women in the workplace is illegal in Canada. This is a matter that is taken very seriously by employers and employees. With changes in the law and growing awareness of women's equal status, discrimination against women is less common now in Canada than it used to be.

Women in Canada can file charges against their employers for harassment including sexual harassment. Harassment may be in the form of conduct that is unwelcome and/or offensive, threats that are specific or implied, behavior that is discriminatory because of race, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy and childbirth) and abuse of authority.

Canadian men and women tend to be more open and casual in the workplace than Egyptians and other Arabs. This should not be interpreted as being disrespectful or as a sign of romantic involvement.

Hiring Practices:

In Canada, hiring of family members is uncommon and sometimes forbidden except in family owned enterprises.

Besides formal hiring practices that advertise jobs in newspapers and are followed by interviews, many jobs are filled internally from within the organization or by word of mouth. However, whether recruitment and selection are formal or informal, the guiding principal is competence of candidates rather than cronyism. After an employee is hired, he or she undergoes a probation period that extends from three or six months to a year depending on the type of work. If the incumbent is incompetent, he or she is dismissed on or before the end of the probation period.

Economic Consideration in the Workplace:

The impact of cost cutting and spending restraints is apparent in many Canadian organizations. There are fewer people at work compared to most Egyptian work settings. Canada’s relatively smaller population and its high labor costs can explain this in part. In addition, hiring of lower-level staff such as cleaners and messengers is contracted out; moreover, employees are expected to serve themselves and it is not uncommon to see senior managers doing their own word-processing, photocopying, telephone calls, etc.

Generally speaking, Canadians spend far more time than Egyptians and other Arabs on the Internet and telephones in order to get work done quicker and at the lowest cost possible. Face-to-face meetings are much fewer. To Arabs, this may make the Canadian workplace appear impersonal and 'unfeeling'.

Big Cities and Small Towns:

In Canada large cities are home to people from many countries and cultures. A foreigner will most likely not be recognized as a foreign guest and will be treated as a long-term resident. This behavior should not be interpreted as 'indifference to guests' but rather as a reflection of Canada's multi-cultural and multi-ethnic reality. Conversely, small towns tend to be less diverse ethnically and visitors stand out and would more readily receive attention.

Another difference between big Canadian cities and small towns is that the pace of work and life style is much more relaxed in small towns than in large cities.

What Comes First, Business or Relationships?

To Canadians in the workplace, business comes first. They tend to be task oriented and anxious to get the work, business or agreement completed quickly. Until this is done, Canadians are likely not interested in social connections and they may not see the development of long-term relationships as their first priority.

Personal Style:

Personal style of life and work has many elements such as manner of speech, use of titles and addresses, dress standards and degree of sophistication in personal interaction. Canadians value individualism and equality and consider personal styles as free individual choices. In general, they prefer simplicity and informality in their personal styles. For example, most Canadians omit their university degrees and titles from their business cards and correspondence.
Dress standards differ from one institution to another. Business people usually dress more formally than university professors and academics, while employees of non-governmental organizations dress more informally than academics.

In this context, partners should not place much importance or try to make judgments based on their Canadian partners' personal styles and should try to be less formal in their interactions.

Sensitivity to Time:

Canadians place a high value on time. To them, time is a commodity that can be saved or otherwise wisely spent. Canadians schedule tasks to be done at particular times, one task at a time, and quick results are expected. Canadian business people generally have little patience for lengthy meetings and time spent getting to know their partners. They would rather use the time to get on with the work at hand.

Egyptians and other Arabs also value time but from a different angle. To them, time is a process that is not only owned by the individual but also by others and by the environment and the universe. Time consumed in building relationships and helping others is time well spent. They, therefore, may not easily schedule their time, tend to do a number of tasks at once and do not expect immediate results. What is more important to them is that things get done well and are stable.

Partners working with Canadians should try to be more conscious of time and punctuality. Getting to know and to establish social relationships with Canadian partners can be more effective during non-working hours.

Smoking in the Workplace:

Canadian perceptions about smoking and laws regulating smoking in public places have dramatically changed in recent years. It is now forbidden to smoke in most public places and offices. Canadians who do not smoke may be offended if people smoke cigarettes near them and may consider this a violation of their right to a smoke-free environment. It is always courteous to ask people if smoking bothers them.

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Working Effectively with Your Canadian Partner:

Working with Individuals:

Personality Factors:

Like any other nation, Canada has its distinct culture. Canada's vast landscape and harsh winters are unifying forces. Many Canadian national institutions such as its federal political system, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, amateur and professional sports (e.g. hockey) and federally sponsored art and cultural events foster national identity. However Canadians, with the exception of aboriginal people (Indians and Inuit), have strong ties by birth or ancestry to foreign countries making it difficult to generalize about them. Moreover, Canadians also share affection and loyalty with their provinces, regions or ancestral homelands. The result is that some Canadians may not be as nationalistic as in some other countries.

Canada is proud of its diversity and has a policy of encouraging ethnic minorities to maintain their languages and sub cultures. Canada's multicultural tradition tends to make Canadians more receptive to the values of other cultures. Given Canada's ethnic diversity, the best approach to building relationships with Canadians is to accept them as both Canadians in general and as unique individuals in particular and to try to find out about each person's uniqueness.

The following are some suggestions that can help you make the most of your relationships with Canadians:
  • Try to get to know your partner and his ethnic and social background.
  • Understand the interests of your partner's organization, how the organization's decision-making process works and the extent of your partner's influence in this regard.
  • Learn to reserve judgement in situations where you feel offended by your Canadian partner. Such situations are often the result of differences in cultural practices. Put yourself in his or her position – pretend you are 'the Canadian' before passing judgement then discuss the issue and clear up the misunderstanding.
  • Keep work and personal responsibilities separate. If personal responsibilities that interfere with your work arise, discuss them with your partner ahead of time whenever possible. Try to reach to common understanding and an agreement that allows you to respond to your personal commitments and that is at the same time fair to your obligations at work.
  • Know and understand your responsibilities and your privileges. Discuss and clear up misunderstandings.
  • Until you and your partner know each other very well, avoid discussing potentially sensitive subjects such as political or religious ideology.
Connections Between Work and Personal Life:

Canadians, unlike Egyptians and most Arabs, tend to separate their work and personal lives to the extent that some keep their professional and personal friends apart. This is partly because in Canada people change jobs and even where they live often. To Canadians, relationships can begin and end quickly and the boundary between people inside and people outside one's circle is not clear. In Arab countries, relationships build up slowly and strengthen over time and one distinguishes between people inside and people outside one's circle. If your Canadian colleague does not spend time with you outside of the workplace, this does not mean that he/she is aloof, dislikes or does not trust you.

Working with Organizations - Organizational Structure and Culture:

Although culture determines the basic values of a people as a whole, different organizations have different 'organizational cultures' that influence individuals working in these organizations. The organizational culture of a government agency can greatly differ from that of an NGO or a business corporation. This applies in all countries. However, in Canada people usually have a better chance to select the work and the organization that best fits their personality and interests.

Understanding the decision-making process of your partner's organization will allow you to make appropriate suggestions and recommendations.

The following sections deal with some of the values that are typical of large Canadian businesses, universities, government and NGOs:

Large Corporations:

The trade agreement among Canada, the United States and Mexico has unified North American markets forcing many Canadian companies to become more competitive globally. Canadian corporations involved in international business need ample resources and individuals that bring new ideas and new opportunities. Although families own many businesses in Canada, large family-owned corporations are now in decline and are often sold or run by professional business managers.

Canadian corporations excel internationally in agriculture, architecture, aerospace, banking, computer systems and software, telecommunications, engineering consulting, oil and gas development, forestry and mining.

Traditionally, government in Canada has played a major role in Canada's industrial economy through ownership and regulations. Roads, railways, utilities and many related industries have been directly developed by government or with its assistance. However, today the government owns very few corporations. Large Canadian businesses cultivate close relations with government through industry associations and lobbyists.

Businesses in Canada tend to have well-defined responsibilities for employees. The organizational structure will depend on many factors including the type and size of the company. In general, large corporations can be quite bureaucratic with more rules and regulations than smaller corporations. Companies involved in new technologies or services will be less hierarchical.

Your Canadian partners may be management professionals with responsibility for developing market opportunities in Arab nations. They probably will know something about your country and its culture and may have traveled there before. They are likely to have been given specific objectives for which their head offices will hold them accountable. Their attitude toward you may seem somewhat impersonal particularly at the beginning of the business. You have to remember that their first objective is to develop business relationships. Personal relationships will probably be secondary and may not occur until working relationships have been established.

Academic and Research Organizations:

The Canadian government provides the major source of income for universities. With reduced government funding, university budgets are limited and fewer support services are now available. At many Canadian universities, competition for employment is fierce making the university environment stressful. Moreover, universities are also becoming more entrepreneurial and are marketing their knowledge services more that before.

It is important not to base status of university employees entirely on their position. Status and influence may come from access to research grants, publishing accomplishments, professional contacts and sources of new ideas and innovations. Academics are judged by their peers on the quality and quantity of their research.

Despite the informality of the university environment, there is a system of rank wherein tenured professors enjoy greater prestige than non-tenured staff.

The teaching style in small university classes consists largely of an exchange of ideas between the professor and the students. It is not uncommon for a student to argue a point with his professor during class. Professors encourage participation and interaction in their classes.

Operational decisions are usually the responsibility of a management committee. More strategic issues such as budget planning and other concerns are the reach of the president and board of directors who are largely represented by the community's business and professional elite.

If you go to Canada, people at the university may have a busy schedule with little time for you. There may not be staff available to assist you, owing to cutbacks and budget restraints. You may be left alone to carry on with your work. Do not feel offended as this applies to both foreign as well as Canadian students and academics. Try to depend on yourself and use available resources. Nevertheless, you will always be treated with respect as a fellow colleague. Discuss your general interests, establish your academic credentials and try to make a wide range of contact as a means of securing support and assistance. Meanwhile, as an outsider, avoid university politics and maintain good relations with staff and students.

Government Departments and Agencies:

Canada was created in 1867 by an act of the British parliament. In 1982, the act was pertained to Canada, amended and called the Constitution Act. The Constitution Act spells out the structure of the Canadian federation and its fundamental institutions, the Crown, the Parliament, the Executive and the Judicial system. Although the Queen is the head of the State, the Crown's role is purely ceremonial. Ministers who constitute the Executive of the government are responsible to Parliament. In order to remain in office, they must retain the confidence of a majority of the elected members of the House of Commons. Rule of law is a fundamental element in the Canadian system of government. The independence of the judiciary is safeguarded under the Constitution.

Canada has one national, ten provincial and three territorial governments as well as a system of regional and municipal governments. The federal government is responsible for national defense, foreign affairs, energy, immigration, currency regulation and other matters of national importance. Provincial governments are responsible for matters such as transportation, education, social services and health care. Municipal and regional governments regulate city and community services such as water and sewage, local transportation and some social programs. There is shared responsibility for matters such as environment or communications. Federal-provincial conferences play an important role in coordinating policies and programs.

Canadians are taxed at all levels of government. The complex tax system involves transfer of funds from the federal government to the provinces and from the provinces to local government bodies.

Government spending accounts for about 40% of the Canadian economy. Recently, after a decade of restraint, most governments have stopped deficit-spending and are showing annual budget surpluses which are being spend to reduce the accumulated debt, reduce taxes and pay for new programs.

Canadians enjoy a high level of public services including health care, education and unemployment insurance.

Government departments have the authority to make certain policy decisions on matters pertaining to issues such as budget planning, government reorganization and personnel policies. Matters requiring new legislation must go through the Parliament.

Matters such as partnership with government agencies or departments are usually decided within the department or agency itself. Depending on the level of expenditure involved and the policy implications, they may require approval of a higher authority such as a minister. However, Canadian government officials are usually delegated a considerable amount of decision-making authority.

Senior government officials are career civil servants. They are currently challenged to re-think and re-design public services to reduce government expenditures and meanwhile continue doing 'more with less'. Under such circumstances, your partner's ability to provide you with resources may be limited and should not negatively affect your relationship nor the spirit of your partnership. Your partner's first interest will be defining expectations of both parties, setting clear objectives, anticipated results and timetables.

As few Canadian public servants have international experience, your partner may not know much about your country and its culture. It is a good idea to make him/her aware of your work situation and how it differs from that in Canada. This helps your partner to understand and appreciate differences and together you can design your partnership and work in a way that reflects and applies to both cultures.

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs):

There are over 50,000 registered and non-profit NGOs in Canada which have been created by interest groups to carry out social, environmental, humanitarian or development work in Canada and overseas.

Canada's government has a unique tradition of financing NGOs, even those that have a critical view of government policies and programs. Canadian NGOs raise, through fund raising and private donations, twice as much as what the government provides them with. However, they still continually struggle to obtain funds and apply for the increasingly scarce government funding.

NGOs help give special interest groups an effective voice and access to political decision-makers. When NGOs lobby effectively and catch the attention of the media, they can sometimes drive governments to change their policies.

There are over 250 Canadian NGOs working on various international projects and many receive funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

When local NGOs in a developing country grow and mature, their Canadian NGO counterparts usually go into partnership with them thus becoming more accountable locally.

Management style of Canadian NGOs is consultative and subordinates often have considerable responsibility.

Many NGO staff have extensive and first-hand knowledge about other countries and cultures. They are more interested in development goals and problems than the average Canadian and want to learn more about the social and political situation in your country. Your openness and honesty will be appreciated. However, if necessary, alert your Canadian partners about actions that may result in creating problems for you or your organization.

Finally, bear in mind that your NGO Canadian partner has a restricted budget, and that detailed financial reports will be necessary and required.

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Situations and Responses - What Would you Do?

The following are examples of some work situations you may encounter while working with your Canadian partner. Based on what was learned from the previous chapters, select the most appropriate response to each situation then check your answer against the given assessments.

Situation 1:

At a formal introductory meeting, your Canadian colleague makes an incorrect statement about your position or role in the project

  1. Remain silent so as not to cause your colleague any embarrassment or loss of face.
  2. When you have the opportunity to talk, mention that this statement was not quite right and provide the audience with your correct role.
  3. Remain silent. When the meeting is over, speak to your colleague to correct the mistake.
  1. To Canadians, saving face is not as important. You are expected to correct factual errors.
  2. Raising the matter and correcting others are acceptable to Canadians as long as this is done politely and tactfully. (best response)
  3. This option is acceptable; but it will only clarify the matter between you and your colleague but leaves the audience with an incorrect understanding.

Situation 2:

Your Canadian partner asks you to undertake some tasks as part of your work in the project. You are not sure that you fully understand what is expected of you.

  1. Say nothing and begin the tasks with the assumption that your partner will help if he/she sees that you are not doing them properly.
  2. Say nothing and postpone doing the tasks until you figure out how they are done in order to avoid mistakes.
  3. Explain to your partner your understanding of what is expected from you and ask him/her for clarification.
  1. Your Canadian partner will assume that you know what to do since you did not ask for clarification or help.
  2. Your partner will not understand why you failed to undertake the tasks.
  3. Your partner expects you to ask for clarification if you do not understand what is required from you. (best response)

Situation 3:

You call a Canadian to arrange a meeting with him/her for an important matter. He/she seems to be in a hurry and speaks quickly. He/she appears to want to discuss the matter over the phone rather than in a meeting.

  1. Drop the idea of a meeting and try to collect as much information as possible through what he/she is saying over the phone.
  2. Ask another Canadian colleague to call and arrange the meeting for you.
  3. Explain to the Canadian on the phone that your English is not so fluent, that the matter is important and that you would appreciate a meeting with him/her in order to avoid any misunderstanding. If it is not urgent, ask him/her if they would prefer that you call later or they call you back to arrange for the meeting.
  1. If a meeting is necessary, you should not abandon the attempt to arrange for one even if the Canadian seems to be in a hurry or wants to discuss the matter over the phone.
  2. You should not resort to use an intermediary as long as your language is enough to approach the person directly.
  3. The Canadian is probably unaware that it is difficult to understand his/her quick talking over the phone or why it is important for you to meet in person. Once you explain he/she will likely agree to the meeting. (best response)

Situation 4:

During a consultation regarding certain aspects of the project, your Canadian partner puts some conditions that you believe are unreasonable or impractical.

  1. Explain why these conditions will be difficult to accommodate and offer alternatives.
  2. Tell your partner that what he/she are asking for are culturally insensitive and undoable.
  3. Say that you will do your best to get the other project partners to accept the conditions.
  1. The Canadian expects you to discuss terms that are unreasonable or impractical in your culture and will be prepared to consider alternatives or compromises. (best response)
  2. This response is too confrontational since you did not offer an explanation or alternatives.
  3. This response may preserve relations in the short term but harm them later when the Canadian learns that his/her conditions were not met. He/she will not understand why you did not discuss the matter thoroughly beforehand.

Situation 5:

One of your Canadian partners seems to ignore you. He/she appears uninterested in you and even resentful of you.

  1. Tell others how you have been mistreated or slighted and treat this Canadian the same way, i.e. ignore and resent him/her.
  2. Ask your manager for a transfer to another department or for a different position where you do not have to deal with this person.
  3. Before taking any action, raise the subject with the Canadian in question. Check it out with him/her to find out whether your assumptions are correct. If they are, select an appropriate manner to resolve the conflict.
  1. This way you aggravate the situation for you and others, straining the environment and lessening the effectiveness and efficiency of work.
  2. You have resorted to one way for conflict resolution; however, you based your resolution on the assumption that you perception is correct.
  3. Discussing the issue with the person in question will clarify the situation so that further action is reasonable and based on facts rather than assumptions and misperceptions. (best response)

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Brislin, R. Understanding Culture’s Influence on Behaviour. Fort Worth, Texas: Harcourt Brace and Company. (1993)

Canada. Organization of the Government of Canada. Ottawa: Department of Supply and Services.

Hall, E. T. The Silent Language. New York: Anchor Books. (1959)

Hofstede, G. Culture and Organizations: Software of the Mind. Berkshire (UK): McGraw-Hill. (1991)

Samovar, L. and Porter, R. Intercultural Communication – A Reader. Belmont,California: Wadsworth Inc. (1991)

Center for Intercultural Learning (CIT). Working With a Canadian Partner, Hull/Ottawa, (1995).

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Understanding the Egyptian Culture:
Section 1:
Patterns and Effects of Change
Section 2:
  Defining Culture and Understanding Some Principle for Cultural Difference
Basic Framework for Culture - Context Characteristics
Section 3:
  Fundamenatl Beliefs, Values and Attitudes
Section 4:
  Facts and Feelings
Section 5:
  Privacy and Space

Section 1:

Any successful intercultural relationship, professional or social, must begin with a good understanding of the cultural background of the people involved in this relationship.

The purpose of this document is to explain the main aspects of the Egyptian culture to Canadian readers, thereby deepening their understanding of the behavior of their Egyptian associates and helping them avoid negative interpretations. If both Egyptians and Canadians understand and appreciate each other's culture, it follows that their professional and social encounters would be built on endurable grounds leading to stronger and more effective partnerships.

We will focus on the overall cultural aspects of modern urban Egypt. This will hopefully give more applicable information to Canadians who for the most part interact with the more educated, traveled and sophisticated Egyptians. Moreover, to be of real value in helping partners deal with relationships, we will look at many differences as possible and concentrate on some important areas.

'Understanding the Egyptian Culture' appears in sections in CIDA's quarterly Newsletter 'Development Express'. So far, what is presented here is the first five sections.

This document will be more complete and more useful if our readers are involved. We welcome your comments and feedback. Your participation is an integral part in this production and your input will be sincerely appreciated.

Patterns and Effects of Change:
Today, world political, economic, social and technological trends are drawing nations closer together. Globalization is justifying change in societies, even those that remained in exclusion for decades.

Egyptian public has been influenced a great deal by the outside world, particularly since World War II. This modern influence is now evident in many areas of life. Even in remote villages, traditional ways have been affected to some degree. This influence was brought about by the adoption of Western technologies, particularly in the areas of communications, consumer products, health care systems, education, architecture and engineering. Moreover, Egyptians have experienced accelerating exposure to the world media and increasing contact with foreign advisors, teachers, business people, and especially tourists.

In Egypt we are seeing entire cities and towns changing their appearance. Populations are shifting from farms and villages to larger urban centers. Thousands of students are receiving Western education in private schools or abroad. Many young Egyptians are enjoying western dress and entertainment such as music, dance and theater. Increasing numbers of Egyptian women are seeking employment and already constitute a large percentage of the country's technical and professional labor force.

With all these variations, how much has the foundation of Egyptian culture been changed?

According to Kalpana Das, Director of the Intercultural Institute of Montreal, the identity of a culture can be compared to a tree. Its visible part is the branches and leaves. The trunk is its structure. The roots, although invisible, are the part that provides the life force for the entire tree.

Generally speaking, there is reason to believe that global modern trends have resulted in some change to the 'branches and leaves' of Egypt's 'culture tree' or its visible part, like buildings, dress, technology and some habits. To a lesser extent, some shift or variation is observed in the 'trunk of the tree' or structural part, like certain organizational aspects such as social and family structure, laws, economy and politics. What seems to keep a stronghold is the "tree's root system" or its invisible part of values and beliefs.

A common theme among Egyptians today is the need to screen Western innovations and adopt aspects that are beneficial (such as new scientific knowledge and technologies) but reject those that are thought of as harmful (such as lessening concern for family cohesion or some types of foreign entertainment).

It appears that both modern and traditional ways are present at the same time forming a dualism in many urban Egyptian societies and that most well educated professionals have developed the ability to synthesize diverse ways of thinking and to balance the demands of modern life with ancestral values.

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Section 2:

Defining Culture and Understanding Some Principles for Cultural Differences:
Culture, as defined by anthropologist Edward Hall, is "The way of life of a people. The sum of their learned behavior patterns, attitudes and material things... It is not innate, but learned; the various facts of a culture are interrelated."

With this definition in mind, it follows that the entire environment of a people and their experiences within this environment throughout an extension of time outlines the basis of their culture. For example, the need for the early Canadian settlers to survive very difficult conditions and to individually try to ensure their own security was perhaps one of the causes for Canada being an 'individualistic' society. On the other hand the geography of Egypt particularly its Nile and its moderate climate allowed the first Egyptian nomadic hunters to gather and form early settlements along the fertile River valley perhaps was a reason for Egypt being a 'collectivist' society.

To understand what interculturalists mean by 'individualistic' and 'collectivist' societies, Edward Hall has developed a concept that is useful in understanding differences among cultures. He places cultures along a continuum (continuation with no abrupt or sharp divisions). One end of the continuum he called High Context (HC) (or more Collectivist cultures) and the other end Low Context (LC) (or more Individualistic cultures). The term context means the surrounding circumstances of an interaction between individuals such as age, gender, social status etc. In HC cultures much attention is paid to the context. More important than the spoken words people use such factors as tone of voice, gestures, posture, etc. In LC cultures the surrounding circumstances are filtered out and people primarily rely on the spoken words to interpret messages.

Hall has identified a number of dimensions of human activity five of which are major in building a High/Low-Context framework that can be used to conceptualize patterns of behavior for cultural groups:
  1. Association - relationship with others.
  2. Interaction - verbal and non-verbal communication.
  3. Territoriality - use of space.
  4. Temporality - concept and use of time.
  5. Learning - how knowlege and skills are developed.

A Basic Framework for Cultural-Context Characteristics:

Higher-Context Cultures
(More Collectivist Societies)
Lower-Context Cultures
(More Individualistic Societies)
Association and Territoriality
  • Relationships depend on trust, build up slowly and are stable. One distinguishes between people inside and people outside one's circle.
  • Things get done through relationships with people and paying attention to group processes.
  • Ones identity is rooted in-groups such as family, friends, and work.
  • Social structure and authority is centralized. Responsibility is at the top.
  • Space is communal. People are closer together sharing the same space.
Association and Territoriality
  • Relationships begin and end quickly. Boundary of people inside and people outside one's circle is not clear.
  • Things get done through following procedures and paying attention to a goal.
  • One's identity is rooted in oneself and one's accomplishments.
  • Social structure is decentralized. Responsibility goes further down.
  • Space is compartmentalized and privacy is important so people are farther apart.
  • High use of non-verbal elements such as voice tone, facial expressions, gestures and eye movement. Non-verbal elements carry a significant part of a conversation.
  • Verbal message is implicit. Context such as situation, people, non-verbal elements is more important than words.
  • Verbal message is indirect. One talks around the point.
  • Communication is seen as a form of art and a way of engaging people.
  • Disagreement is personalized. One is sensitive to conflict with others. Conflict either must be solved before work can progress, or must be avoided.
  • Low use of non-verbal elements. Message is carried more by words than by non-verbal means.
  • Verbal message is explicit. Context is less important than words.
  • Verbal message is direct. One spells things out.
  • Communication is seen as a way of exchanging information, ideas and opinions.
  • Disagreement is depersonalized. One withdraws from conflict with another and gets on with the task. Focus is on rational solutions and not on personal ones. One can be explicit about another's behavior.
  • Time is not easily scheduled. Needs of people may interfere with keeping to a set time. What is important is that the activity gets done taking its own time.
  • Change is slow. Things are rooted in the past, stable and slow to change.
  • Time is a process. It belongs to others and to nature.
  • Things are scheduled to be done at particular times, one thing at a time. What is important is that the activity is done efficiently.
  • Change is fast. One can make change and see immediate results.
  • Time is a commodity to be spent or saved. One’s time is one’s own.
  • Knowledge is embedded in the situation. Things are connected, synthesized and global. Multiple sources of information are used. Thinking is deductive and proceeds from general to specific.
  • Learning occurs by first acknowledging theory then practicing.
  • Groups are preferred for learning and problem solving.
  • Accuracy is valued. How well something is learned is important.
  • Reality is fragmented and compartmentalized. Single sources of information are used. Thinking is inductive and proceeds from specific to general. Focus is on detail.
  • Learning occurs by following explicit directions.
  • An individual orientation is preferred for learning and problem solving.
  • Speed is valued. How efficiently something is learned is important.

It is very important to re-emphasize the idea of a continuum and that this framework is only a guide and should not be seen as a set of boxes in which people are placed. The differences between cultures run along this continuum. Moreover, within each culture there are subcultures, cultural groups and individuals who exhibit divergence. For example along the high-low context continuum, Japan is considered a 'typical' HC while Germany is LC. This does not mean that all Japanese people are HC and all German people are LC. It should also be emphasized that when comparing cultures, there is no 'bad or good' nor 'better or worse'; there are just differences that 'make more sense' to different people.

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Section 3:

Fundamental Beliefs, Values and Attitudes:

Despite individual and group differences, Egyptians share basic beliefs and values that transcend class boundaries. Religion, i.e. Christianity and particularly Islam influence these beliefs and values although some practices go back as far as early pharaonic eras.

Egyptians profoundly believe in God and that most things in life are ultimately controlled by God's will (fate). They value a person's dignity, reputation, family, friends and social class.

Some basic Egyptian attitudes include:
  • that everyone acknowledges God and has a religious affiliation;
  • that many things depend on God's will and therefore people have limited control over events;
  • that being religious is an important and worthy attribute;
  • that Islam is the all encompassing religion; a religion that is just and humane and not barbaric as many Westerners think it is.
  • that religion and government are not separate and should compliment each other;
  • that a person's behavior should have a good impression on others;
  • that a person's honor or shame also concerns his/her family;
  • that loyalty to one's family should precede personal needs and that one should do the best they can to help friends;
  • that social class and family background determine a person's status followed by his/her individual characteristics, achievements and personal connections.


Most Egyptians think that:
  • Egypt is 'the mother of the world' (Misr om al donia). Egyptians are a people with rich cultural heritage that has enhanced the development of the whole world in many fields such as architecture, medicine, mathematics, philosophy, literature and religion. This heritage is firstly Egyptian and then Arab (the added value of the Arabs is Islam and the Arabic language).
  • Egypt although still part of the Arab world, is a distinct and distinguished culture that is more advanced in many ways than the rest of the Arab nations. This distinction is unknown to many Western societies.
  • Many Western people are anti-Arab and anti-Muslim and this influences their perception of Egyptians.
  • Egypt could have been one of the leading countries of the world has it not been exploited by the West as well as by corrupt local governments over lengthy periods of time.
  • It is very difficult for Egypt to recapture what was lost over time and to become the great nation that it used to be.
  • Blind mimicry of certain aspects of Western cultures will result in negative implications on the Egyptian society.
  • Egyptians are emotional people. Emotional is being loving, sensitive and feeling and not impatient and irrational as many Westerners think.

Introductions and Self-Disclosure:

Egyptians will usually give more information about themselves during introductions than Canadians do. Besides title, name and educational or professional status, introductions are likely to include family and/or relatives, social standing, connections and personal or professional achievements. This should not be perceived as immaterial self-praise. In Egypt, connections are potentially very useful should 'pull' from people in high positions be needed. Listen carefully to your partner's disclosure about himself/herself. Your partner expects you to be more explicit about yourself than what you are normally accustomed to in Canada. Talk a little more about where you come from, your educational/professional background and family together with parents and children.

It is customary in Egypt to call a person with his/her title (Dr., Engineer, Professor, Mrs., etc.) followed by first name rather than by family name. Using a person's title is important as it is an acknowledgement of status.

Friends, Associates and Reciprocal Favours:

Egyptians are friendly and it is easy to start relationships with them. Relationships start by liking and when they grow stronger, friendships develop. Close friendships are based on trust and loyalty. They build-up slowly over time but once mature, they are stable. Friends are expected to help and do favors for each other. An Egyptian does not refuse a request from a friend and reciprocal favors are expected. If the demand cannot be met, he/she suggests other options but never openly declines assistance. Reciprocal favors do not only demonstrate loyalty of friends but are also expected from associates and colleagues. Giving and receiving favors is culturally accepted as part of a relationship and should not be mistaken as calculated or self-serving.

Differences in expectations between you and your Egyptian partner, who considers you a friend, can lead to misunderstanding and may result in collapse of the relationship. In a de-briefing session of engineers coming back from a three-week training in Canada, an Egyptian trainee protested, "When they come to Egypt we show them around, invite them at our homes and help them do and get everything they need. When we arrived in Canada, they just dropped us at a hotel alone for the whole weekend - not one phone call! They did not show us around the city or take us shopping. We were never invited once at Mr."X's" home. At the office, we even had to pay for our own coffee." Another engineer said, "I asked Mr.'Y' if he can help me apply for a scholarship for my son at the Canadian University just around the corner. He said that he 'frankly' cannot do that."

Listen to your partner's inquiry and do what you can to help. If you cannot, do not bluntly say no. A non-commitant but positive response to a request is not taken as a promise yet demonstrates good intentions. Mr.'Y' could have explained that although he does not know about university procedures, he will try to inquire. The Egyptian will always understand and appreciate your efforts even if they are modest.

Although it is easy to be friends with Egyptians, they clearly distinguish between people inside and people outside their circle. A matter closely linked to this concept is private versus public manners. Egyptians have a different code of behavior that is applicable for strangers. For example, in public people usually do such things as push and shove in lines; but if you take a minute to exchange a couple of words with the people in the line, you will be treated differently. You will not be pushed out of the line and you may even be given a place ahead.

Personal contact makes a difference in changing your position from outside to inside your partner's circle.

Invitations, Visiting and Privacy:

Egyptians contact and visit each other a lot more than Canadians do. Close friends see or call one another as often as once a day or more. It is common practice that they 'drop in' without invitation or calling ahead of time. In Egypt people enjoy long discussions over shared meals and drinks (tea or coffee) and over the telephone. In addition, it is a cultural obligation that family, relatives, friends, colleagues and acquaintances regularly inquire about each other. Negligence in socializing can be interpreted as 'something wrong' such as being sick or feeling offended. Privacy or 'space' as known in Canada is 'loneliness' or 'antisocial behavior' in the Egyptian dictionary. Sometimes you are ushered to meet with an Egyptian official, do not be surprised to see that some of his colleagues are also attending this seemingly private interview. Many Egyptians feel more comfortable to discuss issues as a group while others see that an honest business can be conducted openly.

In this respect Egyptians will not expect you to keep pace with them. However, they will expect that you try to be more lenient. If you opt for 'strict' space or privacy, you will eventually lose friendship with your partner. This can be a great personal loss particularly if you have a long-term mission in Egypt. Egyptian friends are generous with their time and effort and will go to great lengths in caring for your welfare and in being loyal and dependable.

Business, Friendship and Office Colleagues:

For Egyptians, all acquaintances are potential friends. The differentiation 'business friend', 'tennis friend' or 'boss-employee role' where no socializing is expected or personal concerns discussed is uncommon in Egypt.

A good personal relationship is very important for a successful professional pursuit. Personal contacts rather than following regulations are usually more effective and efficient ways for working in Egypt.

Try not to appear in a hurry to talk business with your partner. Be relaxed and begin with a brief inquiry about how he/she is doing health-wise and otherwise. If your partner is the host, let him/her start the conversation and when he/she is ready bring up the purpose of your visit. In the office, greetings such as 'good morning' when you arrive and 'have a good evening' when you depart are important everyday. Always remember to ask about people on sick leave. From time to time ask about your colleagues' personal concerns. Egyptians like compliments and praise for a job well done greatly motivates them. Remember to cheer people up with a light compliment. Acknowledge and thank your colleagues for the work they've done.

Egyptians are generally polite and hospitable. Be 'culturally sensitive' and do the things that are commonly considered in Egypt as part of 'good manners' and 'generosity'. It is a good idea that people eat lunch together at the office. If not, offer to share your food or drink with others. This will be appreciated although they will politely refuse seeing that what you have is just enough for you alone.

Criticism, Intermediaries and Saving Face:

Pride, self-esteem and saving face are very important for Egyptians. Criticism is generally not well received and can easily be taken personally. If it cannot be avoided, criticism should be indirect, discreet, never in public and preceded by the individual's good points first. For example, a better way of telling your partner that what he wrote "Was not good" would be "Thank you for the hard work you put into this report. Because ... I think it would be better if you could add ... and delete ... How about going through the notes I put in the margins to see how we can make it even more articulate and acceptable by all parties?"

The selection of one person to act as an intermediary between two others is common in Egypt. An intermediary may serve as a representative of someone with a request or as a moderator in a dispute. This kind of representation through a third party also serves to save face in the event that the request is not granted or that the dispute includes even 'constructive' criticism or objectively in dealing with disagreement. Your partner may designate another colleague to discuss some contractual issues with you such as his/her salary adjustment. Do not be surprised or upset that he did not personally undertaken this matter directly with you.

Mediation is far more successful if the intermediaries are liked and trusted by both parties. In this respect, personalities and perceptions of those selected rather than competence with the issues at hand determine relative success of the process. On the political level, a vivid example is the achievements of Henry Kissinger when he served as the negotiator after the 1973 war between Egypt and Israel. President Sadat of Egypt often referred to him as "Dr. Henry, my friend".

Many foreign and local projects and firms appoint staff to work as 'government relations employees' whose job is to establish and maintain liaison with government offices and officials. Government relations' employees can be indispensable in facilitating different types of communications particularly with the bureaucratic Egyptian government institutions.

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Section 4:

Facts and Feelings:

Detached and Attached Reasoning:

Feelings play a significant role in Egyptians' view of events and consequently in their subsequent behavior. In analyzing a situation, facts are considered but feelings also have a considerable influence. Expression of emotions is not only common in the Egyptian culture but also valued. The word 'emotional' in Egyptian terminology carries one of the following undertones: 'feeling, concerned, enthusiastic, passionate, sympathetic, etc.' On the other hand, the same word to Westerners has a negative connotation such as 'immaturity, unreasoning or lacking judgement'. To Westerners the examination of facts without the intrusion of emotional bias is the constructive approach to human affairs. It is not uncommon therefore that some Canadians may feel that Egyptians are 'too sensitive and emotionally immature' while some Egyptians may feel that Canadians are 'too aloof, indifferent and impenetrable'. In a debriefing, an Egyptian employee said, "My boss intentionally avoids asking for my opinion in staff meetings simply because when I talk, I talk with my heart to express my feelings. He once told me that I overreact and I should learn to grow-up. Can you believe this!" Therefore, it can be said that Canadians tend to be more objective or factual while Egyptians tend to be more subjective or introspective.


This is another cultural controversy between Canadians and Egyptians. For Egyptians, fatalism is based on the belief that people do not have absolute command over all what happens because God has ultimate control of events. In general, 'fatalism' amongst Arabs has been overemphasized by Westerners. Educated Egyptians (and Arabs) believe that people should first ensure that they have done everything possible to manage a situation before they justify results to the Will of God. The common phrase 'In shaa Allah (God willing)' does not necessarily mean 'We have no control'.

A Canadian spouse once told me, "I hate it when 'they' say 'In shaa Allah'. It means that the job will not be done." The plumber, whom I had referred her to, explained, "Of course, I'll fix it tomorrow – if I don't get hit by a car today!"

Reality and Perception:

If you believe something exists, to you it is real. Although the particulars of a reality may be the same, perception plays an important role in how people see things. Different realities exist to different people because they select to reorganize data differently.

The cultural difference between Canadians and Egyptians arises not from the fact that this selection takes place, but from how each makes the selection. Egyptians are more likely to allow subjective or meditative perception to determine what is real and hence direct their actions. Canadians, on the other hand, tend to use objective or material perception. This is not to say that Egyptians cannot be objective. They can; however, sometimes they reorganize data in a way that may be different from how Canadians would. For example many Egyptians see the 1967 Arab-Israeli war a 'setback' rather than a 'defeat'. Another example in 'Palestine/Israel' is 'freedom fighters or martyrs' versus 'suicide bombers'.

Another way of influencing the perception of reality is by the choice of descriptive names, words and phrases. These can have powerful effects on perception and therefore reality. Slogans are popular and provide an insight into how things are viewed. Egyptians often use caricature, jokes and aphorisms to satirize some government personalities and presentations that may not be seen factual or 'real' by the public.

Human Factors and Regulations:

In general, Egyptians place more emphasis on human factors when they analyze events and make decisions. A manager is likely to reconsider company regulations in view of someone's personal situation. They place great value on personal interviews and on giving people the opportunity to state their case. They usually are uncomfortable in filling out forms or dealing with organizations impersonally. Unfortunately, the drawback is that regulations that are not convenient to some top-level personnel or those in power can often be ignored or manipulated. For example, an employee who does not meet the standards of a position could be accepted into an organization if the proper contact can be made. A traffic officer may not seriously consider all regulations in a car accident because the 'offensive' driver is a poor man who could not afford fixing the other car and at least 'Alhamdu LELLAH' (thanks to God) that no one was hurt!

Negotiation and Persuasion:

During negotiation or persuasion, Egyptians place more value than Canadians do on personalized elements of the discussion such as reference to mutual friendships or emphasis on the effect the action will have on other people. Feelings also play a good role in such arguments. To Egyptians, negotiation and persuasion is an art where language is cleverly selected and entwined to appeal to sentiments.

In this context, foreigners often miss the emotional dimension in their intercultural transactions with Egyptians. A Canadian overhearing a discussion (particularly if in Arabic) may wrongly conclude that it is a 'quarrel' and people are 'angry'. The displays of emotions often imply deep and sincere concern for the substance of the discussion rather than hostility and anger.

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Section 5:

Privacy and Space:

The concept of 'space' and 'privacy' is culturally determined. In general, Egyptians are closer together than Canadians in space or social distance as well as in their personal behavior towards each other.

Personal and Sensitive Subjects:

Egyptians often discuss together personal issues including money matters such as how much was paid for an item, salaries and salary increases. Other subjects that may be considered private by Canadians but not Egyptians include: age, whether a person is married and for how long and why someone has not married, is divorced or does not have children. Egyptians tend to talk more freely about family concerns that Canadians often reserve for very close relationships. If one does not want to respond, it is common to speak in general terms evading straight answers. For example, one may say that, 'the item was not inexpensive', 'he/she has not yet found the right person to marry', 'there were irresolvable problems in the marriage that ended in divorce' or 'there are no children because it has not happened or is not God's will yet'. Such responses are acceptable and usually give a clue that one does not want to get into detail. Haughty replies as "really it is non of your business" even if said in jest or "I'd rather be free and not commited by marriage to any one man/woman", or "I/we do not like children" can be offensive (Egyptians like children and assume that everyone does. In Islamic and Coptic religions children are described as 'God's beloved').

While Canadians prefer not to discuss work or business after 'office hours' ('talking shop'), Egyptians find this a good topic for social conversation especially amongst colleagues.

Religion and politics are two other favorite subjects that are often discussed socially; however, they can be risky when foreigners are involved.

If you believe in God and is committed to a religion, people would be impressed. Many Egyptians assume that Westerners are not religious. Moslems and Copts are confident about the wholeness and righteousness of their religion. It is a way of life and therefore it is a subject that often occurs in conversations. Moslems, in particular, feel that it is their obligation to educate others about what they do not know in Islam. If you ask questions, you will get answers and explanations and this may lead to discussions and often different opinions. In this respect, a Canadian should be cautious about two things: i) asking people who are not knowledgeable enough about the subject may result in incorrect or distorted information. ii) statements/arguments that may be perceived as disrespectful to Islam harm personal and in many cases business relationships as well. It is advisable to considerately discuss religion and only with educated and well read individuals.

Egyptians readily bring up current political issues in their conversation particularly those relevant to the Middle East such as the 11th of September WTC incident, the war on Afghanistan, the Palestine problem and the Iraq/American conflict. Yet they are not prepared for frank statements of disagreement that are in support of the opposing side of the argument. A two-sided open discussion on political and emotionally sensitive issues is not recommended. Egyptians see Canada as a neutral country that genuinely supports peace and has no hidden political agendas. If your views are sufficiently different from those of your Egyptian partner, it is better to avoid discussion, try to change the subject or assume a nonaligned position.

Social Distance:

Egyptians and Canadians differ in the 'physical distance' they maintain when conversing as well as in the amount of 'touching' they feel comfortable with in interpersonal relations.

In general, Egyptians tend to stand and sit closer together and touch others (of the same sex) more than Canadians do. It is common to see two men or two women embracing and kissing (on both cheeks) or holding hands as they cross the strteet. People shake hands when they meet and again when they depart. It is also common to touch eachother repeatedly during a conversation to emphasize a point. For example, you may be in front of a teller machine and the person behind you is so close that he can see the transactions you are making; or you may be in an elevator or a bus and an Egyptian boards and stands close to you rather than moving to the opposite corner; or in a conversation, your partner puts his hand on your shoulder while looking you directly in the eyes. If you feel uneasy or uncomfortable, remember that these norms are largely unconscious and not intended.

In many Western societies, using first names is an indication of the closeness of a personal relationship. In Egypt, the first name is always used even if preceded by a title (e.g. Mr., Mrs., Dr., etc.). You should expect to be called by your title followed by your first name. It should be noted here that in official documents first and family names have to be used and women retain their maiden names even if they are married. Because Egyptians are proud of their extended families and their ancestors, genealogical names can be long. Only recently that the government introduced laws to limit long family names in order to simplify legal documentation and procedures.

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More Information:
For more information about the Egypt Intercultural Program, suggestions, and/or inquiries, please contact:

  Program Support Unit
  Telphones:   (202) 794-5901/ 794-8967/ 794-1098
  Fax:   (202) 796-4148
  E-Mail: OR

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