Saturday, January 24, 2009

Why are Americans always afraid?

I got into Cairo and spent the first two nights in the King Tut hostel in Downtown by myself, waiting for other AUC students to arrive. Yesterday I decided to venture out alone for a while and get an Egyptian cell phone, a power converter and something to eat.
When I was waiting to cross the street on the grand Tahrir Square, a young man approached me and said, "You look like you could be Egyptian." (I wondered why he addressed me in English, but didn't mention it.)
I tried to fend him off, but he insisted that he didn't want to sell me anything and just wanted to engage in a "cultural exchange." We talked for a bit, and then he asked, "Do you see that KFC? I want to show you something." "Yes," I said, hesitantly.
So, I followed him (his name turned out to be Salem, and he's a 28-year-old student of Ancient Egyptian history at the University of Cairo) to this coffee shop, where we had hibiscus tea and Arabic coffee and he introduced topics of conversation ranging from Hillary's chances at still becoming president to the value of astronomical predictions, to his thoughts on the afterlife.
Finally, he said, "I must ask you a question which you should answer honestly."
"Ok," I said, taking a rather large gulp of tea.
"Why are Americans always afraid? When I talked to you on the street, you looked so nervous, and I asked myself all these questions in my head. Why are Americans always afraid?"
He proceeded to mime an American tourist looking up, down and behind himself in utter terror. 
I considered his question and gave a rather long-winded response, which amounted roughly to: "I'm always cautious in places I don't know. I'm not afraid in New York because I know how to handle myself and my surroundings there. Here, I am unsure of customs, etc."
He was unimpressed by my explanation and assured me that crime is virtually nonexistent in Egypt. 
"But it's different for women," I said. "What about harassment?"
"Oh, that," he waved his hand in polite dismissal. "That happens to Egyptian women too."
Not feeling at all reassured, I gave up trying to explain my position.

So, I'd like to consider a few questions:
1. Is it ok to be slightly nervous walking around alone as a woman on one's first day in Cairo?
2. Was it a good idea for me to follow Salem to the coffee shop?
3. Are Americans really more afraid than other foreigners?
4. Why didn't he understand my problem?


  1. A little distance between us is the distance of peace must feel that peace within us so that our outside us
    We are on the problem of big name media operates in our heads that we want to be dictated by
    We are the victim of a world closed in and we Aboppe
    I'm sorry because I do not know the English language, but translated and read blog

  2. Hey,

    That sounds really similar to conversations that people tried to start with me in Turkey. And strangely enough I also found myself being one of the more independent but simultaneously guarded people in my group. And it does seem natural for you to be nervous, I found that once I was in a more public area and acclimated with my surroundings I was open to it. And following him into a coffee shop (as long as you ordered your own drink and such) was probably fine bc it was public.

    I think that Americans are more guarded individuals in general, not only necessarily as tourists. Plus we, as New Yorkers, are supposedly the worst in the country with cold shouldering. So he may have read that wrong. But I think that this mentality also comes from the territorial mentality that we (Americans) that are not shared in many regions or countries where communities are less individualistic, and especially where family (etc.) is higher on the value totem pole.

    And I think that he probably did not understand bc of the different mentality, not to mention the already varying mentality from him being a guy. I am wondering if you would have been any more willing to follow him in NYC? And if a native Cairo women would have been as apprehensive.....


    Hope all is well. Love ya.

  3. Ich glaube, ich waere auch ein wenig nervoes gewesen, aber dann mit ihm gegangen. Schlie8lich warst du nicht allein mit ihm in einer dunklen Gasse....
    Deine MUTTER
    Deine anderen Fragen kann ich auch nicht beantworten, bin schlie8lich kein Mann.
    PS:Haha, jetzt habe ich dich gefunden. Deshalb hast du nicht mehr Zeit , uns mehr zu schreiben!
    Mach's gut , Kind. Du wirst das schon schaukeln. Und keine Angst, ich werde deinen Blog nicht ausnutzen um dich fuer irgendwas zu kritisieren.
    Hoff ich wenigstens.

  4. Toll Anna. Diese blog Geschichte ist eine der besten Ideen die ich je gesehen habe.

    Ich schliesse mich deiner Frau Mama an; ich haette auch so reagiert wie du. Und ich denke dass es nicht so sehr die Ammis sind die immer aengstlich sind sondern Frauen (besonders huebsche wie du) die mutig genug sind alleine in ein fremdes Land zu reisen...das hat wenig mit Angst zu tun.

    Hast du schon Fotos von deiner neuen Wohnung??