When meeting with colleagues and business associates, you will frequently be offered coffee and tea. You should always accept these offers, even if you do not particularly want a drink. Hospitality is a very important element of Egyptian culture, and the refusal of food or drink can be quite insulting. In extreme cases, the person offering the beverage may take the refusal as a personal rejection.
Similarly, personal appearance is extremely important in Egypt. Most workplaces require men to wear suits and ties (though “casual Thursdays” often permit jeans and T-shirts). Women should dress conservatively: skirts should extend below the knee and shoulders should always be covered.
Appearance is often tied to class and rank in Egypt, which are also extremely important. It is considered poor form to question someone in a higher position, especially in a public setting. The senior member of a corporate division, delegation, or group of employees always serves as spokesperson in meetings or at business functions.
Scheduling a business meeting
As you may have begun to surmise, scheduling can be an arduous task. Make appointments at least a week in advance and confirm them a day or two before the actual meeting. Even when you are in the meeting, do not expect to have the person’s undivided attention. They may allow interruptions from other people or even take phone calls during your appointment. While personally you may find this infuriating, it is considered impolite for you to prompt for attention or attempt to shift a topic of conversation. Always expect to ask and answer questions about health and family before “getting down to business” in a meeting.
Whenever entering business negotiations, remember that the process will require patience. In many cases, business actions require the approval of government agencies, ministries or oversight committees. Unlike most western countries, business in Egypt tends to move at a slow (sometimes even ponderous pace) – expect things to take even longer if you do business directly with the Egyptian government. Also, always remember that Egyptians will expect you to negotiate on the terms of any agreement. Never consider a first offer to be final.
Finally, make sure to have a number of business cards printed with your name, title, business, address and full contact information. Your card should be double-sided, with information in English on one side and Arabic on the other. Print kiosks located throughout major cities will make these quick, easy and relatively inexpensive to acquire. Make sure you check them over carefully before you start distributing them (and before you pay, for that matter!), you don’t want to be stuck with hundreds of misprints.