The Egyptian office

Culture and work etiquette

The Egyptian office

There is a good chance you’ll have to do some adjusting to do going to work in an Egyptian office. For starters, things tend to take several times longer than they should to get done.

Patience, patience, patience. Repeat it like a mantra before you go to work.

Egyptian workers are as capable as any in the world, but Egyptian office culture does not put a premium (or anything even resembling a premium) on efficiency like western offices. If your work day officially starts at nine in the morning, don’t be surprised to see many of your co-workers filtering into the office a half hour or forty-five minutes later. Support departments, such as IT, tend to take their time resolving issues, no matter how vitally important you feel the resolution is for the company or your job.

Offices are often open, without cubicles, and you will probably find your Egyptian co-workers chatty - if not excessively so. They are usually curious about foreigners that have come to work with them, and will be happy to get to know you (especially if you speak a little Arabic).

Most offices have a dedicated staff of waiters, (“office boys”) whose job it is to bring employees coffee, tea, water, soft drinks and snack food. Depending on the office, the cost of some or all of these items may be included in your salary.

Office boys will also make trips to pick up lunch from local restaurants, medication from pharmacies and so on, though you may find communicating your order somewhat difficult if you do not speak Arabic (fortunately, your Egyptian co-workers will be more than happy to help). You are expected to tip an office boy for running an errand for you, though not for bringing coffee, tea et cetera. The amount of the tip is up to you, but is usually a couple Egyptian pounds.

Smoking is permitted in many Egyptian offices, so if you have a debilitating aversion to smoke, make sure you mention this to your employer during the hiring process. He may be able to relocate you to a non-smoking area of the building.

Religion in the workplace

You will likely have Muslim co-workers who pray in the workplace. You are certainly not obliged to pray with them during a prayer call, and you need not stop your own work to acknowledge it. Obviously, you will want to respect your co-workers’ privacy when they are praying – it’s not necessarily the best time to strike up a conversation.

Egyptian women work alongside men in most offices, though they are sometimes segregated in a different room from the men. Invariably, some of your co-workers will wear the hijab (the Muslim headscarf that covers the hair). You are unlikely to encounter fully-veiled women in the workplace.

If you are a foreign man, be aware that your female Egyptian co-workers may not be entirely comfortable with you moving into their personal space. They may occasionally shift slightly if the two of you are leaning over the same computer screen or packed especially close during a staff meeting. This is not a reflection of their feelings toward you personally, and you will quickly get a sense of the distance they find appropriate. For more on the daily reality of working in Egypt, visit our website on cultural adaptation, .

Further reading

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