People in the U.S. and elsewhere who plan on doing business in Egypt (or with Egyptians elsewhere) need to ensure that they avoid unintentionally — but perhaps permanently — damaging the relationship due to committing a cultural or social impropriety. To avoid that fate, here are three things to keep in mind according to Bob Reasso, the former director of athletics at the American University in Cairo.
While Egyptians certainly treat business matters seriously, they tend to have a somewhat more casual approach to things like meetings than their counterparts in the U.S. For example, meetings scheduled for 2:00 p.m. may start at 2:15 p.m. or even 2:30 p.m. What’s more, meetings may be regularly paused as colleagues, friends, and even family members stop by for a chat.
Bob Reasso comments Americans who experience this should not take offense or perceive that they are not important. Instead, they should realize and accept that a more relaxed and casual approach is simply a different — and legitimate — style and method. With this being said, Egyptian culture overall is rather conservative, and this extends to business attire. Even when the weather is hot and humid, Egyptians expect business professionals to wear suits and ties, and women to wear long sleeves and skirts.
In the U.S. and many other western countries, when possible, business associates seek to give each other several feet of “personal space.” When this is not available — for example, in a crowded restaurant — business discussions are usually paused until a more suitable environment is available, such as a conference room. In Egypt, this view towards personal space is markedly different. In fact, even in large rooms, Egyptian business professionals typically seek to stand or sit within one or two feet away from each other or carry on a perfectly normal business conversation in rather crowded confines.
Bob Reasso says that while in the U.S. the reduction of personal space could be seen as intimidating or hostile, this is absolutely not the case in Egypt. On the contrary, minimizing the distance between meeting attendees is typically a positive gesture and is meant to cultivate trust and intimacy. Egyptians also tend to be somewhat more expressive than their American counterparts when it comes to physical gestures, such as reaching out to hold a hand or pat a shoulder. Again, these are not aggressive gestures at all and should not be perceived as such.
In the U.S., it is often considered frustrating and even evasive for business professionals to spend time engaged in much or any “small talk” about family, health, and so on. However, in Egypt the opposite is the case: failure to spend an appropriate amount of time talking about pleasant (or at least non-controversial) non-business matters is considered inappropriate and rude.
Bob Reasso says that when this happens — and it happens virtually all of the time — it’s extremely important to be patient and respectful. Be assured that Egyptian business professionals are not wasting time. They believe that it is appropriate and necessary to gradually lay a foundation of rapport and harmony before moving towards business matters, even if those matters are wholly positive.