Once you are at a certain level in Egyptian Arabic, you are going to naturally start expanding the things that you are able to talk about.
This is a great time, and well worth the raw amount of hours it takes to get there.
Conversations are much more interesting.
You actually get to learn something about Egypt.
Most importantly, however, you also have a fantastic opportunity to build relationships that you might not otherwise make.
And that’s just awesome.
So here, based off of my own experience, are nine “conversation topics” that Egyptians seem to love talking about. They are the topics that made up the majority of my conversations with Egyptian people, and topics that always seemed to result in the most interesting chats.
Approach these with caution, though.
While Egyptians are notorious for their “care free” attitude, it’s also a culture that is conservative and likely different than you own.
Because of that, the nine topics are grouped into three categories: low risk, medium risk, and high risk.
This is based on how easy and “worry free” these topics are to talk about.
Low risk and you can talk about it with anyone without any problems.
Medium risk and you might want to watch what you say.
High risk is a topic you should speak about cautiously depending on the situation.
Regardless, learn how to confidently (and accurately) speak about these subjects, and you’ll never be lacking for a partner.
This is always a fun one to talk about, and something just about every Egyptian from a big city (especially Cairo) can relate to.
There’s a ton of people, and it seems like everybody is either driving a car or motorcycle.
This makes for some pretty legendary traffic jams.
And it sucks for everyone.
I remember once I had a student (I was working as an English teacher at the time) that worked in 6th of October City and lived in 5th Settlement.
These places are pretty much on opposite sides of Cairo.
This translated into a 1.5 hour drive in the morning, and a 2+ hour drive back home in the evening.
She was spending between three and four hours in traffic.
Every single day.
These kinds of stories are more the norm than the exception.
Traffic is insane in Cairo, and you will instantly connect with Egyptians when you learn how to complain about it in their language.
Egyptians are always impressed when you can express an opinion about their country’s food.
Easy pickings here are shawerma and koshary.
These are foods that you can buy around every corner, and probably the most common Egyptian foods to “snack” on.
Expand your culinary tastes, however, and you will find even more friends.
Do you have a favorite restaurant near Tahrir Square that serves super good tahumiyya?”
Did you just have the best konefa you’ve ever had, and need to tell somebody about it?
Egyptians say their food is delicious.
They’ll definitely want to talk about it with a foreigner that thinks the same.
By this I mean shows, music, and books.
Learn some famous Egyptian pop culture, and you will always be able to impress in Arabic.
I’ve mentioned it before, but the show Taht el Saytara is a perfect example.
So many Egyptians have seen this show, and are always filled with astonishment (and perhaps a little bit of pride) that the show is reaching foreigners, as well.
It’s almost inevitable that I mention it to an Egyptian and we end up talking about the difficult themes the show deals with.
Consume Egyptian Arabic media, whatever that means to you, and you will start to see the benefits everywhere.
You will learn a ton of new vocab.
You will be entertained.
You will learn some stuff about Egyptian culture.
Even more importantly, though, you will be learning about something that is also of interest to Egyptians themselves.
And that’s just cool.
It’s also pretty awesome to be able to sing along to Arabic songs on the radio.
Your taxi driver has never been so confused.
Egyptians are quite family-oriented.
It’s common in the culture for the family to live in the same city, and to see each other quite frequently.
I have even met Egyptians whose entire family lives in the same building.
This is how close they are.
Because of that, you will find a lot of Egyptians who are interested in talking about marriage and/or kids with you. Family in general is huge in Egypt, and the act of marriage and having kids (in essence, expanding a family) is always a topic up for discussion.
Careful here, though.
This can quickly, if you are good enough at Arabic, transform into a conversation about women’s rights and gender equality.
You might laugh, but I’ve seen it happen.
This can put you in the situation of trying to spread your “worldview” in a country that is a bit less liberal than you are used to.
Not that every Egyptian you talk to will be super conservative (see the last point).
But it still pays to keep your surroundings in mind.
Extra points if you have an understanding of just how difficult marriage is in modern-day Egypt.
Things have only gotten more expensive in recent years.
The ability to even afford marrying a woman (Egyptian men have to pay quite a lot of money for jewelry, an apartment, etc.) is a frustration many young Egyptian men are experiencing these days.
No surprise here.
Football is a topic that the majority of the world has at least some familiarity with.
This is especially true in Egypt.
Streets are packed when there is an important football match, and pretty much every Egyptian in Cairo is a “Zamalek” or “Ahlee” fan.
But not only are Egyptians football fans; they also play.
There are football fields everywhere, and in my first neighborhood in Cairo, the neighborhood kids had a street game going on pretty much every night.
Learn how to talk about football, and you will find a willing conversation partner pretty much everywhere.
Still, Egyptians take it seriously.
Be careful what you say, and if you are a die-hard fan, might be best not to insult any Egyptian players.
If you are a foreigner, it’s almost guaranteed that Egyptians will be at least a little bit interested in where you come from.
That could take the form of just about anything, from talking about your native language to talking about your government.
Even just introducing yourself might turn into a “what do you think of Egyptian culture” conversation.
The reason this has the potential to be risky is something that’s already been mentioned: you have to be careful what you say.
Discussing how your own culture/country celebrates different holidays is something nobody would be offended by.
Dive into more serious topics like voting rights or issues with racism, and you never know how the person you’re speaking to might react.
For better or worse, Egypt is different compared to the country that went through two revolutions between 2011 and 2013.
Ask any Egyptian, and they will likely tell you the same. But whether or not they think “different” is “good”…..well, that’s largely dependent on their political standing.
Starting a conversation about the revolution usually went two ways for me.
They speaker either thought the country was worse than seven years ago, and we talked about everything from increasing prices to limited freedoms,…or they thought it was better, and we talked about the befits of having “strong leaders” in place.
If this sounds complex, it’s because it is.
Read up on the recent politics of the Middle East and you will begin to realize why.
Read this situation accordingly.
If you are talking to a good Egyptian friend, you have room to express your true opinion (whatever that may be).
If you are talking to a stranger?
It’s unfortunate but true: talking about certain topics to the wrong person can be dangerous in Egypt.
You simply have to be careful.
The revolution is undoubtedly a topic that will come up when you spend an extended amount of time in Egypt, though, so it’s best to be prepared.
This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the previous topic, and the vocabulary you would learn here would (potentially) be the same.
Still, these are different things, and the “appropriate situations” to bring them up can be different.
Likely, this is a conversation you would have with a person that you know somewhat well.
An example of my own are the janitors at the language school I worked at.
They were all older than me, much more conservative, and likely people I wouldn’t normally “voice my opinion to” regarding Egyptian politics.
But after enough time working there, we all became (to an extent) friends.
So here I was, speaking to a group of Egyptian men all in their 50’s, drinking coffee together after work, disagreeing about Egyptian politics.
And it was OK.
Just one example of how dearly important “context” is with all of these topics.
If there is one subject that has the potential to make or break your relationship with an Egyptian, it’s their religion.
Tread very, very carefully here.
Say the right thing, and you may just win a friend for life.
Say something wrong, and you may very well insult the wrong person.
Show even a fundamental understanding of Islam, though, and the potential for respect from your conversation partner skyrockets.
This is obviously much easier if you are a Muslim yourself.
This is not to say that all Egyptians are overly religious, or even Muslim.
In fact, only about 85 percent of the country follows Islam, with the rest being mostly Coptic Christians.
Spend time in the country, and these are things you will learn for yourself.
Still, religion is in the fundamental make-up of Egypt.
It pays to be careful.
Egyptians are, for the most part, fun-loving people who really like to talk to foreigners learning their language.
And these nine topics, from my own experience, are the topics most likely to get them talking.
The “risk levels” are not meant to intimidate you.
Rather, they are simply a reminder for something that is always important: cultural sensitivity.
Keep that in mind, and the Egyptian dialect is yours to conquer.
Learning Arabic is not just about “adding a language to your CV” (although that’s perfectly fine, too).
Rather, learning Egyptian Arabic gives you an awesome opportunity to really connect with Egyptians in a way that you otherwise wouldn’t.
You speaking their language shows them that you care.
But learn enough Arabic to competently speak about some of these topics?
That shows Egyptians that you are genuinely interested in their culture.
And that can get you a long, long way.
This was written by Eric Schenck.