My oldest subscribers will remember I wrote a list of 10 things I would not miss about London. Well, considering the electricity has gone off in my street for most of the day I think it is time I wrote the opposite list, so here it is. Here, in reverse order are the 10 things I now miss the most about the UK capital. It is worth noting a few of these if you, like most of my readers are considering coming to live in Cairo. I’ll start with the catalyst for this post. Am I moaning again? Hehe… Me?……
10 – Constant running electricity
It is not so much the fact that the electricity goes off, it’s more to do with the fact that there is no-one to complain to. I want to complain to someone and I can’t. That is the most fustrating thing. More often than not, it is not the national grid’s fault either. 9 times out of 10 it is the fault of some dodgy workmen who have cut a cable or broken a connection or overloaded the system. Today’s excuse is that there are too many people with air conditioners on. Now, I’m no sociologist but my guess is ”that might have something to do with the fact that it is 42 degrees – hello?” For someone who makes a living online, this is more than just a disturbance, it’s a bloomin catastrophy! On the plus side there is always a wireless access point at a nearby coffee shop, but still…..
9 – Toilet Roll
Ahhhh, the annoying Andrex puppy that used to pop up in every TV advertisement! How I miss you little ‘fella!’ Don’t be too alarmed reader, I’m not suggesting there is no toilet roll. There is toilet roll here. But it is more like the kind you would expect to find in a Kibbutz. You can spend a little more for a more decent brand, but I refuse out of principle. Why can’t it just be a little more tightly rolled around the core funnel? And why is it so thin? It’s useless.
8 – Soft, thick white sliced bread.
Or at least a ‘choice’ of sliced bread. Sliced bread here is known as ‘toast’. It comes in two main types, Milk Toast and…. just…. Toast. I do not know what the difference is meant to be, but I can advise that you buy the Milk Toast because it tastes the most like the bread back home. The loaf itself is a little short and two slices will not really fill you up the way they it would back home. To add to it, it seems to die really quickly so even if you keep it in the fridge, make sure you consume within a few days or you will taste the mould. To be fair, sliced bread is not the bread of choice for most Egyptians. The flat ‘pitta’ style or ‘beladi’ bread is preferred here. I should also add that burger buns are just not right either. The buns used here are like the sort you would use to make jam rolls. Too dry and too crusty and with no seasame seeds on top. I just want a normal sandwich (sigh) - which brings me to the next item.
7 – Hellman’s Mayonnaise
Nothing tastes like Hellman’s mayonnaise. I used to almost resent the way Hellman’s used to go on and on about how amazing it was in the UK TV aderts, but now I want to buy shares at Hellmans or at least work for them. The best alternative I have found in Cairo is the ’American Garden’ brand – but like most things American, I find it a little…..too much. What?…Oh stop your whining….all Brits find you a little too much…..(hehe)…. the same way you think we Brits all have bad teeth. I digress….NEXT!
6 – Decent public transport
Yes, yes I know. I moaned about the London underground train in my other list, but in hindsight the London Underground is pretty damned amazing. You can get to any part of the city you want with ease once you suss the map out. Which reminds me. WHERE IS THE TRAIN MAP OF CAIRO? The first time I took the underground here I was just trying it out and didn’t know where I wanted to go. I looked around the station near the ticket stand for a map to give me a few ideas. No map. I asked the ticket lady. No map. In fact she didn’t bother to acknowledge me for the first few attempts. Which links nicely to number 5.
5 – Customer service
It does not exist here in Egypt. Sales is great. Before you buy something the sales people will literally make you a cup of tea or bring you some cold mango juice. You are family. One of “us” (tfadal, fadal ya Captain, ya Basha, ya Ostaaz, ya Doctoor). Once you buy the product you are treated like a step-child. It is not unknown to be asked quite blatantly “what do you want me to do about it?” when you complain. The concept of the customer always being right may be known, (benefit of the doubt), but if it is it is completely ignored. My brother once told the Etislalt mobile phone service provider that his Father, who had registered the line, had died. The service agent on the end of the phone asked (no lie) “Can you ask him to come to the phone?” Just today I was buying a few groceries in a local supermarket and the deoderant would not scan in at the counter. “Mish sha3al” (It’s not working) the lady at the counter told me. And that was that. No, “shall I get you another one?” or “please wait a moment whilst I call for some help”. Just “It’s not working” – like that is some how my fault. I’m smiling as I write….. just so you know. All these things, they add to the experience and the adventure of Cairo. Not.
4 – Queuing
Now I’m just being British I know, but if there is one thing the rest of the world can learn from Britain, it is the beautiful art of waiting in turn. Brits know how to queue. Brits queue for everything and religiously fall in line at every opportunity. I miss that. Waiting your turn is fair. It is the fairest way to ensure everyone has a turn. First come – first served. In Cairo it is more like, first come, who cares? Here is my advice. Don’t argue with the person pushing in, they are just being ignorant and in most cases they think it’s normal and have done nothing wrong. Instead argue with the person serving. They should take note of who is next and refuse to serve someone that has just pushed their way to the front. Don’t worry that you are the only person complaining. Complain loudly, firmly and in English, throw in just enough Arabic words to let everyone else now staring at you as though you are a lunatic, understand why you are kicking up such a fuss. No-one else will push in (trust me) and it just might, just might, teach the person serving something about customer service. (OK….no it won’t… fine…… but it will make you feel better )
3 – Pavements
Oh how I miss pavements. I think it was the British singer Adele who asked the question in a song. My answer is….. “chase pavements”. Such a simple invention the pavement. A part of the road where you can walk. It should be part of some constitution drawn up at the UN. It should be in every nation’s bill of rights. Thou Shalt have Pavements and not just in Mohandesin. You can forget pushing a buggy along the street. Forget taking the kids for a walk around the shops. Forget going out in a wheelchair or taking an elderly person out for a stroll. No pavements - no go. And you would think that a city like Cairo with it’s careful drivers and pot hole free roads would easily think of the benefits of having pavements. (Do I sound bitter?)
2 – Roads with lanes
There are lanes in Cairo. There are traffic lights too. There are transport police. I have seen them, but they seem to elude 99% of the other drivers. It is no wonder Cairo suffers from the worst count of fatal traffic accidents in the world. Driving in Cairo is COAD (Crash Once And Die) because no-one cares about lanes….or indicating….or slowing down. Drivers drift to the left or right as though they have fallen asleep at 90 miles an hour. When I first came to Cairo I laughed at how often drivers used their car horns. Now I understand. If you do not beep to warn the driver in front to your left or right that you are coming, he or she will just drift casually into your lane with total disregard. There is hardly a car in Cairo that does not have a dent or a scratch. It is beyond dangerous. I can not imagine what driving tutors teach in a lesson or better still what examiners look for in a driving test. I can only assume that if you reach the destination alive, you have passed.
1 – Rubbish collectors
Yes I know. Unbelievable isn’t it? I bet you did not see that coming as the number 1 thing I would miss? Cairo is such a beautiful city. The old buildings, the mosques, the palm trees and sandy hills and cliffs are like a postcard picture at times. What spoils the picture is the litter that is absolutely everywhere. I have seen people empty their bins out of the black bin bag onto a heap and take the bag back for re-use. I have seen mounds of litter piled up so high kittens who unknowingly made their way to the top are scared to come down. But the worst aspect is the fact that the rubbish bin collectors CHOOSE what to take. I’m sure other more affluent areas of the city get a better service, but generally (and especially where I live) litter is regarded as part of the landscape. It’s nobody’s responsibility and everybody is responsible for making it. Adults make it, children play in it, cats and dogs rummage through it everyday and night (which ironically helps, as they eat every posiible edible part of it which stops it from smelling) and the ‘Zabaleen’ who are Cairo’s unofficial Green Party take what parts they feel they can recycle for best use. The rest is left to the elemets and it is such a great shame.
Well, that wraps up another top 10 list for now. I love Cairo and most days I love the people who live in it. This great nation gave me my beautiful wife and she in turn gave me my wonderful children. There are more positives to living in Cairo than there are negatives, for me at least . Whilst I would not move back home to the UK these are some of the things I wish I could bring with me. I would love to hear what things you miss from your home country. Maybe if you leave them in a comment, we can together build a list for expats and visitors as advice to bring with them. I looking forward to hearing your suggestions.