The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



That’s ‘so Cairo’

Sarah Mervosh | Wednesday, February 9, 2011

CAIRO — As my departure date for my semester abroad in Cairo got closer, more and more people seemed to be asking me the dreaded question.

“So, how excited are you?”

I chose my words carefully.

“It will be … interesting.”

This answer always seemed to disappoint them. “But it will be such a good experience,” they’d say.

An experience, yes. Whether that experience would be good or bad was yet to be determined.

Choosing to study abroad in someplace as foreign as Cairo made it difficult to get excited because I had no idea what to expect. The other Notre Dame students studying in Cairo and I attended a few informational sessions from the University that gave us an idea about what we were in for.

We knew what to wear and what not to wear (no tank tops or shorts for girls).

We knew about the pollution (you can barely see the city line through the haze).

We knew about the traffic (crossing the street can be a death wish).

But what we didn’t know about were the little things that everyone else forgets to mention — the tiny differences from the United States that shouldn’t be so important but are the very things that catch your eye.

It is these nuances that have come to characterize Cairo for my group of friends here. We’ve dubbed them “Things that are ‘so Cairo.'” (Shout out to Notre Dame junior J.J. Sass for coining the phrase.)

Here’s a sample:

1. Seeing cats everywhere is so Cairo.

From the side of the street to college campuses to restaurants, cats saunter around here like they own the place. Either these cats have way more than nine lives, or they’ve got city living down better than any of us. I guess that makes sense in a place where in ancient times, cats used to be gods. Regardless, Cairo has as many cats as Domerfest has awkward freshmen wishing they were drunk.

2. Doing whatever you want while driving is so Cairo.

If there are driving regulations in Cairo, that’s news to me. Cars consistently double parallel park so that the car on the inside could not possibly get out without the outer car moving. Not to mention that this double-parking often extends into the middle of streets. When parked, drivers also lift their windshield wipers up so they stick straight up in the air like bug antennas (still unable to decipher what that’s for). Not to mention that in a city of seven million people, cars swerve in and out of each other at random, consistently make U-turns and drive 50 mph on small side streets. Cairo driving makes New York City look tame.

3. Escalators that appear broken but start as soon as someone steps on them are so Cairo. At first I assumed the escalators were broken and no one had fixed them, which would be unsurprising in Cairo. But as I stepped on with a load of groceries in my arms, the escalator lurched forward, causing me to let out a yelp and giving the Egyptian employees a good laugh.

4. Eating croissants for breakfast is so Cairo.

In Egypt, croissants are the breakfast of champions — plain croissants, chocolate croissants, mini croissants. I always thought that croissants were a French thing, but apparently Egyptians love them too. Who knew?

5. Doing everything the opposite of efficiently is so Cairo.

In America, it is a well-known fact that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. In Egypt, the shortest distance is a semi-circle, turn around once, go upstairs, come downstairs, kick the door, knock twice and you’ll be there in no time. It’s this way for almost everything — from waiting for lost luggage to be delivered to filling out forms to asking for directions. Bring a book to read, because it will take you awhile.

So the next time you see a stray cat or are frustrated with an inefficient bureaucracy that makes you bend over backwards to achieve a simple goal, I’ve found that saying something corny like “That’s so Cairo” helps make it better.

And to the people who asked if I was excited before I left for abroad and are now wondering how this experience has changed my life, I’ll leave you with this:

It’s been one week. And it’s been … an interesting experience.