How sometimes I choose to remain ‘too’ English (and why that matters)

Cairo, Egypt

It’s January, 2016, at some crazy hour in the morning when I should most definitely be in bed. Instead I’m standing in the entrance of a rather middle class club in Cairo feeling rather pissed off. Partly this is because I am not used to such late nights. Mostly though, I looked pissed off because I’m being asked to do something I will not do, and my insistence on sticking to my ‘English’ way of doing things is not being taken too well.

In the street outside a fight breaks out and the place is suddenly swarming with armed guards.

Unlike my companions, I limited myself to one drink that I’d finished probably five hours before. Not multiple, the last of which was finished five minutes before like my friend who was also feeling pissed off beside me.

Our argument wouldn’t have happened to me in England. Despite having many similarities and mutual interests, the two of us are influenced by the cultures we have grown up in. When you’re travelling, and being absorbed by different cultures with different norms and health and safety precautions you have to actively choose when you’re going to stick to your own internal code and when you’re going to accept you have to change. When in Rome getting from a to b is going to be impossible if you drive like an English girl.

When you’re in a country like Egypt, the differences are going to be even more profound.

In the club in Cairo, I found myself to be the most modestly dressed woman. After walking through the streets conscious that my hair, neck and hands were visible, being surrounded by young women in short, sleeveless dresses and four inch heels had taken me by surprise. When I’d set out on the evening’s adventure I’d had very little idea of what I was getting myself into. I certainly hadn’t imagined I would have half the dance floor teaching me how to belly dance and the various guys, who were somehow related to our group, passing me between them as each attempted to teach me a new move, twirling me around, almost echoing back to some sort of 1950’s dance hall.

Apart from a couple of the guys getting a little rough with each other about how close one of them had been standing to the other one’s girlfriend, the night went smoothly and I was having a really good time. That was until I’d collected my coat from the cloak room, wrapped my scarf around my neck and my friend told me that his friend would give us a lift home.

I said no; I’d seen him having a couple of drinks earlier on.

The friend told me that it was only a couple of drinks. The friend told me we lived only a five minutes’ drive away and nothing would happen. The friend told me to stop being so English.

I said no and insisted on ordering a car.

The friend told me his friend was waiting outside for us. The friend told me it would be of great embarrassment to decline the offer of a lift. The friend told me his friend would not understand and be insulted by us not going with him.

I said no, and ordered a car.

What would you have done?’