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Foreigners' Guide to Public Transport in Egypt

Getting around in Egypt is no easy feat. Fear not, expats - we have you covered!

Have your change ready

When you want a ticket for the metro at home, do you go stand in line at the ticket office and wait your turn? You better say goodbye to that kind of behaviour. This ain't Europe, baby! If you courteously wait your turn, it may never come. Also, there probably won’t be a line. What matters is that you get your hand to the small opening between people and the cashier in some way or another. There are no rules to achieve that, so have a pound in your hand and drop it in the window in exchange for a ticket in whatever manner accessible to you. The longer your arm, the better.

Use your women’s rights

In such lines, being a woman may come in handy. Most Egyptian men are gentlemen, and as they populate the Metro by around 90%, especially at night, they will let you pass the queue (if there is one) to claim your ticket without being groped. Don’t even pretend you are going to stand in line: you are a woman and it is your turn. A firm attitude will help you get your ticket faster and with less harassment. As a foreign girl, you may also want to use the women’s compartment at all times. That way at least only girls are staring at you…

Avoid the escalator

We know it sounds impossible but try to avoid crowded scenes on public transport. There is more than one reason: A) The closer you are to other people, the easier it is for them to steal everything you own from you; and B) The Metro men’s groping techniques are quite advanced. If you don’t appreciate stranger’s hands on your behind, you better avoid the escalators and opt for the stairs, even at places such as Attaba station where a butt of steel is another side effect of not being lazy. Trust us, it’s worth it!

Do not stop pushing

At home, you may be courteous and let people disembark a train before making your way inside, however, you should leave that attitude in your home country. Around here you push and make sure you get on that train, whatever the cost. As a result, getting off that train will also require some ruthlessness. Stand in front of the door as soon as the train leaves the station before yours, and start pushing as soon as that door opens. Trust no one. Do not look back. Fear nothing. You can make it!

Not all roads lead to Rome

You are taking the train to Alexandria for a day trip. Suddenly it stops in the middle of nowhere and the train doesn’t move anymore. You have not broken down but you have made the crucial mistake of not getting yourself a direct ticket. En route to Alexandria, some tickets may require you to switch trains twice which is, needless to say, a massive pain in the butt. Pay the extra shackles if necessary to get yourself direct tickets wherever you go, it is worth it. Being lost at a train station in a village that is not used to foreigners at all is an experience you do not want to have.

Know what you are getting yourself into

An overnight bus may sound like an efficient thing to you but let us assure you, it is not! This country never sleeps, and the buses don’t either. There will be super loud Arabic movie showings with awful bus sound quality or late night entertainment presentations in the form of Jennifer Lopez singing Let’s Get Loud, so sleep is not necessarily in the cards. Be aware that bus travel involves a lot of noise that will be resistant to the music coming out of your own earphones, so consider ear plugs instead.

Never smile

The never smiling rule is a pretty handy trick for all your endeavors around here. However, with people trying to be close to you and staring at you on public transport, you better wipe that smile off your expression, even if it’s a good day, because you don’t want to give people the impression you would want to talk to them, right? If you do, stop that. There are few good things that can come from a total stranger trying to make friends with you on public transport.

Taxi etiquette

Even after two decades in Cairo, cab drivers will still try to rip you off. The one commandment of cab taking reads as follows: thou shall know the price before getting in the car. Lots and lots of drivers will tell you the meter is broken to overcharge you so make sure you agree on a price beforehand if that is the case. A popular pick up line (literally!) they use is “Pay whatever you want!” Stop being naïve, they do not offer you free rides. They want MORE money, not less. Rookies may end up paying 100LE for a trip from Zamalek to Maadi. RIP OFF! Beware…

Choose your spot wisely

Again, the theme of this article is “avoid the crowds” which may be impossible on a microbus. Since they are so cheap and convenient (if you survive the suicidal driving) a microbus can become your best friend and worst nightmare. Choosing the right seat is essential. Ladies, the front should be yours. Ideally, just pay double the fare to make sure nobody will sit next to you. Everybody, avoid the seat behind the driver to be spared handling his change.

Language 101

No Arabic? Here’s the Cairo Scene approved vocabulary for all your taxi needs. With these five words you can go anywhere in Cairo: Shemal, Yemeen, Alatool, Hena and Henak (Left, Right, Straight, Here and There) are the only words you will ever need. Throw in a “Law Samaht” (“please”) if you care about being nice. Besides that, you don’t even need Arabic to understand the minibus language. These reckless drivers have no to time for words so they just employ sign language. 


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