Magazine article New Internationalist

Manners and the Man

Magazine article New Internationalist

Manners and the Man

Article excerpt

Cairo wasn't made for winter, and despite its overall decrepitude, looks better beneath a blazing sun. Dark days reveal its weaknesses, the shadows of dirt, neglect and want. The worst is when it rains, which isn't often but comes in winter, sometimes in torrents, for which nothing and no-one is prepared. Pond-sized puddles fill the sewer-less streets. Rare is the roof that doesn't leak and the taxi with working windshield wipers. I reprimanded a cabbie and received a justifiably dirty look. Who needs windshield wipers in the desert, lady? A man has to eat, doesn't he? As for the rain, it carries the murk of a grubby atmosphere, splotching clothing with indelible grey marks and leaving a residual grit where it touches the skin.

Whereas heat makes Northern types irritable, in Cairo it's the cold and damp that gets on people's nerves. I was at the pharmacy, one of those high- ceilinged old ones with burnished wood cabinets and flasks on the shelves, when I was drawn into an excruciating altercation. The man in front of me at the cashier was clearly a worker coming off a night shift; he looked tired, had no jacket. Over one arm he carried a clean set of clothes wrapped in plastic; one hand held a 50-pound note and the other his desired purchases: two sachets of shampoo, a packet of moist towelettes and a plastic razor, totalling around 18 Egyptian pounds ($3.30). The cashier asked for change but he didn't have any - no-one ever does, especially cashiers.

I've observed this particular cashier for some time. Wry, tough, middle-aged, thick bodied, close-cropped curling grey-black hair, efficient, smart-seeming- and of remarkably indeterminate gender. I'm not sure why I assumed that s/he was an open and strong-minded individual, but I tend to idealize Egyptians, and this time I was wrong. The worker produced no change, just stood there waiting for the situation to resolve itself, and the cashier started barking at him, mocking the paucity of his purchases and insisting he provide change, even though the 50 pounds in his hand probably represented the whole of his fortune. The man took the upbraiding, whether zen or exhausted or so accustomed to mistreatment that being gratuitously insulted in public by someone who was meant to serve him was no big deal. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.