Walk like an Egyptian… wearing the galabeya
When you visit other countries you’ll often find the culture and way of life very different from your own. I guess that is why many of us love to travel.
One of the most obvious differences between countries is the day to day clothing that the people wear, and there is no better way to get into the mindset of the locals than dress like them.
So, whilst I was in Egypt I decided to, in the words of The Bangles, “Walk like an Egyptian” … and spend 24 hours dressed in a white head scarf and the ‘galabeya’.
I’d spent the day exploring Dakhla Oasis (in Egypt’s Western Desert) with friends and was dropped off in the town of Mut to use the internet. I had to make my own way to the Bedouin camp where we were to spend the night, so I thumbed a lift from a passing car. There were two men and a woman inside… possibly the same family, but none of them spoke English. They were nice people though and I somehow managed to explain where I was headed. When they dropped me off they insisted on not taking any money from me, and thankfully dropped me at the right place.
Whilst settling into the camp that evening a couple of local girls (cleaners at the camp) befriended a couple of the women I was travelling with and took us to a room full of traditional Egyptian clothing.
There were men’s clothes too, and they persuaded me to try on the ‘galabeya’. It was a really good quality cotton one, and one of the local men came by and tied a white head scarf on my head too. I really looked the part…
In the end I bought it and wore it all that evening around camp. It was great fun as a few others did the same and a couple of us decided to wear them all the next day as we travelled to Luxor.
The next day was interesting… not because of seeing the Temple of Hibis near Kharga Oasis or the constant police escorts (whether we wanted them or not), but mainly because of the surprised looks on people’s faces whenever I got off the truck. Most people took a ‘double-take’ whist others didn’t even notice I was a tourist dressed like an Egyptian. It got to one point in the day where even the people I was travelling with had to take a second look!
My big fear in these situations is how will the locals react will they think I’m taking piss?
However, everyone I met seemed fine with it – particularly the hotel owner in Luxor – I’ll never forget his face when I walked in the door…
Wearing the galabeya was actually quite comfortable and great in the heat of the Western Desert, although I couldn’t fully appreciate this as I confess I still had trousers on underneath. Going up and down stairs meant hitching up the galabeya a bit and took some getting used to, as did going to the toilet – squat toilets!
What about pockets? Well the galabeya I was wearing had slits in the side which allowed access to the pockets in my trousers underneath.
I can now appreciate why they are so popular.
I’ve done things similar to this in other countries, sometimes as simple as wearing the traditional hat or just trying things on. Usually the locals appreciate it or at the very least find it funny, but what do you think about wearing local costume?
Is it a good idea to dress like a local?? Disrespectful or great way to interact and break the ice??