12 Lessons Learned Proposing To An Egyptian Girl Who Only Spoke Arabic

12 Lessons Learned Proposing To An Egyptian Girl Who Only Spoke Arabic

It’s time.

I’ve been here in Korea for two weeks and I’ve been hearing quite a bit about cross-cultural relationships as there seem to be so many foreigners here dating Korean men and women.

Hearing about the cultural differences and challenges they face has really made me reflect a lot on what I learned from almost getting married to a girl while I was living in Egypt – a girl who didn’t speak any English.

Yea that’s right. Our relationship was entirely through my second language, Arabic.

I said I’d write about it eventually and here it is; forbidden love between a Middle Eastern girl with no English and a bloke from Australia learning Arabic, as well as the important lessons learned from the whole experience.

Forbidden love?

Well, not initially.

At first there was nothing forbidden about it at all – we met, we did the right thing and approached her father for permission, he gave us the green light, preparations for the engagement ceremony were made – everything was perfect.

That was until a bunch of unforeseen problems came our way that threw a spanner in the works and brought the whole thing to a halt.

A short-lived fantasy.

It was a heartbreaking end and one that neither of us wanted but in the end it wasn’t our decision to make.

So…

Today I’ve decided to share a few lessons with you that I learned from the whole experience.

It should give you some idea of what’s usually expected in Egyptian society if you ever meet the man or woman of your dreams. Enjoy!

*Note: This is what I personally learned from my own experience and those of my Egyptian friends. I realize that there may be slight differences depending on how conservative the family is, whether they’re Coptic or Muslim and what area they’re from.*

If you’ve had a similar experience please share it below!

Learning Arabic? Take a look at my other site: TalkInArabic.com.

1. Shortly after you fall in love, the father’s permission to date his daughter must be sought

…with the expectation of marriage.

Some guys in the West still have the decency to talk to the girl’s father before asking her to marry him. I take my hat off to you blokes for doing that.

In Egypt (and I suspect all over the Arab world) this is something that needs to be done right at the start when you start dating.

I went on two ‘dates’ (by that I mean hanging out in populated areas getting to know each other) with this girl at which time she told me that I needed to meet her father and request his permission to continue seeing her. It was either this or we stop seeing each other altogether.

This carried the expectation that we intended to get married. I had to make a serious choice then and there, without even knowing this girl properly, about whether or not I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.

Sounds crazy, huh?

Now, this may differ for others but in my situation I was told to dress nice, come to their home and sit down for a lengthy interview about myself, my plans and my intentions with the man’s daughter. It’d be an opportunity to make a verbal contract of sorts between the father and myself.

I was pretty scared at this point.

Traditionally, this kind of negotiation over a bride-to-be is done with both peoples’ parents there and I suspect in a lot of areas (especially rural places) it’s almost like a business transaction. For Muslims especially there’s the issue of a dowry which can be money, gold and assets.

Because I didn’t have family with me and no one present to confirm who I was or if I could be trusted, the father had to contact Egyptians who knew me back in Australia to verify everything.

I was fortunate that I had these people to back me up. I’m not sure how somebody else with no ties to an Arabic-speaking community could get around this.

He asked me questions about everything – particularly finances.

We put pen to paper about my present and future financial situation including debts and assets, details about how much the engagement ring and ceremony would cost, the wedding and gold, the honeymoon and then of course, where we’d be living and how much that would cost.

There were lots of questions about religion and family too.

This meant everything about my mother and father, what they do and whether or not they’re together, as well as the extent of my religious commitment.

At the end of the very long discussion the girl’s father concluded by simply saying “Tayib, ana mawafi2” (Okay, I agree).

From then on I was treated like part of the family.

Lesson learned: Guys need a serious set of balls if they want to pursue a girl in the Middle East and a good story to back themselves up when being interviewed by the father.

2. Blokes are expected to have a stable career and an apartment before marriage

Egyptian men marry late.

By ‘late’ I mean it’s common for men in Egypt not to be regarded as ready for marriage until they’re well into their mid-thirties.

The reason for this is that it’s expected that you’ll already have a stable, secure job and an apartment to offer the girl you want to marry. When you meet her father to request permission to see her right at the start, he’ll want to be confident that you can provide all this from the get-go.

This is not only for her comfort and security but for the kids you’re expected to have shortly after.

I was lucky enough to have a rare instance where her father gave me his approval even though I didn’t have an apartment or a stable job at the time but this was only after I explained my short to mid-term plans in extreme detail.

Even then he was hesitant and had to phone an Egyptian friend of mine in Australia (the woman who taught me Arabic who I also call my second mother) to verify that I was telling the truth.

I have Egyptian male friends whose fathers actually saved up for years to buy their sons an apartment (usually in the same building as their parents) to make it easier for them when they wanted to marry.

Lesson learned: Start getting your act together big time (settle down and find a stable job) if you want to find love in Egypt.

3. There are lots of terms of endearment (pet names) in Egyptian Arabic

Every language is full of pet names people give to one another when they’re in love.

Here are just a handful of common Egyptian Arabic expressions that we used to say to each other a lot:

(Note: The numbers used in the transliterations represent sounds in Arabic that have no English equivalent. (E.g. ‘3’ = the guttural ‘ain sound (ع)). For the rest, read this for an explanation.)

7abibi – 7abibti (حبيبي – حبيبتي): This is the most common term of endearment right across the Arabic-speaking world. It simply means my love or my darling.

The man should use the feminine form when addressing his girlfriend/wife.

7abibi is also frequently used between friends, members of the family or young children. Sometimes, particularly in songs, you’ll hear the masculine form used toward women as well.

ba6a – (بطة): Duck. I’m not sure if this just an Egyptian thing or if it’s common in other places but this is one way to call somebody cute (ya Bata!).

My girlfriend used to call me this one a lot, especially when I said something silly (i.e. frequently).

7abib 2albi – 7abibat 2albi (حبيب قلبي – حبيبة قلبي): Love of my heart.

This is another way to use the word 7abib. In Egypt, the word for heart is pronounced 2albi whereas in the Gulf it’s pronounced qalbi.

3omri / 7ayati – (عمري – حياتي): My life. These two words can be used pretty much interchangeably.

When used in a vocative way (ya 3omri), it’s just a short way of calling someone your everything. You can also use it with 7abib to mean love of my life.

mozza – (مزة): Sexy, babe. Be careful using this one. It can be taken as really rude if you say it to a girl who doesn’t have a playful nature or the right sense of humor. Never say this to someone you don’t know for obvious reasons.

We actually made our own hybrid word where we took the ending off the English pet name sweetums and attached it to mozzamozzums. 🙂

bamoot feek / feeki – (بموت فيك): Literally translates as I’m dying in you. It basically implies something like I love you to death.

It’s a strong, emotive statement that you hear in songs a lot.

ba7lam bik / biki – (بحلم بيك): I’m dreaming of you. Self explanatory.

ba7ebak 2ad il-2amr / il-dunya kulaha / il-ba7r – (بحبك قد القمر – الدنيا كلها – البحر): I love you as much as the moon / the sea / the whole world.

We used to playfully argue with each other about who loved who the most while trying to find bigger things to compare our love to (yeah I know it’s lame, right!)

I love you as much the sea… Then I love you as much the moon. Well, I love you as much as the whole world!

You get the idea.

bitganini – (بتجنيني): You’re driving me crazy. It doesn’t need much explaining as it works the same way in English.

I could easily list off a dozen more terms and expressions but I think this will do. 🙂

Lesson learned: Being in a relationship with someone who speaks another language teaches you a lot of their romantic terms and expressions.

4. Even in a poorer society people can be very materialistic

I used to have this romanticized notion that materialism was something that only Western and East Asian societies suffered from, and that eventually I’d marry someone from a poorer part of the world where it’s not an issue.

Money and assets would never come between us I thought.

Given the fact that most people in the Middle East are quite religious and a huge emphasis is kept on one’s spirituality as more important than anything else, there’s still a heck of a lot of status given to people with wealth.

Let me tell you something – in poorer parts of world it can be just as much of a problem as it is in wealthier nations (sometimes much worse).

Now I’m not trying to generalize at all (apologies to anyone if this comes across as offensive) but one thing I did learn in Egypt is that it can be a huge obstacle for couples.

As I’ve already said above, men are judged quite harshly on what they own and what their status is. A man is even judged on how much gold he gives his bride at the wedding.

Even though my bride-to-be’s family knew I had very little at the time, to many of her extended family I was regarded as someone of a much higher status for the simple fact that I was from a Western nation.

In reality of course I wasn’t any different from anyone else.

Lesson learned: Even in a country like Egypt where religion and family are number 1, possessions and status can still be a huge factor.

5. You’re not just marrying the girl – you’re marrying the family

This is not unique to Egypt.

You have to accept the fact that this is not about two individuals tying the knot and living happily ever after alone together.

It’s about the union of two families – and this includes all the extended relatives as well.

This was one of my biggest concerns while I was planning to get married to this girl – neither she nor her family spoke a word of English and my family are monolingual English speakers with no interest in foreign cultures or travel.

My family criticized the hell out of me for my decision to marry this girl.

How would I introduce my family to these people? It had to happen eventually.

They’d never come to Egypt.

Who of my own family and friends could I invite to the wedding?

You can imagine the thoughts running through my mind. Even though it never got far enough for it to be a serious issue, it would have most definitely been extremely difficult.

Lesson learned: Unlike the infrequent visits to the in-laws that people are used to in the Western world, you can expect to see them constantly in Egypt.

6. Egyptians are generally very conservative

So you can’t even kiss her until you’re married?

As a general rule, for both Muslims and Christians in Egypt any kind of intimate contact before marriage is a big no no.

In more relaxed, less devout families, hand holding and one-arm hugs can be tolerated to a certain extent but that’s about as far as it goes.

This doesn’t mean that rules aren’t broken however.

Premarital sex does happen in Egypt and across the Arab world in secret (sadly this puts girls’ reputations and even lives in danger).

I was very reluctant to initiate anything more than hand holding in the early part of our relationship.

Lesson learned: Egypt is very conservative even though rules are often broken.

Girls in Egypt

7. There are some feelings you can only fully express in your own language

Even at a high level of fluency in a foreign language as I have with Arabic, there is still so much emotion and thought that can’t be completely expressed without your native language.

I don’t care how fluent you say you are, you will eventually experience this.

I had so many times where I’d want so much to express a certain attitude or feeling to this girl – whether it was happiness, anger or sadness – but I couldn’t articulate it in a way that truly reflected what was going through my mind.

I’m not talking about being able to say I am happy or I am sad – I’m talking about all the various, detailed shades of those emotions.

It can be frustrating to be feeling something and not able to properly express it to somebody.

On the plus side it did teach me to express a lot of things that I previously didn’t know how to because I was always forced to search for ways to say them.

Lesson learned: Being in a relationship with someone who doesn’t speak your language really teaches you a lot about properly expressing yourself in their tongue.

8. Friends and family will often plant seeds of suspicion over the ‘green card’ fear

This annoys the shit out of me.

“Dude, she probably just wants citizenship.”

While it is a genuine consideration, hearing things like this really plants seeds of doubt in your mind and causes you to be overly suspicious.

If you can’t trust the girl then it’s over already.

I had made my intention known that I wanted us to stay in Egypt and she was fine with doing that. She was marrying me for me and didn’t care if we stayed put or ended up in Australia.

Now, I do actually know Egyptians who have done this (nearly all of them are men who married foreign girls). It happens.

You can ascertain fairly early on whether or not somebody truly finds you interesting and genuinely loves you or is just looking for a free ride.

Lesson learned: Some people are indeed exploitative but don’t let suspicions ruin your relationship.

9. The only place you’ll find a moment of privacy in Egypt is in the bathroom

…and no you can’t take her in there! 🙂

You think you’re going to take an Egyptian girl on a nice, quiet date somewhere and be left alone?

Hah, good luck with that!

There’s no such thing as privacy in Egypt (unless you’re in the loo).

We had a romantic spot in Cairo by the Nile where a lot of couples go but the place was supervised at all times by older Egyptian men.

The last time we were there they harassed my girlfriend and called her a prostitute because they thought it was strange that she was there with a foreign guy.

You really can’t get away from this.

In terms of size, Cairo has a population the size of the entire population of Australia. I can count on one hand the amount of times we were truly alone for a brief moment.

Lesson learned: There’s no such thing as privacy in Egypt. Dates always happen in groups.

10. Guys, be prepared to buy lots of gold if you’re serious about your bride

Egyptian women love gold.

These traditions actually go way back to ancient Egypt.

So after the scary talk you have with the girl’s father where he asks you a bajillion questions and finally agrees to allow you to see her, you head out and buy the first piece of jewellery – the dibla (دبلة).

This is basically what we in the West think of as a promise ringengaged to be engaged.

For the engagement ceremony you’re expected to buy a much nicer ring – the khaatim (خاتم). This is what we in the West usually buy when we propose but in Egypt there’s a huge, planned ceremony that goes along with it.

Finally, there’s the shabka (شبكة).

We get off easy in the West only having to buy a wedding band. The shabka is more than just a ring – it’s a set of gold jewellery (necklace, bracelets, earrings, etc.) to go with the khaatim you buy for the engagement.

People judge the groom on how expensive and nice this jewellery is.

No pressure or anything fellas.

This is on top of all the other wedding expenses that the man has to come up with.

I bought my girlfriend the dibla but never made it as far as the khaatim. I’m kinda relieved!

Lesson learned: Egyptian women are high maintenance 🙂 Be prepared to shower them with expensive gifts.

11. Religion matters.

I realize that a lot of people reading this are non-religious.

Atheism and agnosticism aren’t really understood and certainly not respected in most parts of the Middle East.

In Egypt (and in pretty much every country in that region), Muslims marry Muslims, Christians marry Christians and Jews marry Jews.

Dating outside of your group can have nasty consequences for a lot of people.

If you describe yourself as having no religion, the reaction you’ll get varies from place to place and depending on who you’re talking to but you can be guaranteed that it won’t earn you any respect.

There’s also quite a lot of negativity toward other polytheistic religions (e.g. Hinduism) as well.

Lesson learned: Only date those with the same religious views as yourself and if you’re an atheist or agnostic then you’re probably best not to try.

12. Being in a monolingual relationship using your target language will catapult you toward higher fluency

As you’d expect it to.

I credit this girl as being one of the main reasons why I went from being an intermediate speaker of Egyptian Arabic to an advanced speaker. It changed me in so many ways.

See, I actually moved in with her family for a while when I lived in Egypt so I was with her and her family every single day from the minute I woke up till I went to bed.

It wasn’t your average immersion stay.

Rather than the usual, general topics of conversation when you stay with a host family, we were discussing our future together, all our engagement and wedding arrangements, our political and religious views, our feelings and so on. The content of our conversations was advanced and therefore I was forced to move up to a higher fluency level.

When I went home to Australia we maintained contact via Skype and telephone several times a day for a whole year.

I used to write her love letters in Arabic too.

I remember sitting in an Egyptian coffee shop once trying to come up with some lovey-dovey stuff to put in this letter for her and having the young Egyptian waiters teach me poetry to make it sound more romantic.

This kind of relationship does wonders for your target language skills. It really starts to become part of your identity.

Lesson learned: Not that I’d ever seek a relationship just to improve my language skills but it really does take fluency to a whole new level.

So what happened in the end?

Simply put: I was hit with a few financial obstacles back home in Australia that put a longer delay on our arrangements.

We could still have made it work but she would have had to sit around waiting another 6-12 months for me to return to Egypt and the family wasn’t happy about that.

In the end, her parents cancelled the agreement.

There’s no way around this in Egypt – when they say it’s over, it’s over.

It was a sad and abrupt end but she’s got a family of her own now and things have worked out well for me too.

Are you thinking about learning the Arabic language? I made a few recommendations in this post for what I believe to be excellent resources.

I also wrote about why Arabic is nowhere near as difficult as people say it is here.

Have you had a similar experience dating or marrying into another culture? Was it through another language?

Share it in the comments section below! 🙂

This was written by Donovan Nagel.

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Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
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COMMENTS

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Uma americana

Really interesting, Donovan... thank you for sharing. One aspect of this that strikes me as being very difficult is making a commitment before you even know whether you want to make a commitment, since you don't know the other person--very different from how things are done in the US or Australia. My boyfriend is Brazilian, but speaks good English, so my Portuguese hasn't improved as much as it might have. But we have had many misunderstandings that have arisen from the idea that since we're both speaking English, the other person should understand what it is we're trying to say. There's definitely more to language than just the dictionary definitions of the words! In my boyfriend's particular culture within in Brazil (I think things are different in the rest of Brazil), it's sort of the opposite to your experience... I have been accepted very casually by everyone. Most people never marry legally, so the lines are pretty blurry and I am introduced as friend, girlfriend, fiancee, wife--whatever the person speaking chooses. Everyone keeps asking when I'm going to have a baby--and I don't even live in Brazil, I just visit! My "father-in-law" is very conservative and religious, and even he doesn't seem to blink an eye. When I told my boyfriend that my parents are religious and don't believe in premarital sex, he thought I was joking.

mezzoguild

Hi Uma,

That's interesting to hear your experience. I don't know much about Brazilian culture admittedly. Seems you have your own challenges as well!

Thanks for sharing :)

antares

Uma americana, Oi! Tudo bem? Eu estava em sua situação. Mais ou menos. Eu tinha duas enamoradas brasileiras, e eles eram paulistas. Por isso, falo o português com um sotaque paulista.

Hey! How are your? I was in your situation. More or less. I had two Brazilian girlfriends, and they were from São Paulo. That is why I speak Portuguese with a paulista accent.

The first girlfriend spoke English well and preferred English, but sometimes lapsed into Portuguese. The second spoke English badly and preferred Portuguese. That's when my Portuguese took off. I became fluent in a matter of months.

shaun

haha brazilian gf is the opposite of what this situation sounded like.

Polyglot Link

Fascinating insight Donovan! Loved it. Definitely some new things here about Egyptian culture that I didn't know.

Niel

mezzoguild

Thanks mate :)

Glad you liked it.

Meena

I would like to communicate with you sharing my exoerience. Im egyptian male married with forigner. I have done totallt oppsite to escape from all that.
Skype:momo2619

Nada

I am an egyptian woman and this is a hilarious insight .
These kinds of traditions are often broken and it depends largely on the girl and her family . Girls nowadays are more into long term love relationships rather than just know the guy shortly and quickly be engaged . We take our time to have a love story although it is really tough to defy the traditions about this and the family urging me to get married haha

Maryam

Dude: excellent read. Thanks so much!!!

AustinKWood

I can vouch for numbers 7 and 12, having dated both a Spanish and Russian girl. It's frustrating not being able to fully express your emotions in a foreign language, especially when involved in a romantic relationship. Although this frustration is a huge motivator for me to reach the next level of competency.

mezzoguild

Wow. Spanish and Russian.

That would have been a big challenge for you dating women from such different cultures. Spanish people always seem so vocal and expressive whereas Russians are so quiet and reserved.

Did you find that was the case in your experience?

Libor

I dated both as well, and I am quite proficient in both languages. The Spanish being vocal and Russians quiet is not my experience. My experience: Spanish is harder to date or get. Russian is easier and warmer (not louder), bit more intellectual... Russians are better educated by average (I think they hold 2nd position after Koreans in tertiary education penetration ) Sex with Spanish is better more animalistic yet not as playful.

Melissa

I studied Arabic in Jordan for 2 months this past summer. While I didn't have any romantic relationships, I did get to stay with a host family. Unfortunately, everyone spoke pretty good English (except for the mom), so I didn't really speak Arabic as much as I should have.

Anyway, I just wanted to comment on #11, because I saw how big of a deal it was there. I know I live in the western world (US, specifically), but I guess I thought that the rest of the world would still be pretty liberal. However, several times I was able to have conversations with my host sister and her friends (early-20s) and what I learned was really interesting. One of their favorite things to ask me was how I like the Jordanian guys, but I always told them that I didn't know-- girls aren't supposed to talk to guys or it's bad for the girl's reputation and the guys will get the wrong idea. They thought that was pretty funny...

Also, once they asked me if I would ever date a Muslim guy. I told them that it wouldn't bother me at all, but if religion really mattered, I don't think he'd be interested in dating me anyway. I also told them that my current boyfriend was a different religion and they were pretty surprised. They just told me that they had to marry Muslim guy. I asked them if that's what they wanted to do and I think the question confused them. They just looked at me for a second and then said, "it doesn't matter if we want to or not... We have to marry a Muslim guy."

mezzoguild

Hey Melissa.

That's cool that you got to spend time in Jordan. I'd like to head there myself sometime after my time here in Korea. I've heard it's beautiful.

It is actually acceptable to them for a non-Muslim woman to marry a Muslim guy, but a guy who isn't a Muslim can't marry a Muslim woman. I should have mentioned that.

Interesting insight hearing about their response to your question too.

How's your Arabic now after your stay?

Nevin

Hi Melissa,
I would like to give you some reflections about your last part as I am a Muslim woman in Egypt. In many Muslims countries, religious habits became tradition rather than a religious act for many people, however so many others as well question themselves and ask why i am doing this. Islam gives the choice to do or not do, we chose to accept these believes and practice what we can and postpone what it's difficult until we can do it later. Everything has a logic behind, even if some little things we don't know the logic behind it but by time we get it..

Juliana

Hello iam american woman residing in egypt with my kids most all married egyptian girls ive had no problem i have another boy looking for a nice smart girl like him if you know of a girl would like to stay in egypt hes got his own flat very hansome american passport

Alex

Great Read. Thanks!

mezzoguild

Thank you :)

Sohayla sarthak

Hello guys it's really awsome to read this thank you

Andrew

That was a fascinating insight into another culture! Excellent, excellent work, Donovan, you really write some kick-ass blog posts, I'm constantly impressed with the quality.

I've always had a bit of a thing for middle-eastern girls, particularly Lebanese, and I've heard Lebanon is the most liberal of the middle-eastern/muslim countries--do you know anything about this? I'm agnostic, I wonder if it would be feasible at all to date a Lebanese girl...

Cheers,
Andrew

mezzoguild

Thanks mate.

You can find a lot of Lebanese and Syrian Maronites (Catholic) who are quite liberal for sure. Lebanon's been known as the 'Paris of the Middle East' because of it's French influence - it's definitely not as conservative and strict as Egypt is.

You could casually date someone from there but the marriage thing would eventually become an issue because the family would probably disapprove of it.

The area's becoming more and more fundamentalist though. Lebanon and Syria have really gone backwards in recent years.

I actually did date a Lebanese girl in Australia who was from a Muslim family about 7 years ago. Her father found out and wasn't too impressed to say the least.

Andrew

Ok, thanks, well that's about what I expected, and yes it's really disappointing to watch formerly progressing countries like Lebanon regress, it seems to be a pattern recently, and not just in Muslim countries (e.g. Hungary and Ukraine).

Cheers,
Andrew

newmuslimwife

My cousin is an athiest and he is engaged to marry a Lebanese girl who is orthodox Christian. I guess it depends on the girl and the family.

Umar

Lebanon is an interesting case. I'm Lebanese and my family is part Catholic, part Muslim, part Agnostic. Lebanon is much more liberal than the rest of the middle east. None of the girls in my family wear the hijab, and religion never really factors into family conversations. My family even lets me listen to heavy metal music and encourage me when I play musical instruments (a big no no to conservative Muslim families). Having said this, certain families in Lebanon are EXACTLY like the Egyptian family mentioned above, but there aren't as many of them in Lebanon.

Umar

Being Lebanese, I can tell you my family never cared who me or my siblings dated.

Ramses

Wow, just wow. I briefly dated an Iraqi girl here in the Netherlands last year, and now I see why things didn't work out. Haha, it's really easy to not take into consideration one's culture. I'm currently dating an Hungarian girl and things are a lot smoother. In fact, Spanish and Hungarian cultures are very much alike, I'd have never thought that so that's maybe one of the reasons things are working out nicely now.

Anyway, I loved the story! Glad you've both landed on your feet.

mezzoguild

Thanks Ramses! :)

Me too.

Barbara

Thanks Donovan for the interesting information. I like to read about different cultures and approaches. As an American speaking different languages, most of the time I do not have language barriers, however with Arabic, it's a little bit difficult I admit. I found this amazing application for mobile (I am an iPhone fan, but they have it also for android), it's an online Arabic-English dictionary a very useful one when you want to look up a word in Arabic. http://www.aljazem.com/

@JaredRomey

Donovan,

You've had me waiting for this post for months, if not longer. I remember at some point in a previous post you made a passing comment about your girlfriend in Egypt and how you'd share the details in the future. Finally!!!! By the way...if memory serves...I'm still waiting to hear more about the girlfriend that almost got stuck in Turkey.

I must say getting pre-engaged on a third date must be a scary process for someone in their early twenties. There's no way I could have (or should have) committed to someone after 2 dates. I'd be on my 4th or 5th marriage at this point (I know, I know, divorce would not have been an option for me in Egypt).

This occurred a few years ago already, correct? Do you know how (or if) society has changed in Egypt in the last couple years? Do you see this structured marriage process changing at all? Do women in Egypt want it to change?

My experience in Latin America is that there is huge societal pressure to get married young (not anywhere near as much as your article describes in Egypt). My friends who were married in their early and mid-twenties are now in their mid-thirties and divorced or miserable in their marriages. In the case of one of my closest friends, I knew her husband before they were married, and I could see it was a mistake even then. She just mentioned recently she's getting divorced and I congratulated her. It shocked her a bit until I pointed out that both she and he were miserable in the marriage. That part was mutual. Even when a marriage didn't exist she felt that she'd failed somehow by getting a divorce. But now, she, her ex- and their son are enjoying life much more.

I'm still negotiating with my wife (albeit extremely unsuccessfully) for her to accept that a Brazilian, an Italian, a German and perhaps a French girlfriend would be a huge boost to my language skills. She's stuck on this damn monogamy thing. Unfortunately I doubt that I could get away with "begging for forgiveness instead of asking for permission."

Hope you're having a blast in Korea!

Jared

@JaredRomey

PS

Just remembered, I had a Korean friend right after university. She was going through a serious crisis because she had grown up as American but her parents were forcing a Korean husband on her. She didn't like the guy at all and was not having a happy life at the time. I think she got married to him.

Have another close friend, Indian, who grew up completely in the US and until she was in her mid to late 30s her parents (whose marriage had been arranged) were looking at arranging her marriage for her. She resisted but I know she's struggled with going against her parents so directly.

Jared

mezzoguild

Thanks Jared! :)

Looking back now I wasn't ready for marriage and as you say, it probably would have ended down the track.

Egyptian society has rapidly gone downhill even since I was last there. They've elected a fanatical party as their government and women have far less freedom now than they did back in the 60's. It's really sad what's happening over there and I know a lot of people - not just girls - who want to leave.

haha. Good luck convincing your wife on that one! :)

Thanks for the well wishes.

Libor

Fair play to you Jared. (for unconventional marriage sincerity).

@khaledbarca

In more Urban area there is actually a huge pressure to marry early for both men& girls ,and for girls in all social level they want her married b4 she is in 30's ,some areas girls get married b4 she is 20

Amy

I'll have to join you in believing that Donovan must have had a great amount of courage to take that step after only a couple of dates, specially if he didn't know her long before. Nonetheless, it was a very decent thing to do.

Divorce actually is an option and exists in Egypt and is acceptable (however, frowned upon by society) among Muslims and as for Christians, it does depending on the sect. they follow.

As an Egyptian, I don't see much change in the way people think about things. The structured marriage is still as Donovan described it. The thing about structural marriage, it was intended to show that a man is serious about a marital life and that he can support a household. However, society went way overboard with it when more emphasis should be placed on how pious, kind, and good the individual is. A woman's dowry in Islam could be as little as 25 piasters and the amount should be determined by her. The "shabka" is supposed to be a gift from the groom to his bride as mentioned above and the amount should be determined by the groom. Since society has grown so (and it really hurts to say this) materialistic, parents from both sides take matters into their own hands, which at this point makes it seem to me like a barter and demeans the beauty and the meaningfulness of these requirements. Instead of the balance and flexibility religion has created to ease marriage and at the same time making women precious, it turned into an auction by society followed by a showcase (i.e. The Wedding Day - that's another story).

Bottom line: As an Egyptian female, I do not agree with the way the structure has been manipulated by society, but in its original form, I am perfectly ok with it. Even guys I know who want to get married do not oppose the concept, they are just against the great amount of money their in-laws would be requiring to accept marriage.

Here there is also societal pressure to get married at a young age, but people end up getting married older anyway. I guess mid-twenties is a good time to get married but for your friends, I am curious to know more... did they have arranged marriages, did they get to know each other, or was it a spur of the moment thing (aka "love at first sight")? I am also interested to know what kind of challenges did they face?

Albanezul

Hi Amy,

Thank you for your enlightening and beautifully written comment. I had the pleasure to read it.
I also like the fact that you separate tradition from the original concept, with which I totally agree and find intrinsically beautiful.

DavidJC

Great post

DavidJC

How long ago was this? I wonder how many of us people that get into language learning have a similar beginning. My first foreign language was French, how I really took it to an advanced level because of a very serious relationship with a girl as well. Once the long distance took that apart, learning other languages was much easier for me, having had such a strong base in French. My story isn't nearly as complicated or interesting as yours though, because French culture is similar to US culture in many ways.

Loving Language

Great post! Similar thing happened to me in Morocco. So many layers of awkward ensued. We learned earlier on in the process that it was not going to happen. But, boy, did my Arabic improve!

Khan

Dear friend Asalamo Alikum my name is Khan from Pakistan currently I m in Riyadh Saudi Arabia. My girl friend is egyptian and she live there we saw each other on Internet 5 years ago and still we r touch. Her family want me to live here in Egypt nd buy flat for her etc etc. so it's necessary for every person how want to marry there.

sara

you must have really liked the girl to withstand all that ! but in my opinion it wasn't going to work out anyways,I am an Egyptian girl so I know :D

ali

we killing love by materialistic here

Mahmoud

Wow, Donovan, you really understood the Egyptian culture. As an Egyptian, I want to tell you that it's too bad even for us Egyptians.

EU guy

Hey, i could marraige with an egyptian girl :) and we live in Love now too and waiti g for a kids :)

Salma El-Ghazzawi

Hey I'm an Egyptian girl and I've been reading this and some of the stuff soud just terrible. It looks like you've encountered - like you said - a really conservative family or side of the country and I'd like to talk to you about the whole thing it's not like that in a lot of families and regions.

Salma El-Ghazzawi

It seems like minds are set to think that the Arab world is all narrow-minded and all marriage are a freakin business deal

Abdallah Hodieb

Let's face it Marriage is Hard as hell in Egypt ,
The hardest part is the family part ! its puts men under extreme Mental Pressure !

@mohamed_a_amin

the "يا بني احنا بنشتري راجل" kind of families

Star

Salma, don't cheat to yourself... I live in Egypt since 2 years and marriage here is exactly a very huge BUSINESS DEAL. Virginity here have price (very huge, but anyway have price).
I'm western woman and I cant find another word for describe it.

John

Hi.

I know nothing about Eygption culture or way of life which is wrong of me ... i met an eygption girl on holiday in eygpt, things were going good.
We flrted, spoke to each other daily through whatsapp, spoke on the phone not as often has i should have :-( generally started getting feelings for her.
I went to Cairo to see her, see how things could develope between us .... When i got there i called her to say i was there and when we could meet up, her first words were YOU LIVE IN ANOTHER COUNTRY ... we still had five minutes on the phone laughng and giggling but then i heard the mother in the background (I never hear the mother) since that phone call we have had no contact at all, i never seen her while i was there, she dosnt answer my calls or messages.

I dont know what happened, its kinda mind boggling what happened ... i hope she is safe & well and that one day she will tell me ... i do miss her, she got into my life in a shout period of time.

doha

well hearing the mother is not good that means she got caught yes in egypt dating is forbidding by the parents so i think she got grounded and grounded in egypt is like prison maybe prison is better

Nevin

Doha, I think you are exaggerating a little bit or talk about your experience. It depends on the age of the girl, they type of the family, etc.
Anyway, I think in John's case that the girl wasn't serious enough.

John

Hi Nevin

She is young, you could say a child at 22 ... Thanks and your right " she's not serious"
We have been talking on and off for a year now, every couple of months I or she would get a text from each other and I would call her but she would stop always after a couple of days, after gôing to cairo last year and not able to see her I would think she would understand my be sceptackle off going there after 3 days off talking between us.

There is words that should be said between a couple that should only be said with a future or really want a future ....... Actions speak louder than words'!!

Russ

Are you able to tell me her name at all and what religion. My fiancé is Egyptian and lives in Cairo and uses whatsapp too. Can track get for you and see if she is safe?

liam

Bro .... cairo is 25 million ppl !!!

HANAN ABBASS

:( so sad ... but i love it ♥ my dream is to visit all the countries and fall in love with one guy . it well be grat .. maybe it happen to u but iam sure u felt agood feeling .. AND (انشاء الله ) IT MEANS (BY GOD WILLING) U WILL MEET HER SOON AND MARRY HER AND HAVE CHILDREN

doha

i really lmao i`m egyptian 2 and seeing what we do in foreigner`s eyes was awesome like seeing it for the first time i really felt like living with u
PS: what a shame egyptian girls r great in bed :D just kidding :P

Haytham

what a shame, egyptian girls r great in bed.
so can you prove that :D

emy

poor boy :P im so thankful for living outside egypt!! yeah im an egyptian girl but i was born&raised in kuwait......when i came to egypt first time i was pretty much chocked by all that stuff....now im 24 years old and the only question i hear is :when you will get married? looooooool %90 of people here believe that women must get married early and stay at home.They do not accept the fact that im too ambitious to be married :s and trust me when i say i won't get married to an egyptian guy...... they are so boring&too much controlling.I'm not finishing my masters to stay at home!

Brian

Wont it be very difficult to marry someone that is not Egyptain? I know what its like to fall in love with someone from another culture, its hard, to have to say goodbuy just cause of cultural differreces and religion

Morkos

I don't think ,it's too much different between Egypt and Kuwait ,my friends are there and they tell me it's the same thing

Zirien

Thanks for sharing. This is especially interesting as most intercultural experiences of this kind, that I heard of, are about a european woman and a man from that part of the world. And few of them have a happy ending.

It sounds really harsh to have to decide after such a short time. After all, it is one of the most important decisions of a lifetime.

And it is quite surprising that the traditions and social expectations are so hard not only on women but as well on men. Waiting for so long or destroing someone else's hopes, need to gain a lot before marrying instead of building the future together, buying so much gold while other investments would make more sense... Why does this system still work when it is difficult and mainly unpleasant for both sides?

Amy

This system from an Islamic perspective was created to provide ease and flexibility for the couple and at a time where females were considered to be a shame upon their families and buried alive, made them precious and gave them a right to it. Originally, a man is required to make a place of living available to start his own family. As for the dowry, by religion, it could be as little as 25 piasters, but the figure should be specified by the bride. As for the "shabkah", it is a gift from the groom to the bride and as such, the amount should be determined by the groom. Everything else should be an agreement between both families.

Unfortunately, because all of the above represent the wealth status, it has become a bargain and about greed and showcasing the new spouse. So, it is the ill twist society placed on what was intended to be something beautiful that made it this unpleasant.