A self-proclaimed 'foreign local', Monica Gerges tackles the misconceptions Egyptians seem to have about 'foreigners' in 2om el Donya.
Excuse me, Egypt? I think there are a few things you don't quite understand...
Just because I'm a 'foreigner' doesn't mean I grew up having it easy. It doesn't mean I don't understand struggle or circumstances. It doesn't mean I have a silver spoon in my mouth nor does it mean that I don't know what it means to earn a living.
Actually... My parents and I are immigrants. They gave up everything they had and worked to establish a new life for our family abroad. I studied hard and worked even harder ever since I was able to get a job. Life abroad isn't rainbows and butterflies; no one rolled out the red carpet for us when we first arrived. Actually, they cut open our luggage and robbed us instead. I may not understand your struggle, but I grew up with struggles of my own. Life isn't easy irrespective of where you are.
Just because I'm a 'foreigner' doesn't mean I won't understand your culture. It doesn't mean I don't know how things function, what to expect, and what is/isn't okay. Just because I'm a 'foreigner' doesn't mean I'm ignorant.
Actually... I appreciate your culture. I consider it now part of my own. I'm learning; I'm adapting. Perhaps I may not see your culture the way you see it - perhaps certain things may weigh more heavily on one of us than the other, and perhaps we'll disagree on a lot of things - but it's not that I don't understand; I'm just seeing your culture through my life lens. Culture is relative.
Just because I'm a 'foreigner' doesn't mean I'm easy. It doesn't mean I don't understand your catcalls down the street. It doesn't mean I'm open to doing whatever crosses your mind. Maybe I'm friendly, but my friendliness isn't an open invitation to have your way.
Actually... I'm really just a nice person. I assume the good in people and like conversation with friendly strangers. I'm as deserving of respect as anyone and everyone else. I'm also just not that into you.
Just because I'm a 'foreigner' doesn't mean I'm filthy rich. It doesn't mean that I convert from dollars to pounds whenever I spend. It doesn't mean I'm spoiled. It doesn't mean I'm going to leave you a giant tip even if you gave me crappy service. It doesn't mean you assume that you get to keep the change. It doesn't mean you get to rip me off and charge me triple the price.
Actually... If I live here, I'm probably living alone. I'm buying groceries. I'm taking taxis. I'm paying rent. I'll be a bit more generous should I choose to be, because I acknowledge the country's class differences, but that doesn't make anyone more entitled to my money than me. I worked hard for it. Where I come from, we haven't quite perfected the 'money tree' concept yet.
Just because I'm a 'foreigner' doesn't mean I want to do all the touristy things. It doesn't mean I can only eat from certain restaurants and need to be taken outside of the heart of Cairo so I can see 'how nice' Egypt is. It doesn't mean I need to see a version of Egypt with the Juno filter on it.
Actually... I'm perfectly content eating from Sobhy or grabbing breakfast off the nearest fool cart. And hey, where I grew up, they have the oversized malls and the luxurious living and the chain restaurants and brand names. You know what they don't have? The simple pleasures and people of Egypt.
Just because I'm a 'foreigner' doesn't mean I think I'm better than you. My passport doesn't mean that I'm any better than you; my education and knowledge of another language don't mean that I'm superior.
Actually... My passport and my language only have value in this country because institutions gave them value. Me? I'm just like anybody else.
Just because I'm a 'foreigner' doesn't mean you have to speak English to me in spite of yourself.
Actually... While it's totally endearing that you think I won't understand your Arabic, there's also a chance that I don't speak English, either; then we're really screwed.
Just because I'm a 'foreigner' doesn't mean you have to constantly apologize for the state of the country and try to convince me (or perhaps yourself) that Egypt is a good place to be.
Actually... If I'm here, then I'm already convinced.
Just because I'm a 'foreigner' doesn't mean I feel estranged. It doesn't mean I feel far from home and am constantly longing to go back. It doesn't mean that my life is alone, confused, and uncomfortable.
Actually... I might be away from my immediate family, but I'm likely to be here by choice. If I was so miserable then, let's be honest, I would just leave.
Why do I keep putting quotation marks around 'foreigner'? Because I don't feel foreign. To me, this is home.