Yesterday I had dinner with some English friends at Hedra’s, a resto in downtown Gouna.
This restaurant has better prices for fish dishes than the nearby Fish Market joint, which is a big rip-off, and it also has excellent beef dishes, Spaghetti Bolognese, and a terrific lentil soup.
Hedra is located above Tamr Henna.
We walked up the stairs, sat at a nice table in the enclosed non-smoking area, and ordered our meals.
As we waited, the garkohns (Egyptian for garçons, or نادل in MSA Arabic, which is pronounced nadilo’, and means “waiter,” though few dish slingers in Gouna are likely to know the word) started joining several tables together behind us in preparation for a large party.
The party soon arrived.
They turned out to be Egyptians, and not just Egyptians, but Moslem (or Muslim, if you prefer) ones in the bargain — not that there’s anything wrong or unusual about that.
They sat down, making all the usual loud noises Egyptians love to make, then one of them, a hefty guy with a massive zebeeba, or prayer bump, got up, opened the sliding glass window that kept the smoke out from the lower seating area, sat on the window ledge, and lit up a cigarette.
This, to repeat, was in the non smoking area of the restaurant.
The manager, or moudir of the restaurant, looked the other way, and none of the waiters said anything, or seemed to notice.
But I did.
So I signaled to the guy and I told him in English that this is a non smoking area.
He waved me off, saying that he was holding the cigarette outside the window, in the smoking area.
I stared at the zebeeba guy.
Something about him really annoyed me. Maybe it was something about Egyptians in general that was starting to get to me, as it has every time I have visited Egypt for an extended period of time.
Maybe it was that I cannot tolerate the progeny of fellaheen behaving as if they have the right to dine where I do, me, the great-grandson of tarboush-wearing Bey landowners in Tanta and Fayoum!
Maybe it was time for me to leave Gouna.
But in the meantime, dinner was on its way, and I didn’t want this arrogant prick to ruin it.
So I got up, and told him, much louder this time, but still in English, in front of his party, including some behemoth woman who looked like his wife, to put out the fucking cigarette now.
He sneered and said, since you are using bad language, I am going to smoke as I want.
Then he taunted, what are you going to do about it?
The English couple with me had become very still, and their faces had turned rather pale.
This was February, a time when Gouna is filled mostly with German geezers, which is why many waiters this time of year call the town Dar el Mosseneen, or the house of the old people.
I thought about what I should do. Usually I had dinner at Kan Zaman, where this sort of thing would never happen. Maybe we should have gone there.
The tension thickened, as the guy smoked his cigarette with deliberate slowness.
It’s quite easy for a foreigner to make a lot of problems for an Egyptian in a resort area like Gouna simply by calling the police.
But I thought to myself, was it worth it? Was this pissant worth it?
Was I in good enough physical shape yet to win a fist fight with a bulky guy half my age and with a posse?
Would it be worth doing time in some Egyptian jail?
Caution, and perhaps even mosseneen cowardice, being the better part of valor, I sat down, and our meal soon arrived.
The zebeeba asshole finished his cigarette, and, satisfied that he had won the round against a despised foreigner, also sat down, but neither he nor anyone in his party smoked after that; small consolation, that.
Nothing very interesting happened after this episode, except some old German couple complained — this from the mouth of some aging Fräulein gazing at her decrepit husband as if he still was the only Von — as they prepared to leave, that they were getting rooked for only getting 20 and not 22 LEs for their euros (they had no Egyptian money to pay their bill). Ah how soon they forget that not that long ago the Euro was worth 5 LEs!
The Fräulein and her beau left in a snippy Deutschland huff, vowing to never return.
The English couple I was with, who live year round in a boat on the canals of England, said their hotel was full of old Germans and very few of them ever venture out, as they are dirt cheap, and come to Gouna on package hotel deals that typically include meals and beer.
We left, and shook hands outside the Hedra restaurant, and I returned home, saddened that despite all my walking, I was still a geezer, trapped in mosseneen purgatory, and not yet viewed with respect, if not fear, as someone you shouldn’t even think about messing around with.
I wonder what is it about the Egyptian character that makes them at times so ill-mannered, so lacking in consideration as to the rights of others, say, to breathe clean air instead of the poison from their endless cigarettes, or not listen to the very loud music they love to play in the middle of the night, or the constant and deeply irritating car and tuc-tuc honking and beeping that transforms much of Egypt into an aural nightmare?
No Mustapha — and by that provocative, colonial era term, I mean lower class Egyptian males who they think their arrogance is a right of national Manhood — has ever seen a rule he didn’t want to flaunt.
It’s so bad that the term a’adi (ie, normalized) is the prevailing laissez-faire attitude towards outlandish Egyptian behavior in public areas, particularly when driving.
Maybe despotism is the only way to rule this country!