Sailor’s Invitations – Understanding Egypt

Understanding Egypt is a series about Egyptian culture and traditions. I will try my best to explain the Egyptian way of thinking about different aspects of life that are usually different (or not) from Western and other cultures. If you have any questions or points you need elaborated please contact me through the comments sections or through the contact me page.


Welcome to Egypt, my friend
Photo by tomer.gabel from Flickr | Welcome to Egypt sign

Ever been to Egypt? If you’ve been here then I’m sure you entered at least one shop at a random time and you found the people there eating (we tend to eat when hungry, at work or anywhere else this doesn’t bother us that much.)

If your answer was yes to the above questions, then I’m sure the guy that was eating offered you to join him with a smile on his face.

It’s not only about food, however it is very common in Egypt to hear the word “etfadal” – “please, join me” when eating.

This happens also in many other situations. You go into a shop and buy something, you ask how much is it and the reply is “oh its nothing, you shouldn’t pay”…now that is a nice offer, but please don’t take it seriously.

Egyptians invite/offer people to anything and everything. They are eating; they will invite you to join them. They sell you something; they will offer you not to pay. You pass by their shops or homes; they will invite you in, for a cup of tea maybe.

Welcome to Tahrir (Alaska)
Photo by Mr. Theklan from Flickr | Welcome to Alaska - Arabic words: "I wish I'd feel like I'm home" Signed: "An Egyptian Citizen"

But the typical reply that is always expected in these situations is a broad smile and a sincere “thank you”

This kind of invitation has a name in Egypt, it is called “ezoumet marakbeya” which translates to “a sailor’s invitation”

Now don’t get me wrong, we have nothing against sailors here, but the tradition of the name comes from back in the day when the fisher men on their small fishing boats would occasionally come close to each other, each on their boat, and say “etfadal” (please, join me) knowing that the other sailor cannot possibly leave their boat and join them.

It is just an invitation out of nice-ness, just to show that they are hospitable and willing to offer and share.

Kids welcoming a foreigner
Photo by Iris Kristina from Flickr | Kids welcoming a foreigner in their neighbourhood

Honestly, as an Egyptian, I say this word a lot. And if you decided to accept the offer I will always be happy, just like any other Egyptian offering you to share their food for example. The only instance that this offer is a must decline when it is offered on sold goods.

Though the seller will try hard and act serious, telling you “please don’t pay”, “wallahi khaliha ‘aleina” (I swear just leave it on me), but if you try to say fine, they’ll chase you! :)

I don’t know about you, but for me, it sounds like a really nice offer always, though I know I will not accept it but it makes me feel welcomed, and makes me feel more comfortable around that person offering me.


Is this similar to the culture you come from? Please share with me in the comments, and don’t hesitate to ask me about anything :)

One thought on “Sailor’s Invitations – Understanding Egypt”

  1. This is a really interesting series, keep going! :)

    Have you ever seen a shopkeeper chase anyone? Sounds like that would make for hilarious viewing…

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