So, what does dressing conservatively mean? I’ve read tons of posts on travel newsgroups and travel sites that “I wear shorts everywhere, no one says anything”, or that bathing topless is fine in Hurghada or Sharm-el-Sheik. While tourists are probably given a lot of leeway when it comes to dress in some areas, it is considered poor form to dress in a way that is offensive to the locals. It’s just polite to try to follow the local rules, as well as you can. In some places, the notes I’ve found say that even bathing in the hot springs in some of the oases must be done “completely covered.” in order to stay within local mores. Wear shorts only when it appears that that rest of the people are – at beach resorts, for example. Otherwise, save the thongs for the Caribbean.
So no, you don’t need to wear a scarf or be completely covered from head to toe. Conservative means:
- Covering your shoulders and upper arms. It does not mean that you have to wear long sleeves buttoned at the wrist (although it’s been recommended simply for sun protection)
- Covering your chest – no cleavage showing from low-cut shirts. It does not mean that you have to have a high collar or button everything to the top button
- Legs covered to the calves, at least. No shorts or short skirts. A mid-length skirt or cropped pants seem to be ok. Obviously, long pants are acceptable.
- No skin-tight clothing. Midriff-baring shirts, string tank tops, and teeny shorts are right out!
Keep in mind, though, that Cairo is a cosmopolitan city – the young 20-somethings coming out to the clubs are just as likely to be wearing the latest slinky black mini-dress as their counterparts in every other city. This is, apparently, pretty shocking for the rest of the population.
What to pack
Our last trip was to “wet, raining, cold” weather – at least according to the guidebooks and friendly warning that Scotland was a damp and drizzly sort of place. We packed jeans and sweatshirts and raincoats, preparing for a downpour…and instead had days at 80 degrees and got sunburned. But the generalization that Egypt is “dry and hot” is probably true. This led me to investigate “cool” clothing.
Cotton clothing, thin and light-colored, is usually recommended .There are some new synthetic materials that promise to “wick away” sweat and keep you more comfortable. Coolmax and others are common for hot weather and a wide variety of clothes can be found in travel catalogs. (Although I have to admit that I was a bit put off by the “odor-guard” advertised by one clothing manufacturer. Sure, we all sweat, but can we just keep some secrets? ) It seems contrary to common sense to wear nylon or rayon in the heat, but the new fabrics promise relief. Some even have a higher-level of sun protection – you can order clothing with SPF 35 or better. Strange, but something to think about.
It gets how hot?
Have I pointed out that I hate the heat? I stay inside in the cool air-conditioned comfort and watch things wilt outside. I’m a pale northern person – I’ll be a smoking grease spot if I’m out in the sun for a few hours. Note to self: remember lots of sunscreen.
But, the temperatures are not unbearable in February. While it might hit 120 degrees in high summer in Aswan, temperatures in the upper nineties are much more normal. The high temps via the weather channel are enough to shock you a bit, though. One day in early June we had a late snowstorm in Boulder that dropped six or so inches of snow on our house. It was 28 degrees. I checked the weather that day in Aswan and it was 111 degrees. One hundred and eleven. Eek!
It’s all relative, though. Mark was deployed with his army unit during Desert Storm and spent a lot of time out in the desert of Kuwait and Iraq. He said that they quickly got used to 120+ during the day, but that the strange quirk of desert weather meant that a forty -degree drop at night wasn’t unusual – and that at 90 degrees, they were bundled up in parkas and sleeping bags. It might sound trite, but “it’s the humidity” is a true statement. Over a hundred in the humidity of Georgia is unbearable, almost oppressively hot. The same temperature in much-more-arid Colorado is hot, sure enough, but ok if you’re not standing in the beating sun.
Another note to self: buy a hat. With a huge brim. Maybe a sombrero.