How to cross the street in Cairo

August 10, 2011

Egypt, Special Features, Special Tips

Is there really a peculiar way by which I should cross the street in Cairo? Yes. I mean, really? Indeed. You don’t understand, oh my baby tourist, how important this is. And, if a seasoned traveler, you are probably chuckling on your seat right now. If you are a Westerner, the best way to describe how to cross the street in Cairo is to compare it with the game Frogger. Remember that? You know, the one where you were a little frog and had to cross a street with crazy traffic without being squashed? Wikipedia it. Yeah, that’s a pretty accurate analogy!

street in cairo

A Street in Cairo (on a good day) - by

Knowing how to cross the street in Cairo is a matter of life or death. One tiny misstep, as little as one inch or even less than that, can be quite costly. So! Without any other preamble, here is the step-by-step guide.

1. Look to both sides of the street several times, as you normally would anywhere.

2. Look at all nearby sidewalks before looking at the street again both ways for one last time. Why, you wonder? You see, people run from all directions, including recklessly-driven, crowded scooters that are supposed to be carrying one passenger but are actually overflowing with a family of four (yes, I said four). So you might not get killed by a car, but by several people running from different directions and driving from the sidewalk on scooters. So yeah, look everywhere before proceeding!

3. Once you find an at least 5 foot distance between an object and you, run to your destination. Yes, as of run for your life run. And actually, I might have been generous with the 5-foot distance; that might leave you stuck in the intersection for a bit. So let me rephrase: 5-footer if the object is moving really fast (usually cars); if there is crazy traffic jam, if all objects are moving quite slowly, even a 5-inch distance is good enough. Which, btw, takes us to the next step…

4. Don’t hesitate. Once you have taken one step, that’s it, you are going! I remember my first week in Cairo, roaming the streets with one of my new Egyptian friends, and how I took the “deadly step” once. My friend literally grabbed me from the back of my shirt as I saw a car precariously cruising about 5 inches from my face. Then, my Egyptian friend said frantically: “Don’t you ever hesitate like that ever again! Once you take a step, you’re going! Hesitate just a little and you can be killed here! Just goooo! Once you do it, you are safe, I promise you my friend!” I know, a little hard to believe at once, sp if during your crossing you feel imminent danger, eh? But according to my Egyptian friend, once you run to the other side, you are out there, and Egyptians are so used to calculating how long a person will take to run to the other side, that they don’t stop, they keep going. However, if you hesitate, the Egyptian on the car of the lane you hesitated in won’t be stopping, thinking you should have been on the other side already anyway, so BOOM! Disaster. So yeah, never hesitate! And that brings us to the next step…

5. Once you’re out there running to the other side, there’s no need to look anywhere but forward. Yes, no looking! At this point, peripheral view is all you need. Cars will be within a feet or two from you most of the times you cross the street in Cairo anyway, so all looking-to-the-sides-as-you-cross will do is disorient you, scare you, make you hesitate and…you know the deal (look back at # 4 for a refresher). Thus, once you take that first step, just look forward toward your destination, making sure it is clear and, if not, to take a swift turn (still moving forward, though).

6. It’s over. Rejoice! Ahhh, the feeling of crossing a street in Cairo safely for the first time without hesitating in the progress is surely a milestone to any foreigner. This indescribable feeling, adrenaline yet calmness, the zen…feels sooo good!

Other options available on how to cross the street in Cairo?

I recognize there are the cross walks with lights or even the “Cross guards” (yes, they exist in Cairo). However, a green light at a crosswalk does not always mean go. Cars will still drive. Yes, I’m saying a cross walk in Cairo doesn’t mean cars around you are more cautious than they would be at any other given street. For this reason, you must always proceed with caution and always employ the 5-step method described above. Oh and what about those Cross guards again? They are modestly sprinkled all over the big metropolis, usually in big squares anyway, so not every perimeter is covered. So for the most part? You are on your own. There is, however, one additional “option” that is quite useful, as resources avail is the Human Shield method. Resources are the people here my friends, which are never scarce in one of the most populous cities int he world! So, how does this work?

crossing street in Cairo

The shield, minus the arm link

1. Look for the right person. This mainly depends on your comfort level. Choose a person you feel comfortable with, one you think probably has a similar (or better! Haha) judgement than you. Or, well, one you think would be a good shield (sounds cruel, but this is about survival! They were going to cross the street anyway…)

2. Once he/she goes, you go. Basically, what you are doing here is shadowing. So, while you should still follow most of the steps I provided above, this time you have a little, umm, “leeway” when it comes to looking to the side. Well, I mean, your human shield will be side-by-side. So! Follow him/her with caution, always looking at his/her steps and the objects behind him, but never losing sight of your destination on the other side of the street (remember, runners and overflowing scooters everywhere!).

3. When your human shield fails, follow the 4-step method prescribed above. No, I didn’t mean when the other person gets squashed by a car (that barely ever happens anyway, believe it or not). By “failing” I mean by changing the pace too quickly or at the point where you don’t feel safe (the normal adrenaline rush you get every single time you cross the street in Cairo doesn’t count). By danger I mean you hear ridiculous honking or a wheel is about 5 inches from his/her foot or yours. Once you are in the middle of the street, with failed human shield, this means GO–run for your life. You are in the middle of the street, so cars won’t just downright run over you. Thus, once there, just run for your life to the other side and look only forward, using your peripheral view to know where danger is imminent or not.

One last piece of advice? Cars will be driving less than an inch away from you, all the time. I remember this freaking me out all the time, thinking someone wanted to abduct me, solicit me as a prostitute, etc etc. However, you must get used to it. Cars get ridiculously close to people in Cairo, way too close even for a Latina’s comfort (and we are pretty touchy and not so respectful of personal space naturally!). So, don’t think someone is about to run you over or kidnap you when this happens and freak out and jump subconsciously to the middle of the street uninvited, because that could be trouble! Thus, try to always keep this in mind whenever you are walking the streets in Cairo so you don’t freak out when it happens. Just relax and try to get used to the whole no-personal-space-while-walking-around deal. Eventually, you don’t even feel them passing by (even if it seems utterly impossible at first).

Hope these tips were helpful!

Do you have any other tips on how to cross the street in Cairo? Comment!

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6 Responses to “How to cross the street in Cairo”

  1. Adam Says:

    Seriously, I got stuck int he middle of a street in Cairo last year. Couldn’t figure out how to go forward and how to go backward. A nice man on the side I’d just come from came and led me back to the side I started from. What a disaster!


    • Maria Laborde Says:

      Hey Adam! I know the feeling, it happened to me repeatedly during my first weeks living in Cairo. Eventually though, I got the “tricks” down so I felt compelled to share them with everyone!


  2. Sabina Says:

    Crossing the street in Cairo is one of the most difficult aspects of the Middle East! I personally can’t (or won’t?) do it alone yet, although I’ve been to Cairo several times. I used to stand on the sidewalk cringing until an Egyptian arrived, took my hand and dragged me across, but now I’ve learned to just walk up to an Egyptian, any Egyptian, look at them longingly, at which point they’ll take my hand and drag me across. So yes, basically I have to be dragged, but this is only on the major streets. The two-laners I can do alone :)


  3. Violeta Matei Says:

    Ha ha! Crossing the streets in Cairo was by far the most frightening thing that happened to me in Egypt (and in all my years of travel, actually). I used the “human shield” method, but even so, I was scared to death each time I had to do it.


    • Maria Laborde Says:

      I know! I used the “human shield” a bit, but I usually wanted to cross faster than the locals so I would end up by myself lol! :P Quite the experience living and having to do this there daily, I’m telling ya


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