Anyone who has ever traveled to a country where the native language is different from their own inevitably has a funny “lost in translation” story they tell friends and family back home.
At the end of our Nile cruise, we were scheduled for an early-morning flight out of Aswan back to Cairo, where we would stay another two nights before beginning the long journey home.
At this point in the trip, everyone was exhausted. We had seen and done so much, walked so much—our first sightseeing day in Giza, Saqqara, and Memphis added up to around 17,000 steps—and in my case, bought too much, and we were fed up with the early-morning starts.
Thankfully, once we were back in Cairo, we would have a free day. I planned to lounge around the hotel all day, sleep, and maybe find a Bollywood film on one of the movie channels and test my Hindi listening skills—since I only know about four Arabic words/phrases.
There was just one problem. Our flight was scheduled for 9:30AM, which meant we would land in Cairo at around 10:30 or 11AM, get checked into our hotel, and then have the rest of the day to ourselves. So where would we eat? Up until this point, we always had someone with us—a tour guide who gave us a lunch break between sightseeing, breakfast, lunch, and dinner served on the boat during our cruise. But this time we would be completely on our own and would have to figure out food for ourselves.
What were we going to do?!
We’d seen enough of Cairo traffic to know that we were never leaving the hotel. Once we were settled in, we were in, and we wouldn’t be going out again until our tour guide called us down the following day.
So then the question became how would we obtain food?
Now I, thinking logically, assumed that our four-star hotel had a restaurant or at least offered room service. I mean, they did provide a full breakfast buffet. Why not dinner as well?
I don’t know if my family didn’t hear me, if they chose to ignore me because, in their opinion, I was being too naive in assuming the hotel had a restaurant (Brother has a way of belittling you sometimes), or if they were simply too impatient to wait until we got to the hotel to find out.
But it was just our luck that our flight would be delayed three hours with no explanation. We just couldn’t seem to avoid that particular curse. Then the gate was moved sans announcement, so we almost missed out flight despite waiting since 7AM. Based on conversations I eavesdropped on at baggage claim, delays and zero communication are pretty common for Egypt Air.
Thankfully we were flying another airline back to the States.
Brother had also picked up a nasty cough on the cruise and was very cranky because of it. There were actually a lot of coughing people on the ship, but Mom, Sister-in-Law, and I all seemed to be immune—probably because our collective paranoia about getting sick led to us popping Tylenol with our breakfast every morning, so we were well protected.
When we finally arrived in Cairo well past two in the afternoon, we were eager to get to the hotel, lie down, get some food in us, and, in Sister-in-Law’s case, nurse Brother back to health. But before we could do any of that, Brother requested a detour to Pizza Hut.
Now, as I said in “Buyer’s Remorse,” when I’m in a foreign country, the last thing I’m buying is something I can easily get at home. That includes food. I’d much rather eat the cuisine native to the land. You know, expand the horizons of my tastebuds. It, again, stems from my first international travel experience in Spain, when all my classmates asked for McDonald’s for lunch, and my Spanish teacher exclaimed in disbelief with a hint of judgment, “You come all the way to Spain, and you want to eat at McDonald’s? Really?!”
So no, I didn’t want Pizza Hut. I damn sure didn’t want McDonald’s. And from the way our travel agent and the driver exchanged an exasperated look after my brother asked, I could tell that they had not planned to take us anywhere other than the hotel that afternoon.
And I was so embarrassed. After this wonderful trip where we learned and saw so much and embraced and absorbed all that we could, including purchasing traditional garments, learning dance steps, befriending the people we met along the way, and—at least in my case—respecting the dead, Brother chose the last day (well, not quite the last day, but almost) to be an American.
You know what I mean when I say “American,” right? That entitled American who inconveniences everyone so they can be treated like an American in a non-American country…
Another concern I had was that we would be going to a local restaurant, where the workers likely wouldn’t know English. At least at the restaurant hotel (which I was sure existed), even though the servers might not be completely fluent in English, they would at least be familiar with enough words and phrases to take our order. There were guests from all over the world at that hotel. It wouldn’t make sense for the staff to only speak one language. This is the hospitality industry after all. In contrast, with a local restaurant, yeah sure the food would be familiar (and even that might not be true because the menu wouldn’t look exactly like ours back home—the customers don’t have the same eating patterns), but would the people serving us understand our language enough to know what we were ordering?
The answer is no.
It didn’t help that Brother had a super complicated order. It would have been easier if he’d simply ordered two separate pizzas for himself and Sister-in-Law. But no, he ordered a large stuff-crust pizza, half sausage, half vegetarian (Sister-in-Law doesn’t eat red meat). The cashier only stared at him. Our travel agent, who was supposed to be translating for us, stared at him too. They had no idea what he was talking about.
Meanwhile, I was standing behind him scratching my head thinking, Did he just order sausage? Sausage is pork! Egypt is a Muslim country. They don’t have pork sausage at Pizza Hut! What had we been eating for breakfast every day for the last week? BEEF bacon! Now, it’s possible that they could have had beef or chicken sausage as a topping, but given that the woman behind the counter didn’t even flinch when he finished his order, I knew they didn’t have it.
Ten minutes later, he was done, and no one had the confidence that the order was right. I was up next, ordering for myself and Mom, and I tried to be as simple as I could. I looked down at the menu on the counter. The names of the menu items were in English, and the descriptions were in Arabic, but the English names were enough description for me. I pointed to “Chicken Supreme Pizza” and “Handtossed” on the menu.
“That’s it,” I said.
Travel agent asked me something else. I don’t think I heard him, and I was confused as to why he was even asking me anything because I made sure I was being very clear about what I was ordering. I wanted to be an easy customer and not waste any more time. I had pointed to what I wanted on the menu. I didn’t even speak! She could ring that up, no?
Then Brother walked up behind me. “Wifey wants BBQ chicken wings.”
I looked down at the menu again. I saw hot wings. I saw regular wings. There was some kind of BBQ garlic twists. No BBQ chicken wings anywhere. “I don’t see BBQ chicken on the menu,” I said.
Instead of listening to me, he blurts out, “Can you add BBQ chicken wings?”
Cashier said, “Hot or regular?” Like it said on the menu.
“BBQ!” he yelled.
Blank stare from Cashier.
I wanted to scream, They don’t have BBQ wings, you nut! And raising your voice is not going to make the food magically appear on the menu. Instead, very calmly, I said to the cashier, “Regular.”
Sister-in-Law paid for everyone’s meal, which was awfully generous of her, and we waited a very awkward 15 minutes for the food to cook. Travel agent avoided all eye contact by looking at his phone the entire time and occasionally leaving the restaurant to check on the driver. Brother sat next to Sister-in-Law fuming about why it was so hard to order a damn pizza, totally lacking the self-awareness that the only reason we were even there was because of him. Mom had totally checked out mentally, and I was just praying they weren’t in the back spitting on our food because we were being so American.
When the food finally came out, was it as we had ordered it?
No. Not even close.
Brother and Sister-in-Law’s half-and-half pizza was all vegetarian because, as I had assumed, they did not have sausage.
I somehow ended up with the stuffed crust, and only three slices of my pizza had chicken.
(Was this the half-and-half pizza?)
We didn’t get chicken wings at all. We got BBQ SAUCE.
Brother was five seconds from exploding, so we didn’t bother to fix the order. I don’t think it would have made a difference anyway.
When we arrived at the hotel, we were greeted with hibiscus juice, like the first night, which we happily accepted—the only good thing to come from this stressful day that was supposed to be relaxing.
When we got to our hotel rooms, would you believe that the first thing I saw was a room service menu?
WE COULD HAVE WAITED!!!!
Turns out I didn’t need hotel room service. I ate my pizza, fell asleep, and didn’t wake up until after dark, and I was still pretty full. So I just made myself a cup of tea and went back to sleep. However, whatever meal I could’ve gotten at the hotel likely would have been more enjoyable than a messed-up pizza order.
“A” is for Arrival
“B” is for Buyer’s Remorse
“C” is for Cruisin’ the River Nile
“D” is for Delays, Delays, Delays
“E” is for Empty Tombs
“F” is for Fragrance
“G” is for Great Pyramid of Giza
“H” is for Hatshepsut
“I” is for Island Temple of Philae
“J” is for Just Engaged!
“K” is for Kom Ombo
“L” is for Luxor
“M” is for Museums and Mummies
“N” is for Nefertari
“O” is for Osiris, Set, and Horus: Gods of Egypt
This April for the A to Z Challenge, I’m sharing my experience of traveling to Egypt last month. These posts likely won’t be in chronological order, depending on what memory each letter strikes up, but if you’d like to follow me on this journey, subscribe below.
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