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Queer Things About Cairo Society
Every now and then some Englishman in the Egyptian Civil Service marries the daughter of a well-off tourist "doing ” Egypt; and there are a certain number of people, whose health does not allow them to face an English winter, who go to Egypt so often that they almost count as residents. From one of them, a wealthy old lady with an acid tongue, I learned a good deal about Cairo Society. The mud with which she bespattered its morals did not interest me-it was about people whom I did not know, and it might not have been true. But, when she confined herself to epigrammatic generalities, and the prices of living, I made a note of what she said.
“The Cairo resident," she informed me, "regards tourists as mosquitoes, and beneath contempt. A certain number of tourists try to get to know the residents, for no reason that I can imagine; but I know why a certain number of residents try to get to know the tourists, and that is because they always try to know the people who give good dinners. The tourists who know all the residents generally have some reason for coming out.”
I do not think that she meant by this that they had committed any crime. I imagined that she was not accusing them of anything worse than having a married daughter in Cairo, or a son in the Army stationed there.
“What about the people of title, who are made so much of, when they go to India or Australia ?" I asked.
“ People of high titles,” she said, “look awfully well on a visitors' list,
but they practically do very little in our society. They are generally travelling more or less incog., and using Cairo as a stepping-stone to the Blue Nile. Generally, too, they have their private suites when they are here."
As she was the only visitor I knew who took a house in Cairo, I ventured to ask her something about prices. "Rents are enormous," she said. “This house is rated at £750 a year, and quite a small flat in a good position costs £250m a friend of mine in the Standard Life Insurance Building pays £750 a year for his flat. But I don't find housekeeping here dearer than it is in England. My head Arab gets £4 a month. All clothing is very dear. A piastre, that is twopence-halfpenny, only goes as far as a penny does in England. But when I first knew Alexandria they reckoned there in small piastres—that is a penny-farthingand then a small piastre went as far as a penny in England. Groceries are fairly cheap-some actually cheaper than in England. Cold storage has done an immense deal for usthe native meat was so bad. I reckon that it costs me twenty piastres, a little over four shillings a head, a day to feed each person in my house. Beside the head Arab I have a cook and his boy, an English 'useful maid,' a gardener, and a coachman. My chauffeur comes from the garage."
Do your servants give you much trouble?” I asked. "Trouble ?" she answered. "Not so much as they give other people. I go out and scream at them twice a week, and call them sons of everything ; so they are terrified at me. But they are an awful nuisance! far worse than they are in England. We have an eternal puzzle as to whether Egyptian Or Berberine servants are the worst.”
It was not very easy to find out what cheapness meant in her mind. While she said that she could live cheaper in Cairo than in England, she said that no one could live in Cairo on less than a thousand a year, and that a youngster could not marry on less than seven hundred. a single man live on ?" I asked.
" He can just get along on twenty pounds a month-if he is economical he can manage his board and lodging, not
“ What can
including wine, on ten pounds a month, but you are always having to pay for something in Egypt.”
“Do the residents entertain much among themselves ?” I asked. “Yes, a good deal. The English do it in rather a hole-and-corner way, but the Jews and other wealthy foreigners entertain on a great scale. Their dinners are superb as well as their plate. But then they make Egypt a home," she added." They live in it generation after generation, and between you and me, though they entertain so grandly, they just pig it when they are left to themselves. I hear a good deal about them from the man who dresses my hair. He says that their toilet tables are covered with silver, but their baths are covered with dust. They have any kind of breakfast, served on dirty tablecloths, in houses where the dinner-parties are princely."
She showed an inclination to wander off into stories about the imprudences of American women with their dragomans and donkey-boys. I shall not reproduce them here, and I would not allow myself to believe them. At the same time, it is well to warn ladies of all nationalities that they cannot be too careful in keeping Arabs at their distance, because the Arab is always on the lookout for taking liberties, and has a vile way of talking about it afterwards.
From what I have written above it will be seen that those who mean to winter in Cairo will have to rely for society upon the other tourists, and that the military are to be found a good deal at the entertainments of the wealthier tourists. People with plenty of money and pretty wives or daughters can spend their days in a perpetual round of Society. For if in the morning there are no entertainments going on, there is plenty of riding, and saying good-morning to a large circle of friends in the hotel, or on the sunny pavement between the Continental and Thomas Cook & Sons'. And if shopping in town is rather limited, and prices are rather unlimited, there is always plenty of fun to be had out of bargaining in the bazars. In the afternoon there is always something on at the Sports Club, which gathers the people you want to meet. If there is no race-meeting there are polo and
Ranelagh teas as people trail in from the various games they have been playing, though the residents boastfully assert that it is not until after the tourists have gone that the real life begins at Ghezira. “Men and women in white, tandems, and motors (and, I suppose, scandals), just like an Indian station."
HE Egyptian housekeeper would be grateful for a visit
from Mr. Jerome's magic lodger of the Third Floor Back, for she has half the trials of Job. To begin with, insects are still one of the plagues of Egypt, there is a little shaggy, black-and-tan'insect, about an eighth of an inch long, that eats everything under the sun which is not disturbed every day. It has to be surprised at its work like a burglar. In most countries ivory brushes are pretty safe from insects, in Egypt this little terror eats the ivory and eats the bristles ; it eats your toothbrush and eats your toothpick, it eats the wool with which you are going to mend your husband's socks—the cards as well as the wool ; it eats the handles off your knives and forks; it rejects nothing but glass and china and metal.
When Agenoria' first went to Egypt she took a complete set of furniture with her, stuffed with the best horse-hair. She noticed the chairs and sofas turning unaccountably limp, and was worried with the dust which seemed to come up through the coverings—everything was so engrained with it. It did come up through the coverings; at the close of the summer she took the covers off to have them cleaned, and then she found that the terror, which works in the darkness, had taken the nourishing juices out of the horsehair and reduced all her furniture stuffing to black dust.
This little nibbler, which makes your chair-cushion go fat, and send out dust like a hot-air pipe when you turn on the heat in an American bedroom, is not the only insect
1 Mrs. Cromwell Rhodes,