Since the Good Ship Serendipity turned into the Houseboat Debacle of Shame, I’ve been trying to find a new place to live. Lucky for me the Cairo Scholars mailing list is rife with people seeking a room or seeking a tenant to fill an available room.
After the first room I looked at, the second option was with a Swiss guy who from his e-mail I believed already had an apartment and was just looking to fill a room. When I called him it turned out he was looking at some two-bedroom apartments but didn’t yet have a contract. I asked him if he’d already checked with the landlord that a female roommate would be okay. He said no, but he was sure it wouldn’t be a problem.
Big mistake. While it’s true that some Egyptian landlords are fine with that sort of arrangement, a lot of people have very traditional ideas about this. (The traditional view basically says that, if you leave a man and a woman alone together for any length of time, they will definitely have sex. Young people have absolutely no willpower and it doesn’t matter whether either of them is attractive at all, they will, no matter what, definitely wind up fornicating. Heaven forfend you get stuck in the elevator with a man you don’t know; you’ll be pregnant by the time you leave.)
Anyway, we’d agreed to meet for dinner and then go see the real estate agent, so I didn’t know at first that it would be a problem (though I had my suspicions.) And ultimately I was glad that Mr. Traditional Landlord said no, because Zurich Man reminded me so, so much of one of my students last year when I was a Resident Tutor in a dorm at Exeter University. (In America we call them Residence Directors. If anybody doesn’t know what this is, basically you provide discipline when the students do things like setting off all the fire extinguishers in the whole hall and care when they, say, overestimate the amount of alcohol they can drink before needing a trip to the hospital.)
The particular student he reminded me of was the one with an incredibly posh accent wearing the most expensive striped shirts with popped-up collars who had obviously gone someplace like Eton and who thought the Resident Tutors’ whole purpose in life was to needlessly harass him. Of course Zurich Man didn’t behave like this towards me–rather, he was clearly showing off, talkative, insisting on paying for dinner, calling the waiters every two seconds for this or that little thing.
I let my former boyfriend come up in conversation when Mr. Swiss asked me if I’d ever been to Egypt before–and then I didn’t let on that we are no longer a couple, because he kept winking at me. I don’t think this was intentionally flirtatious, I think he was just trying to be gregarious and friendly but I wasn’t about to open any doors for him. Either that or he had a facial tic. (I do feel bad on my former boyfriend’s account about taking liberties with the status of my previous relationship…but only a little bit.)
Mr. Swiss’s smoking put me off, but the absolute dealbreaker was when he said, “Scholarship is a Faustian problem. It is like seduction, you know?” I don’t even remember what he said after that to elaborate, but I just kept nodding and smiling and in my head thinking, No no. I don’t need this fancypants pseudointellectual smoker in my house.
Maybe I’m being unfair calling him a pseudointellectual, but for goodness sakes it seemed like he was name-dropping Faust. Who needs that crap? And the winking. No, thank you.
Anyway, we did meet the real estate agent who explained that no way was the landlord going to allow Mr. Swiss and me to live together (Hamdullilah!) Now I’ve got the estate agent’s card. She seems very nice. She pointed out that Zurich Man had wanted to show me the flat even before asking the landlord, but she refused to do it because when you sneak around and do underhanded things in order to close a deal, everyone winds up unhappy and ultimately she loses customers. I appreciated her honesty and was glad she’d checked first.
The estate agent also gave me a couple interesting dancing leads–apparently in Heliopolis (a district in north-east Cairo) every Friday they shut one street down to traffic and have a big block party with DJs. She said this is sponsored by the president’s wife. Interesting.
So the flat-hunt continues (the first one wasn’t even interesting enough to mention.) My big fear at the moment is having to move hotels before finding a permanent place–the Longchamps is sold out starting on Monday.