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  • Back in 2007, I managed 15 people in an office in Cairo.

    I'm not a manager. I'm a writer. And sometimes I'm an editor. But really I specialize in being Marie. That doesn't pay very well, so there I was, winging being a general manager in a country not my own, managing people whose language I did not even understand.

    But I understood them one August day.

    The receptionist had brought her cousin to work. A few weeks ago, she'd brought along her nephew. I was a bit baffled by this as where I come from, it is not appropriate to bring family and friends to work, unless this is cleared in advance. Was this different here? I wasn't sure. I didn't say anything.

    The receptionist's cousin lived in Italy. She pranced in wearing heavy makeup, fully conscious of her unique look in high heels, tight jeans and tiny T-shirt, long hair flowing. The twelve men in the office responded with glances and stares. This was an place of work, not fashion, and two of the three female employees we had wore headscarves.

    A little later, one of the women came in to my office, face creased with disapproval. Normally, the men would have been doting on her and she would have been flirting back. Today, they ignored her.

    "This creature is horrible. Have you seen the way she is dressed? It is not appropriate. You should always dress with respect to the culture you visit."

    I glanced at my own jeans and short-sleeved shirt. And my hair was down today. The difference was the heels and age, sure, but mostly, the difference was the threat level.

    I made a non-committal noise and changed the subject until my employee went back to her desk. "Do people often bring their friends to work in Egypt?"

    Later, the young woman again fled the office she shared with the four men who were ignoring her. The "creature" was in there, on her own territory. The employee was outraged.

    "I cannot stand the way they are talking! She says she wants to download a song and then they all jump up to help her! It is like, like..." Her voice streamed off. She lacked the English to express her fury.

    "Dogs in heat?" I finished brightly.

    "Yes! I couldn't stand it any longer. I had to run away."

    To the safe haven of the only other woman in a T-shirt. I snickered.

    We laughed conspiratorily. Her with jealousy, me over the trans-cultural ridiculous behavior of us mammals.
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