100 cups and 50 towels….

Preparation for a wedding is complex and convoluted in any culture. Here in Egypt possibly even more complicated is the setting up of the home for the happy couple, and the “who buys what” leaves many of us foreigners completely stunned!

Recently 2 of our Muslim friends (as Christian requirements might be different) recently got married. Watching and listening to the pre-wedding discussions and then visiting the home after the wedding has made me understand that there are many unwritten rules, understandings, requirements that vary from village to town to city, from family to family, from home to home, but the rules (particulalry between the women) are stronger and clearer than if they were actually written down…. and most times the men are rather oblivious!

So from my limited understanding, referring mainly to the Delta region of the country, there is a fairly clear divide between:

THE GROOM: he is generally to provide a flat/apartment (built, finished and paid for) with all the furniture, lights and large electrical appliances. The rugs/carpets and curtains are usually his responsibility but sometimes the bride will get involved with that.

THE BRIDE: and this is where it gets exciting, and the short list grows to immense proportions:

She will bring:

  • all the kitchen utensils (pots, pans, blenders, crockery, cutlery)
  • all the glassware and tea sets
  • trays
  • Blankets
  • Towels
  • Sheets

Now this seems fairly straight forward, until one realises that there is an “expected number” of each of these. As one husband said to me: “how many towels does one really need!”.

However, I have discovered that this is not the correct question: it is not about immediate need, but more like keeping up with the Joneses! Each area actually has an acceptable number of towels, cups and tea-sets that a woman should bring.

One of the wives told me that she was coming to a small town from living in a larger city, and her mother had to find out what was “expected” in that town. Surprisingly, the small town’s requirements were much higher than that in the city.

But from recent discussions, an example of 2 village weddings in the Delta area, the women both bought:

  • 100 towels
  • 50 cups (mugs and glasses for tea and glasses for water, as well as special glasses for ice cream and juice)
  • 3 tea sets (teapot, milk jug, sugar bowl, plates for cake, and cups and saucers)
  • 2-3 sets of crockery (plates, bowls, serving bowls)
  • 6-10 large fluffy blankets
  • 2 -3 sets of sheets for the beds
  • 15 local dresses (Aabeyas)
  • and 30 “pyjama sets” for at home (a new one for each day of the honeymoon month)
  • and of course all the multiple sets of pots and pans that are in the kitchen

But what is the most interesting is the use of a “Niche” (which is a large display cabinet with glass doors) which is usually in the dining area. Inside, under lock and key, will be the best of the glasses, the 3 best tea sets, the best crockery set or 2, and the best sets of drinking glasses and jugs as well as some glass ornaments and trays. These are usually never touched or used, they are to be seen and admired and possibly handed on to the daughters when they get married: and become the family heirlooms. Many husbands I have seen do not really “understand this” but it is something the women are very strong about: Don’t touch!

Then there is the cupboards that house the towels (or the drawers under the bed). Many husbands do not even know where all these things are in the house: but every woman knows exactly how many towels, cups, sheets and blankets she has. Some of these will not even be used for many years, or maybe never used, but handed on.

But these niches and cupboards are something that each bride is very proud of, and when you visit, you will be shown around the cupboards and the niche, where you can “ooh and aah” and congratulate the glowing bride about how beautiful all her cups and towels are… while the husbands scratch their heads and look perplexed!

And then I remember that my mother had a similar small sideboard, where she too kept crockery and cutlery sets, which no one was allowed to touch. And then I remember the “hope chests” or wedding kists of other countries, where hopeful young women (and their mothers) would place various items inside that were hand-made or embroidered table-cloths and linens, stored and viewed by excited neighbours.

We are all very similar…. but here it is so much bigger and brighter!