Advertising is a science and an art. In Egypt we have samples of the best and the worst. Egypt’s streets, especially the main thoroughfares and the highways, are a riot of colourful billboards and nightly flashing moving lights, and then we wonder why we have so many car accidents.
Advertising in the shape of billboards has been taken to an unprecedented level when someone puts up a billboard outside his apartment’s balcony advertising that he is a very special kind of doctor that helps dying people to cross over peacefully, after having gone through all the necessary rituals. In Christianity, we call that “A Priest”!
Street direction signs are yet another kind of advertising, but this one is supposed to help people with information about where they are and what route to take to get to wherever they want to go. It is either due to the Egyptian laid-back attitude, or an inherent, misplaced sense of humour, but quite often you get a street sign that leads you one way in Arabic and in the opposite direction in English!
These signs are so full of information and full of arrows pointing you in so many different directions that you need at least a couple of minutes of standing still to take all the information in. Of course if you do that you would most probably be hit by oncoming traffic and might not be in need of that sign at all. But there is another street sign that might be appropriate.
This one, although supposed to point you to the Cairo/Alex desert road, yet with the arrow pointing upwards it should more appropriately be showing you a different path to take.
Generally streets don’t have signs telling you their names, or if they do they are very artfully concealed by trees or shrubbery. If they are on a post with boards pointing to the street with the name on it, you would find that this post has been slightly moved so you have your choice of guessing one of two or more streets that pertain to that sign. Quite often you find a street named something totally different from what you have been told, but if there is a sign and if you can find it you have to read the fine print at the bottom that tells you the previous name of the street, which is probably the name that you know. The good part though is that you could always ask for directions, and here the real adventure begins.
Egyptians never explain directions by north, south, east and west (because mostly they are never sure where these are from where they are standing), but by right and left and forwards and backwards. If you are driving it is less risky to ask directions from another driver who would not be prone to sending you down the wrong way on a one way street. In all cases though, you would get such a detailed description, giving you landmarks – past and present – that could lead you in a merry go round and you would probably end up more lost than ever.
No, maps are no help either. Maps of Cairo are notoriously inaccurate. Some streets are missing and others are misnamed, so you might want to stay away from those. Strangely enough GPS works very well, but only if you have the right name of the street or area you want to go to … and you spell it right. Once, just for fun, when I asked about directions to get to the compound where I live on the Cairo/Alex desert road, I was directed, meticulously and in great detail, to a village in northern Iraq!
Some of the logos used by some companies advertising their products or services are quite good and have been very consistent as to generate brand recognition, like the National Bank of Egypt, or Etisalat the Internet and mobile telephone service provider. Some others however, just miss the mark and the result is usually rather unfortunate. One of the latter was the logo of the National Postal Service. The logo has now been changed, but previously it looked like a bird flying downwards. It gave the impression of a rather failed service of moving missives and parcels, though truth be said it was one of the best. Now though the logo is much better with a bird soaring forwards and upwards. The second failed logo is that of the local petrol stations belonging to the army. This chain is called Wataneya, meaning national and in Arabic the letter “t” is written with a perpendicular stroke . In this logo all the letters are written in green, but the stroke of the T is in red and in the shape of a flame! Not exactly what one would look for in a petrol station.
Like most things undertaken by Egyptians you would find the absolutely brilliant and also some that are more challenging. What does not hit the mark might be even more memorable because of its amusement factor.