This is the twelth in a series of repeated posts (e.g. published elsewhere before) from outside of China, detailing the start of my expatriate life. There will always be a post a day about China so if you’re not interested in other material – you can stop reading now.
It is a good job that I like to leave early for work, as this morning as I try and clamber into the insufferably tiny taxi that has arrived to collect me and my work mate; I rip my trousers from crotch to knee. I am not happy these are very expensive bespoke suit trousers, for which I have already had a gigantic telling off from my girlfriend for wasting money on.
I run back and change into my spare pair, and we head off to Smart City. Smart City is a “freezone” a concept you encounter quite a lot in the Middle East, essentially businesses within a freezone are usually of a similar type (Smart City is a collection of loosely related high tech/IT/telecoms companies) and in exchange for basing themselves in these zones, businesses receive a huge financial incentive from the government (usually but not always, they pay no corporate taxes and their employees do not pay income tax).
Dubai is full of ultra-modern freezones, Media City, Internet City, Knowledge Village, Academic City and so on. Egypt only has a few, and they are not quite so in your face ultra-new and modern, this one is however much more likeable in that there is real grass growing between the buildings, and the whole thing is laid out in a very similar style to a British University campus.
Before coming to Cairo, we were told we would be training a select group of call centre agents across the week, maybe 5 sessions of 10-12 people each. Our partner in Cairo has other ideas, and our training counterpart a harsh faced woman in her mid-thirties explains that we will now run 10 sessions each with 120 people in them!
She then proceeds to mock my Public School accent telling me that no-one will understand a word I say as they only like American accents in Egypt, and that perhaps they should have sent somebody else. I shrug, I’ve heard this one before, everywhere you go in the Middle East – some of the locals will tell you how crap expatriates are at everything. Whilst demonstrating all the talent for their own jobs as that bloke who sung “Eye of the Tiger” in Pop Idol. You know the one who got a contract with Frosties for being rubbish.
The Egyptian call centre staff are a wonderful bunch, despite being paid a wage that can only be described as pitiful (most make less than $200 a month), they are all keen to learn, well turned out, and very welcoming (unlike their manager).
The course is delivered in a well-shaped lecture theatre, with me down at the bottom bellowing to make myself heard at the back. My training appears to be very well received, and though my colleague has to field a few questions from a couple of confused stragglers in Arabic, I get a standing ovation at the finish. After collecting in the Feedback forms (more on these later) which are all extremely positive I notice that the one criticism that someone has made is that; “You are too American, could you not sound more English?” which makes me laugh and reminds me that nothing is ever simple in the Middle East.
This sets the pattern for the week, and even the frosty Egyptian training manager comes down to admit that I’m quite good at what I do, and she is amazed that everyone has stayed awake for me, as their last English speaking trainer put 200 people to sleep one afternoon.
I take a walk around Smart City and am struck by how lovely it is, but also rather appalled at its placing, it is literally miles away from anywhere. The locals are bussed in and out of work each day and their total commute time averages 3 hours each way, hardly any of them (and none of the non-management staff) can afford their own transport and while they love their spangly, shiny offices they wish that they could be located somewhere in Cairo itself.
At the end of the day, our taxi returns, and on entering the taxi, I rip my other pair of trousers! I spend the rest of the week perfecting the casual training look in a pair of jeans with a shirt and jacket on; it makes me feel like I should be hosting Open University programs particularly with the strange lecture theater approach. I wonder whether I should have little brown leather patches sewn onto my jacket sleeves, and then decide not to get carried away.