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The Return to the Cafes: The Same, But Different

July 10, 2020
Image courtesy of Pexels.

The murmur of light conversation, the smell of freshly ground coffee, the occasional escape of a loud laugh in the background… oh to be out and about, returning to our favorite cafes and restaurants. 

In attempts to revive the local economy following the massive hit of the pandemic, various venues such as cafes, restaurants and even cinemas have slowly started to open their doors once again. In order to do so however, there are now strict new measures that have to be followed, such as operating at a 25 percent capacity, closing at 10 p.m. and maintaining specific sanitization standards. 

In Egypt, despite the fact that COVID-19 (coronavirus) cases have neither decreased nor reached a plateau, the country slowly began to re-open the economy starting June 27 and took the decision to ‘coexist’ with the virus.

Although there are still those who are wary of venues re-opening and fear the spread of the virus, there are also those who have eagerly awaited to leave the confines of home and enjoy the hustle and bustle of everyday life – albeit under what has now been dubbed the ‘new normal’. 

In any case, the experience of going back out to meet friends or family at a cafe or restaurant is both refreshingly familiar and anxiously different. 

First off, given the fact that the virus is still very much alive and spreading, seeing people gathered out and about is unnerving to say the least. For the most part however, people still seem to be weary of coming into close proximity of one another as greetings have turned from warm hugs and friendly cheek kisses to awkward exciting hand waves from afar. 

With most cafes – especially well-known chains such as Starbucks and Espresso Lab – seats are noticeably more spaced out, keeping in line with social distancing measures as well as operating at 25 percent capacity. Everyone also gets their temperature checked before entering the actual cafe to order, and one cannot enter without a mask. With cafes especially, since queues are a usual part of the process, social distancing marks have also been placed on the ground by the cashier. 

While this all seems like normal standard procedure these days, it is not the necessarily the case everywhere. Some smaller cafes and restaurants across various parts of Cairo operate slightly differently. For one, some smaller restaurants are actually still quite empty… some of the smaller ‘local neighborhood cafes’ however, are actually quite full of customers. 

This past week, one particular smaller cafe in Maadi contained quite a few customers somewhat late into the evening, all crammed inside a small space and none of who were wearing masks. Although rare and not necessarily the case for the most part, a scene such as this puts into question just how strictly measures are being taken all across Egypt, as well as just how long the strictness will last. 

Overall, for the current moment, there still seems to be awareness and care being taken while cafes and restaurants resume operations. While the general experience holds a few differences, it goes in line with the major changes we have been facing for the past few months, and so it shouldn’t be that difficult to adapt to. Ultimately, going out for a cup of coffee with a friend or two, is still pretty much going out for a cup of coffee with a friend or two. 

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