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L.A. and Cairo, Separated at Birth?

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by Nicholas Slayton / Special to LAist

Waking up to loud noises and looking out your window, it's easy to think you're in L.A. The crowds, the cars, the sun, it's all there. But Cairo isn't Los Angeles. But it could easy be its separated-at-birth twin.

The city's layout screams New York, what with an upper class neighborhood located on an island on the Nile in the center of the metropolis, but when it comes to attitude, culture and living, it's much more L.A. Well, L.A. on steroids.

There are a lot of similarities, first and foremost, the traffic. It's clogged, crazed and mindboggling at times. In fact, it's worse than Los Angeles. There aren't really lanes, it's much more of an anything-goes system, with everyone honking at every moment as cars jockey for position in overcrowded streets and freeways.

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Then there's the food. There might not be high end food trucks with Twitter accounts in Cairo, but street food is a prevalent part of the culture here. Whether it's horse drawn carts of roasted corn or nuts, or guys carrying a small coffee shop on their backs, there's a quick bite at every corner, and often walking down the street.

But Cairo's greatest similarity to L.A. is its duality. There are simply two cities at work. In Los Angeles, there's a clear divide on how the city is presented to residents and visitors. For locals, there are vibrant communities in every neighborhood, with hidden gems all around. For everyone else, there's the overplayed in the media stereotype that paints L.A. as Hollywood, glamour, glitz and stars, plus hyped up versions of South Central.

Cairo has a similar battle against stereotypes. On the surface, it's all pyramids and mummies. Like Hollywood to L.A., the pyramids are there and cannot be ignored (literally, they are truly gigantic), but focusing solely on the tourism side of Cairo disregards those living there now. There are residents crafting a unique culture for the city, whether it's local restaurants or street artists painting murals along city walls. Like L.A., if you look past the marketing ad, there is much more to see and do. But it’s the revolution and its aftermath that really sets Cairo apart from Los Angeles.

Four months after a revolution of the people ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak, Cairo doesn't feel like an average city, and it certainly feels dissimilar to L.A. There's a weight to the place, with graffiti and art on every street, wall or even tree serving as a reminder to the uprising. Whereas Los Angeles is very much a neighborhood metropolis, with each area having its own, very distinct identity, Cairo feels more unified. There are different neighborhoods with different situations (the upscale Zamalek definitely stands out compared to the poorer Shobra), but because of the revolution, there's a sense of cohesion that isn't really present in L.A.

To call Cairo the Middle East's L.A. might be stretching it too far, but there is definitely a shared sense of living in the two cities. Maybe when people end up living in the desert, under an international symbol that they might not have great ties to, similar mindsets and urban networks develop. Either way, as an Angeleno who traveled halfway across the world, it's surprising to see L.A. so easily everywhere I look.