GroupMembers: Ghada Fikri , Yasmin Shehab , Ehab El Gamasy

  1. Conception
  2. Realization
  3. Observation
  4. Evaluation


This article deals with how fortune tellers rely on their background, perception and people skills to read and advise their clients. It then explores how this could be used in an online context as a cross cultural, Skype based fortune telling service.


Fortune Teller, Skype, Identity

CAIRO: Ehab El Gamasy, Ghada Fikri & Yasmin Shehab

FURTWANGEN: Christiane Reich, Franziska Maugg, Frank Grieshaber & Michael Meyer


Our concept revolves around fortune telling and it's connection to perception and identity. We're talking about fortune tellers who rely on reading the way their clients present themselves to predict their futures. To a perceptive person, a lot can be gleaned from the expressions on a person's face, their body language, their clothing choices... Fortune Tellers use these markers to analyze the client, guess what their problems could be and how they might unfold in the future. The psychic's analysis is partly informed by their background and personal experiences. These would affect how the psychic reads the client and consequently the advice given. We decided to see how fortune telling (cold readings in particular) would work as an online service over Skype. Our project involved having an Egyptian fortune teller and a German client.



We used fortune teller's from pop culture as a way of building our character. We referenced movies such as Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Princess and the Frog, Push, Just My Luck and Yana Ya Khalti and found that psychics in pop culture have a few common characteristics. Many of them have long, wild curly/wavy hair and they share an affinity for scarves, feathers, animal prints, beads and bangles. The more the better. They also generally use warm, rich, earthy tones such as red, brown and purple. Patterns are also used liberally. They also paint their nails in offbeat colours such as blue and purple often with glitter. Fortune tellers are often clothed in a stereotypically gypsy or bohemian style. Another common trait that goes with the whole 'exotic' theme is their accents. Most of pop culture's fortune tellers have thick accents that hint at the fact that they hail from somewhere other than the UK/US. In addition to the accents, their intonation is quite dramatic to go along with their theatrical gestures. These fortune tellers also surround themselves with furniture and trinkets every bit as dramatic as their clothing. The red/purple colour theme is continued here in the form of drapes, pouffes, lanterns and wall hangings. Beads are also used liberally in decorating.


FortuneTellerMoodBoard.jpg: 474x671, 615k SurroundingsMoodBoard.jpg: 475x669, 603k

As further research for our project, we decided we needed to observe a fortune teller in action to be able to convincingly portray one. Consequently, we set up a meeting with Om Amr in Heliopolis. We were to meet her in quite a busy, shop-filled street in Roxy, in front of a particular shoe shop. Once there, we found a dark skinned lady clad in a black abaya and headscarf leaning against a fence scanning the street. There was nothing eye catching about her appearance, she looked like she could be just anybody and while I was expecting something similar in terms of clothes, I must confess that I'd assumed that she'd be wearing some type of eccentric jewellery or a loud headscarf or something. I guess I'd expected her to look slightly offbeat or quirky. I'd thought her appearance might hint at her unconventional occupation. Anyway, so we went up to her with a video camera in hand pretending that this whole thing was a birthday present for a friend of ours who would be joining us shortly. When our friends joined us, we erupted in a chorus of happy birthdays and surprises waving the camera everywhere trying to make it look all innocent however she was hip to us and stood slightly apart from us and threatened us with leaving if we pointed the camera in her direction. She then refused to tell our futures if we didn't stow the camera in the bag even when we promised not to film her and keep the lens focused on ourselves. Giving in, we put away the camera and she started to read our fortunes. We were a group of 6 7th Sem Applied Arts students, 5 girls, 1 guy. The first thing she did was pull out a loop of shells strung together that she then had us hold up to our mouths and whisper "God, give me what I secretly desire." She would then take back the shells, hold them in her palm, lock eyes with the person and begin to fire off the words. Her back was to the wall of shops and her eyes would flicker between the person who's fortune she was telling and between the road behind us simultaneously monitoring her clients and surroundings. She would maintain eye contact the whole time and just give us cold readings, she only read one person's palm and that was only as a supplement to the cold reading. The things she told us were very general along the lines of you'll get the car you want, you'll get great grades, your friends love you, you'll go on the trip that you want... One thing we noticed though was that every reading of a female had a rather substantial romantic portion, something along the lines of two guys like you but beware of the first because he's a playboy, whereas when she was telling the guy's fortune it was more focused on a project that he has his heart set on doing. She only mentioned romance when prompted by him. She would also ask us many questions while giving us two alternatives as answers that we had to choose from such as; you have a friend that you're mad at, have you stopped talking to her totally or have you just started avoiding her a bit? This happened quite often and we found ourselves just picking any of the two alternatives even if they both didn't apply to us. She focused on friendships quite a bit making sure to note that everybody present was a great friend and that our group was full of love. She would then go on to describe backstabbers and jealous friends for example she warned one of us about two of her friends, one short and one fat, who were backstabbers and wished her nothing but evil. She also predicted things like phone calls and such. As her clients, maintaining constant eye contact got quite awkward after a while. This was amplified due to the way she would lean in slightly and bombard us with an unending barrage of words only pausing briefly to prompt us to answer her either-or questions. Her way of speech made it quite difficult to understand everything she was saying. Most of the time we were standing kind of awkwardly with nervous grins on our faces giggling at the things she said.


The first thing we decided was that we wanted both the fortune teller and client to be female because according to Popper-Giveon, A. & Jonathan J., V. (2009:6-24), “It (divination) is an occupation distinctive mainly to women healers, primarily attracts women patients and in many cases focuses on issues commonly identified as feminine.” Consequently, we chose Ghada to portray the Egyptian fortune teller and Christiane to portray her German client. Before shooting, we also had to decide on how Ghada would act and what she would look like while portraying the fortune teller. We agreed on the fact that we wanted her to look like an Egyptian stereotype of a fortune teller, something between the stereotypical western portrayal and Om Amr. So this meant wearing a veil and black abaya and lots of shawls and scarves, with an emphasis on the embroidered and sparkly and copious amounts of kohl and bangles. We also had her seated cross legged on the floor surrounded by patterned wall hangings and shells. After finishing with the whole visual aspect we then had to address the script and language. For the former, we were sent a picture of Christiane, who's future we would be telling. In addition to this we scoured her Facebook profile to find out her interests, the way she spoke, the kind of things she did... It was actually pretty helpful and gave us a kind of window into her life upon which we could base our predictions. As for the language our fortune teller would be speaking in, we considered a couple of alternatives. Either Ghada would speak the whole time in accented English or she'd be speaking in Arabic with subtitles added or she'd be speaking in a blend of English and Arabic. We decided on the blended version which we thought was best as even if you only understood the English parts you'd still get the gist of what she was saying. This way was also understandable without losing the 'exotic' factor which is a large part of the appeal of fortune tellers. They play up the whole bohemian/gypsy factor especially when working legally or at an event such as a fair or carnival. They separate themselves from the mainstream in physical appearance and mannerisms as a way of marking themselves as the other. This gives them an air of the unknown and a kind of faux authenticity which dupes the gullible into thinking that they would have powers of divination just because they're so 'different.' Upon finishing the set up we proceeded with filming. We positioned the camera directly in front of Ghada ie. the same perspective as if the client had been physically there. This allowed us to somehow transcend the space barrier by mimicking a face to face, in the flesh meeting as much as possible. This also allowed for the maximum amount of eye contact which, as we knew from Om Amr, was imperative. Our partners had prerecorded a number of clips with Christiane portraying different emotions. They would then use Max MSP to play the clips in correspondence to their emotions/reactions. They had a very basic script consisting of keywords that they used to help choose which prerecorded emotion they would play in response to Sonja the fortune teller’s claims. This worked out quite well as the emotions they chose made the client look awkwardly amused which is pretty much how we felt during our reading with Om Amr. In addition, Christiane’s reactions fit Sonja’s claims pretty well despite the language barrier.


The hardest part about building the character was getting the script and delivery right. We were aiming for this rather intense, kind of creepy style of speech. However we wanted to convey this in a way that came across as 'Egyptian' while still being accessible to non Arabic speakers. We achieved a middle ground by having most of the script in Arabic while stressing on the main parts in English. We also worked on the way Sonja spoke and the way she gesticulated, her facial expressions, tone of voice, arm movements etc... In addition, we were also quite thankful for Skype and Facebook. As previously mentioned Facebook was a great help in writing our script. Professional fortune tellers are experts in interpreting how their clients look and act so seeing how Christiane presented herself online was a major help in faking a fortune teller as accurately as possible. Her Facebook profile made it easier for us than if we'd just Skyped with her as her profile shows us her interests, how she looks and the way she dresses on different occasions, some background info and how she interacts with her friends. On the other hand, Skype was super useful when both groups needed to communicate. Voice calling over Skype was a lot easier and much more immediate than sending emails or FB messages to each other. This act of actually hearing each other's voices, speaking at the same time and being able to interrupt each other lent our relationship a sense of ease that was lacking when our only mode of communication was text based.


What we hadn't really realized at first was that the project was very character driven. We had to build Sonja's character in addition to forming an image of Christiane based on her Facebook profile. This heightened our awareness of the small things that influence how we see a person. It also made us more conscious of how pervasive stereotypes are both in the media and in our minds. One example was a romantic quote that Christiane had written on her Facebook profile. We took that quote and built a section around how sensitive, sentimental and romantic she was in our script. As for the pervasiveness of stereotypes, by researching psychics in pop culture we found that the image of a brown, female, accented, wild haired, be-shawled fortune teller was everywhere and in turn it was the first thing we'd thought of upon settling on fortune telling as a theme.

As for how this would work as as an actual Skype service; we think that it could be quite effective. Video conferencing allows the fortune teller to see how the client looks and what she’s wearing in addition to showing a bit of her surroundings. The biggest pro of having an online service is that this would show the client in her most unfiltered form. Most clients would probably use this from home and they wouldn’t be wearing the mask that they don to interact with the outside world. The success of this kind of service would rely largely on the fortune teller’s people skills ie. her ability to establish a rapport with the client and a sense of ease that might be lacking due to the absence of any physical interaction. However, the type of person that frequents fortune tellers is also usually one that wants to believe which is easier for a fortune teller than dealing with a skeptic.


Popper-Giveon, A., Jonathan J., V. (2009), Contesting the Future Traditional Arab Women Healers in Israel. European Journal of Scientific Research, Vol. 25(1), pp.6-24