"..a bardy view!"

Egypt – A load of baksheesh

"Are you English?" That always happens to me (for example) whenever I'm outside the Sceptered Isle. It's never "Are you American, German, French etc". Maybe I look particularly English, but I draw traders like a moth to a flame. Once they get into my orbit I cannot shake them off for love nor money. Correction – I cannot shake them off for love.
Photo copyright to Bardiness Sept 2010

I should know better, after all I've travelled a lot, but Egyptians have got their skills tuned to a fine art. I've been on beaches in the Philippines where a veritable crowd surrounds me trying to sell their sea-shell bracelets (made to measure) and no end of refusal will shake them off. I always thought that no place could be worse for that. But there is – its Egypt.

The difference between the two is that the Egyptians are very aggressive. Not threatening, but persistent. Its a remarkable country with over 5000 years of history. Of course you know that. Unfortunately baksheesh (tipping) is part of the culture, to such a degree that even a conversation is expected to be rewarded. I don't know what the majority of tourists think, but an independent traveller would need a strong constitution, patience beyond measure and a tolerance level above and beyond the norm.

Travel is about experience and the unexpected. It's what furthers the mind and adds to understanding of different cultures. I'm not sure how the thousands of Americans, Europeans and Australians can broaden their horizons when cocooned in their packaged groups either touring the Giza Plateau or cruising down the Nile on a luxury boat, but presumably they learn something, and for sure they are the cash cows of the local economy – but boy, do they get taken for a ride!

This post is not about the ancient remarkable wonders, the pyramids, temples, the Pharaohs, the dynasties etc – that stuff is easily available on the Web – save to say that everything about them is true and astonishing.

This post is about the Egyptian and Nubian.These people have a history beyond measure, and yet they persist in behaving in a fashion which gives the worst impression. Selling is a fine art. Negotiation is a way of life. Baksheesh is built into the bones. Stop for a second to peruse a stall and be prepared for more attention than being caught in a Jewish tailor in the east end of London (political correctness is out the window on this post).

Look an Egyptian in the eye and he will think you want to buy. The general guideline when walking through the bazaars (which cannot be avoided) is focus, look straight ahead, be determined, and don't stop. Fail in any and you are doomed. Don't weaken, you are running a gauntlet, and ignore the various garments which are suddenly placed over the shoulder. They are designed to stop you – that moment's hesitation is your downfall.

Don't be comforted by the tourist police. For all their uniform and gun toting, they are in league, and they expect tips just like everyone else. Beware of the policeman who gets friendly and suggests he takes a photograph of you. That photo will be expected to be paid for, and everyone in the picture will be encouraged to tip. There is nothing subtle about it. The palm will be outstretched to everyone.

I have scores more examples, but the point here is that it is rather sad. It prevents people from engaging with the local population because visitors believe that any courtesy or chat must be rewarded. It prevents people from casual browsing in the shops because it will result in aggressive selling. Social skills, etiquette and conversational banter are lost – because trust has been eroded. I have never been more rude to people in my life than here in Egypt – but It was forced upon me.

I suppose that a country which receives thousands of tourists everyday may become complacent and lose track of their raison d'être (if indeed that's what it is). Each and every tourist has a spare dollar, and they are regarded as mere cash fodder.

It's very sad, and undermines the essence and dignity of the people. It makes them appear desperate. If they have pride, then they are prepared to lose it often. Which brings me back to the Philippines. Certainly the people there are looking for the dollar, but they smile and converse and are genuinely pleased that you have visited their country. The Egyptians, for all their heritage have taken it for granted, and they have much to learn still. 


September 22, 2010 - Posted by | Culture, Current Affairs, Education, General, History, Politics, Religion, The Philippines, Travel | , , , , , ,


  1. Well said. More bloggers should follow your example and throw political correctness out of the window, and tell the world what it’s really like to be an independent tourist in Egypt.
    I’m sick of all those bullshit about “friendly” and “warm” locals; the truth is – they’re all out to get $$$ from you, and the only way to survive is to trust no one.
    Egypt probably has the worst people I’ve ever seen, and I’m very well-traveled myself. It’s quite sad, because the country does have a lot to offer in terms of history and culture.


    Comment by IndiePacker | November 9, 2010 | Reply

  2. It’s quite interesting to read it. Thanks for all your distribution over here.


    Comment by egypt property | November 11, 2010 | Reply

  3. My God! Did I tip you as well?


    Comment by Bar De Ness | December 3, 2010 | Reply

  4. Hear hear! Thanks for your input.


    Comment by Bar De Ness | December 3, 2010 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: