Baksheesh – My Overall Experience in Egypt

Basically while in Egypt, I don’t think I bought a single thing without having to negotiate or at least worry that I was getting ripped off (other than at trusty McDonalds of course).  And I’m not just talking about a scarf in a tourist bazaar; I mean a bottle of water or a roll of toilet paper…  It was exhausting.  It is common practice to not have any prices listed on anything in grocery and convenience stores and when you (as a tourist) would go up to the counter and ask how much something costs, they would just make up a price.  It was up to you to negotiate, walk away, or just accept it.  Only in extenuating circumstances would I accept getting ripped off because of my skin color, but depending on my level of frustration, convenience of alternates, and general level of hunger, I did utilize all three during my duration in Egypt.

Tourists (well, the ones who aren’t sheltered in their private air-conditioned tours) are constantly hassled in Egypt.  I’ve been to other developing countries where it is common practice to be harassed to go into someone’s store because they will “give you a good deal”, but Egypt was a whole new experience.  I understand that many of the vendors are hurting because tourism in down after the revolution (more on that later), but that certainly does not excuse their behavior.  To walk down the road and get incessantly harassed by every vendor selling miniature sphinxs, every restaurant owner, and of course every taxi (all forms – cars, camels, or horses) really grated on me.  The local men yelling out “habibi” (sweetheart) or making hissing noises got old after about two seconds as well.   I think my “favorite” form of harassment came in the form of baksheesh.  This term includes either tipping for services rendered, real or imagined, or simply giving away money because I’m western and the people asking are not.  I had a little boy walk past me, point to a box he was carrying and say “baksheesh”, implying that I was supposed to give him money for the privilege of walking in his general vicinity.  The combination of these forms of harassment quite honestly took a lot away from my experience in Egypt.   Even walking in groups didn’t seem to make a whole lot of difference, just more potential targets…

Tourism is down considerably after last February’s revolution that overthrew President Mubarak and the continued violence that makes it into the Western media.  Official numbers that I’ve found online in published papers say that its down about 30%, while a guy in my hostel in Cairo claims numbers have dipped by as much as 75%.  From my own observations, people stayed out of Cairo, but the rest of Egypt didn’t seem so desolate of tourists.  This definitely worked to my advantage on multiple occasions with booking trains, hostels, etc. at the last minute and giving me additional negotiating power (which in Egypt is obviously necessary).

Overall, I will call my Egypt experience one of “character building”.

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