Walk like an Egyptian; or, two ways to do the sand-dance

Exploring Egypt isn’t for the faint of heart, says Thom Wise of the Denver Post.

“Foreigners are not used to, and don’t enjoy, being literally shouted at on the street,” says Monkaba. “I sit on the corniche in Luxor and watch these tourists walk along, followed by someone asking over and over again if they want this or that…”

… everyone seems to see a tourist as a walking ATM.

I asked a traffic policeman for directions to my metro stop, and how much a taxi would cost. He offered to get me a taxi there: for 10 times what it ended up costing me. Another favorite ploy is in restaurants, where they’ll bring you something extra when you order — a bottle of water, perhaps, a side salad or a roll with your coffee. Normally, you’d think they were just being kind or generous, but in this case it’s a way for them to charge some outrageous amount because you didn’t think to ask how much their “kindness” would cost.

I’ve been to Egypt several times, and I think that it’s getting very bad.  My last visit to Luxor was last December, and I found it almost impossible to walk along the Corniche by myself.   I had one taxi-driver try to charge me 100 Egyptian pounds after I asked him to go a short extra distance.  Another taxi-driver who spoke little English tried to shanghai me down the back-streets.  I was glad to just stay in my hotel. 

But the culture also has some upsides.  Apparently you can buy access to pretty much any site in Egypt, as this article suggests:

Fortunately, luxury tour operators and reputable independent guides can lift you out of the cattle-call shuffle. Private viewings, special openings and entrée to exclusive venues are possible, often for a nominal fee.

“In Egypt, anything is possible, with a little bit of money,” says John Fareed, a partner in U.S.-based marketing firm Fareed & Zapala. Fareed summered in Egypt as a child and still travels there frequently for work. During his last trip to Cairo, he took a private tour with an independent guide who checked out well with his hotel concierge. After visiting a few of the major attractions, the guide brought him to a working archaeological dig, and for an extra fee of approximately $40, got him access inside and permission to shoot flash photography.

Of course a non-Arabic speaking westerner would be very unwise to try to do this themselves.  But a reputable guide who can see value in repeat business is another matter entirely.

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