This is a guest post by Mark Wiens from Migrationology
“Hey, a little something, give me 1 Pound, eh eh eh eh, come on.”
This is the familiar choice of persuasive words, researched and practiced over years to perfection. This is the art known in Egypt as Baksheesh. If you travel to Egypt, you will undoubtedly be introduced to baksheesh from the first day. It is part of the Egyptian culture and plays are major role in the tourism industry.
There are 3 Forms of Baksheesh in Egypt:
- Begging – Someone out of nowhere just asks you for money, pleading “give me baksheesh”
- Tipping – Attempting to do something legit in an effort to get a tip
- Permission for Favors – The last form of baksheesh throughout Egypt is a tweak of tipping, favors are granted and under the table tips are given
For this article, I will focus on the latter two forms of Egyptian baksheesh.
I was walking to the museum in Luxor one evening, knowing exactly where I was going, and walking at a brisk pace to get there. A 13 year old boy nudged my side and said “Hey, where you going?” I didn’t respond, yet he continued walking with me and said “Hey, you turn left here.” I continued walking, starting to ignore the boy more and more when he recited his next verse, “Hey, give me 1 pound, I showed you where to go (at this point I hadn’t even said a word, except “hey, how are you?”).”
I almost choked on my tongue and then just grinned as I walked the 50 meters to the museum where I was already going. The art of baksheesh in touristy areas of Egypt starts at an early age and is fine tuned throughout years of working with tourists who apparently have had unlimited supplies of cash for centuries.
Tips on How You Can Earn Some Baksheesh
- Relate in a personal way to your victim and establish a connection or link
- Offer a service or piece of advice (can be useful or useless)
- Without asking permission, provoke someone to use your service
- Use all rules and regulations to your advantage and discard rules that will hinder (flaky or real)
- Initially give roundabout clues as to your motive of making a little money
- If the first move doesn’t work, come right out without hesitation and demand a couple of pounds or even come right out and say “give me baksheesh”
- Make the target feel a bit guilty for not giving a tip
- If the victim still isn’t playing, start to get a little more aggressive (not so much in a threatening way but in a conviction of the culprits wrongdoing)
A Few Common situations to Get Started Making Baksheesh:
If you can pull any of these actions off, you will have leverage on your victims and be able to demand a small amount of baksheesh.
- Go up to a tourist, take off his hat or Arab style headdress and re-wrap it
- While wearing an Egyptian jellabiya, go up to tourists and try to have them take a photo with you
- Always try to get in camera photos, even if you have to jump in front of people
- Give directions to someone who already knows where he is going
- Show someone a hidden site, that’s really just around the corner
- Stand outside of a random bathroom (maybe not yours) and get a tip before anyone enters
Ways to Handle Baksheesh When Traveling in Egypt:
Traveling through Egypt you will certainly be faced with multiple circumstances of baksheesh on a daily occurrence.
- If you really need the service offered (bathroom, attraction, etc.) use your own discretion to determine what price it is worth and just think of it as the normal cost.
- If the baksheesh is a complete bogus claim, refuse to make eye contact with the tout. Attempt to breeze past without speaking, playing stupid. If the solicitor gets more aggressive, don’t sweat it, they won’t hurt you or even chase you.
The art of baksheesh is ingrained into the minds and even ways of life revolving around the tourism industry in Egypt. If you are prepared or equipped with a little forewarning, the art of baksheesh can be an amusing part of the Egyptian style. Though it sometimes drives people crazy, think of it with an open mind, and try not to get frustrated!
Note: Egyptians are some of the nicest and most hospitable people that I have encountered in the entire world. The art of baksheesh mostly pertains to people that work in the tourism industry day in and day out, searching for a little extra income.
Ever been to Egypt? What did you think of the baksheesh strategies?
Mark Wiens graduated from university and decided to indefinitely travel around the world. He thrives on exploring the local side of cultural travel by observing people and dining on all forms of street food. Check out his world adventures at Migrationology.
More Resources for Cairo
Check out these helpful travel guides:
- Top 10 Cairo and the Nile (EYEWITNESS TOP 10 TRAVEL GUIDE)
- DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Egypt
- Lonely Planet Egypt (Country Guide)
Our other posts on Egypt: