What Am I Doing Here? The Egyptian Hustle

Vago Damitio. What am I doing here?

Sefrou, Morocco – Writing About Cairo, Egypt
05 December 2012

The recent changes I’ve made to Vagobond are awesome, but at times, I miss the challenge and regularity of writing about my own travels on a daily basis.  (By the way, I recommend that you sign up for my free weekly reader here at my blog) At this point, I’ve had so many adventures and experiences that I can write about five years worth of weekly columns. Still, the changes are better – bringing more voices to Vagobond and abandoning the blogger format was one of the best decisions I’ve made. Take for example, Monday’s new feature column by award winning Travel Photographer Dave Stamboulis. His Myanmar photoessay this week did more to excite me about travel than a million “Ten reasons to….” blogs could ever do.  Sarah Spigelman and James Isherwood sharing foodie insights in New York and London each Thursday makes me hungry and excited to visit both cities again. Then there is the hilarity of Anthony Mathenia’s Syncopated Family Travel and the breezy vino adventures of Linda Kissam – not to mention all the incredible guest writers and fun weekly features. In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve moved to twice daily and it’s got me hustling like nobody’s business – which puts me in mind of The Egyptian Hustle…

The Egyptian Hustle

The Egyptian HustleThe hustle in Egypt is relentless and from my perspective anyway, downright shameful. Don’t get me wrong, I call both Morocco and Turkey home, so I understand the hustle from the carpet vendors in the Grand Bazaar asking three times the price they want because the guidebooks say tourists should ask for half price to the Moroccan haggler that will overcharge you by 1000% just because he can. I don’t dig that stuff, but they at least have something in common that I can respect. Once you agree on a price, that’s the price. Not so in Egypt.

Cairo TrafficGranted, my experience is limited to street hustlers and taxi touts but within a short time, I noticed something that offended me far more deeply than being over charged. Egyptians continue to try to gouge you for higher prices even after you have agreed on a price. The price goes up when you pull out your wallet, if you pay in advance they then tack on extras like the ‘airport ticket’, and even if you shake on it – they will tell you a higher price immediately and try to wheedle it from you. That, to me is offensive. The violation of the handshake.

I can live with Egyptians (and Moroccans and Southern Italians, Greeks, and other North Africans) violating my ideas of what the queu  (line) should be and why it should be respected. Frankly, I think it is a reason why their societies are less successful than say those of Turks, Northern Italians, Brits, Germans, or Americans. So, I hate my idea of the line being violated, but I loathe the idea of the handshake being nulled. The most classic example of a deal done. When an American shakes my hand, looks me in the eye and tells me something – and then it changes – I honestly feel a desire to maim and hurt them.

car window cairoWith the Egyptians, I just feel an intense sadness because the handshake isn’t even worthy of a lie. The agreement of a price, isn’t even an agreement.Certainly, a society where agreeing on a negotiated price holds no weight – isn’t a society I want to be in for even a day more – no matter how cool the Pyramids might be.

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Damitio  (@vagodamitio) is the Editor-in-Chief for Vagobond. Life is good. You can also find him on Google+ and at Facebook