Hawkers and hassle, Cairo
Once at the Pyramid, hang on to your ticket and dont listen to anyone asking you to come over to the secret passage or explaining that they neee your ticket as they are a guide etc etc... these guys will take you away and rob you. Just ignore all the people trying to help, they are trying to get money from you for nothing. Just relax, be pleasant and say no thank you to every body and enjoy the magnificent sight in front of you.
When catching the overnight train from Cairo to Aswan from the Giza train station there are loads of men wandering around the station who pretend that they work for the rail company as porters and will pick your bags up and attempt to load them on the to the train in return for a tip. Most of these men have nothing to do with the rail co' at all and will often hold onto your luggage before you get on the train until you cough up a suitable amount of 'Baksheesh'. If anyone tries to pick up your bag whilst waiting-take it back from them and let them know in no uncertain terms that you don't need them to load them on for you. If you have a backpack wear it on your back so that these opportunists can't just walk past and pick them up.
First of all - i didnt enjoyed Egypt so much i expected.
Second - when we went to the Giza pyramids, we hired an english spoking driver - he brought us to his preferate papyrus&perfumes shops, but at least he gave us the right advices for the pyramids area.
Third - the advices:
- never let your ticket out of your hand - if asked about it, just show it without letting it
- never stop to a vendor: "No, thanks" and the local "La, shukran" makes wonders; dont bother trying some fancy languages, the locals knows almost everyone of them.
- dont be fooled by anyone - i am from Romania; every time i said this, i get: "Oh, Hagi, the best soccer player" line. I promised myself that the first one that will say "Dorinel Munteanu" (another romanian soccer player) will get a tip from me - it never happened :p
- dont go on a camel, a horse, dont follow anyone, dont let anyone photo you, dont photo anyone - me & my friend escaped with only one tip, but we only stayed for 1 hour at Giza.
Fun Alternatives: A real alternative for Giza are Sakkara and Dashur - these are the things I liked the most in the Cairo area. Both Sakkara and Dashur are around 30 kilometers outside Cairo, they have more spectacular&even older pyramids then Giza and it is way much quiter - in fact, on Dashur we were almost all alone with the desert (and the guards). Above than, Dashur has a pyramid only a little bit smaller then Giza biggest (with a visitable interior as well) and also here there are the Bent Pyramid and the spectacular almost destroyed Black Pyramid. It worth the trip till there.
me and my friend had the innocent idea of going to the zoo to see its fauna. We could never imagine that herds of teenaged children are following people (girls) harassing and trying to sell...I believe that were sexual harrasments but I cannot say for sure.
They go near you and offer something they call "shakes" and ask for money. I f anyone is able to translate that into an obvious sentence please advise people here that are planning trips to Cairo and have the idea of visiting the zoo...
Unique Suggestions: Don't look at them, ignore them and keep walking and taking pics of the animals as I did.
Fun Alternatives: Alternative is to watch all animals in Egypt like cats which are abundant, dogs, donkeys, snakes, lizards, birds, camels, horses...
Egyptian people can smell a tourist as soon as you get off the plane. Expect to see hawkers and beggers the minute you leave the airport and be prepared for the possibility of being fleeced by one. Especially at the popular tourist destinations such as the pyramids, Egyptian museum and even when just walking along the street.
Try to resist entering a perfume shop unless you really want perfume as it will be very hard to get away. Even if you do get away the seller will lay in wait for you until you appear again.
Unique Suggestions: Be very thick skinned and insistant in saying no.
Fun Alternatives: If you can dye your hair before you leave to a dark colour and consider wearing a headscarf to help you look more like a local.
The minute you step out from your transport the hawkers are waiting there for you. I know they want to make a living but I found it a real shame to be constantly harassed and to some extent it did ruin what should have been one of the greatest experiences of my life, as the pyramids are a sight I have always wanted to see. The hassle combined with the lack of time that we had there made for quite a rushed, stressed experience. One in particular that stands out is a tout selling a head dress that is apparently free, even though we said no, he took it out of the bag and placed it on my husband's head, saying it was a gift, then when we said thank you and began to walk off with it, he demanded money, so we gave it back, with quite some effort! Even when taking photos they would come up to me hassling me. It's just something you have to be prepared for unfortunately, but try not to let it ruin your experience.
Unique Suggestions: The only thing we kept on doing was saying no thank you and walking off.
Your typical resident of Cairo is friendly towards foreign visitors. Unfortunately, the type you will likely come into contact with sees you as a walking gold mine. They will act friendly too, but they are not seeking friendship. Here is what you will hear sometimes, and I will provide the translations.
"Hello, where are you from?"
Translates as: "I need to ascertain how much money you have."
"How long have you been in Egypt?"
Tranlates as: "I need to know whether you are fresh off the plane so I can take full advantage of what you have not yet learned about the ways of the tout."
"Is this your first time in Egypt?"
Translates as: "Are you naive or are you already keen to what I want from you?"
"Because you are my friend, I will make you a special offer"
Translates as: "Finally, someone who will pay 4 times what this is worth!"
"How can I take your money?"
No translation required.
Unique Suggestions: Most of us were taught certain manners growing up such as how to make eye contact and how to be polite and respond when someone is addressing you. When you reach Cairo's tourist areas, forget what you have learned.
I know everyone has mentioned the amount of people trying to sell you stuff at the pyramids but I need to add my 2 cents because it does become a pain at times. The guide we had was very specific about the approaches and he was correct to say that if you do not plan on buying anything...Never let the vendor hand it to you.
Unique Suggestions: It may seem rude but whatever they hand you is very hard if not impossible to give back and you are better off letting it fall to the ground instead of taking it from them. Another way to avoid some of this hassle is to just never communicate with the vendors at all. They will approach you and try 4-5 differant languages until they find out where you are from and then waste your time trying to sell you more stuff. If you never respond they seem to get dissapointed that they couldn't guess your nationality and find a differant group to bother.
Most travellers admit that at one point or another in Egypt they are usually taken in by some local businessmen or friendly locals and led to a shop. I am rarely duped by con men but in Egypt they are professionals and know exactly what to say at the appropiate time. In Egypt be cautious when following people (although most people are nice) the worst case scenario involves being led to a shop to buy some over priced souvenirs of the mans friend.
I like to write brief tips, so this one is pretty simple. You probably know that someone will try to sell you something while you are just trying to see some sights. Well, the Egyptians have honed “sales” to an art form. You will most surely be approached to buy papyrus, trinkets, and camel rides – especially if you visit the pyramids.
Unique Suggestions: Buy whatever you like, but haggle with them if you really want the item (or ride). If they don’t take your lowest offer, walk away. Believe me, if they don’t take your offer, someone else will. Besides, that’s part of the fun. If you try to “hate” the onslaught of these overbearing salesmen, you won’t have as much fun. Play with them a bit and be strong (almost hard-headed), but not rude. Maybe you’ll be rewarded with a nice camel bone chess set. Or, maybe you’ll end up like me and find one piece missing when you get on the bus. Hmmmm…
Giza Pyramids are something most of us come to visit Egypt for. But we don't expect to all get pushed into something we don't want to do. When I mentioned the bit about the transportation that we used in the What to do section of this travelogue, it was no joke. We were practically forced into taking some sort of mode and there was no way that these guys were going to back down. I mean we didn't mind taking the horse and cart but it was kind of like every man, horse or camel was lining up just to take you around. They will approach you and say that their camel has the same name as you. I mean my real name (Richelle) is not the most common of names is it? I mean I could understand it if it was Jane, Mary or something more common (no offence to anyone with these names but you get the idea). Also bear in mind that if anyone asks to see your ticket is most certainly a bit of a con artist. He will be wanting to show you around and charge you for every tomb that you go through. It's really sad that all this happens because it kind of puts a real damper on the trip that you cannot wait to explore and discover. If there was alot less of this, many people would walk away enjoying their time wandering around at their own pleasure without the hassle of hawkers wanting Baksheesh (tips) from you.
Unique Suggestions: Make sure you don't loose your temper with these people. Muslim people on the whole hate to see that at the best of times and it will only make you look like an idiot in front of them and other tourists. Just keep your cool and don't worry too much, no matter how persistant they may be.
Fun Alternatives: Knowing a little Arabic may help you but in saying that, it didn't help us even if we did happen to live in Saudi Arabia at the time. If you want to feel a little bit like Lawerence of Arabia, maybe take the camel and enjoy the scenery up a little higher. It may make it a bit hard when you want to visit some of the tombs though, the same goes for the horse. But if you end up with the horse and cart, sit back and enjoy the ride. It is great if the weather is a bit on the warm side as at least you are protect from the sun a bit...
We stopped at a locally known lookout point to take some spectacular pics of the Pyramids when a very old and innocent-looking Egyptian man wandered up to my Mum. He gestured to ask if she wanted him in a pic with her and, in her innocent delight, she said yes and he posed beside her.
Next thing, before she had a chance to object, he unwound some dirty bangades and wrapped them around my Mum's head.
"Hey!" I thought "This guy is trying to make a Mummy of my Mammy. She was a bit upset and nervous at this point and I could see that she was bothered by the dirty headdress.
The trick from the old guys point of view was that he would not take the bandages off her unless she gave him money, and he would not leave without his bandages.
I handed him some money, he demanded more, but our guide intervened and he took his bandages away.
It was a really unpleasant experience though - if I were Mum I'd still be scratching my head.
Unique Suggestions: Watch out for the locals wandering the Pyramids - most of them are up to some scam.
When you go nearer the tourist attractions you will be confronted with hassle from hawkers, and young men that will try to get you into nearby shops or sell you anything from the street. They dont work in the shops they just get a commision for bringing you there.
Unique Suggestions: Khan al Khalili market is one of these places but just keep cool and walk around alittle bit when you anything interesting try to bargain, normally a good price is 75% off the price they first tell you. Dont say yes to the first offer even if they try to stop you when you walk away, just visit other shops and check how far you can go with bargaining. You can always return later
At the observation point are a number of salesmen with all the usual heads of Nefertiti, arab head-dresses, shisha pipes, metal pyramids , papyrus, etc.
Most people in Egypt are paid a pittance compared to the rest of the western world, so they are only trying to make a living.
Unique Suggestions: Bargain. Inevitably you will get the price down considerably, and take it as all part of the holiday fun.
Today [27 May 2005] I got 3 large metal model pyramids for 25 E Pounds,; he originally began at 40E pounds. I don't think I was ripped off, because last year I was with someone at Khan el Khalili who was happy to pay 19 E pounds for the smaller models. The little boy I bought them for was over the moon, and that compensates for any extra profit the salesman made.
Fun Alternatives: Try somewhere else away from the tourist sites. Many smaller shops will have similar things, and as the economy is not very good these days may be prepared to sell at a lower price just to make a sale.
Although 99% of Cairenes are probably kind, open people, be aware that people that approach foreigners on the street do not really want to be your friend (would you do that?). No matter how friendly, how many things in common ... "you are from ___? My sister is studying at university there!", these people can spot an 'off the plane' tourist and make a beeline accordingly. Just be aware when you hear 'Where are you from?', people are not really trying to reach out to you from the goodness of their heart.
From there, you are invariably brought into their shop and then you're mildly trapped until going through 'the pitch', for perfume oil, papyrus, whatever, which will invariably have inflated prices.
Also, if someone attaches themselves to you and walks with you into any shop (or to any taxi, or any hotel), it is understood that they will receive a cut of whatever you spend, and the price goes up accordingly.
Unique Suggestions: There are so many of these types around, and they do at least approach you in a somewhat polite way, we found the best way to deal with them is a polite but firm, "No, thank-you" with the hand sign for "Stop", and don't even slow down.