An Open Letter To The Touts Of Egypt
For you are all, every one of you, men.
Here are a few things I do not want.
- A camel ride
- A donkey ride
- A horse and carriage ride
- A taxi
- A boat ride
I ESPECIALLY do not want to buy a boat ride masquerading as a public ferry, or a horse and carriage ride that takes me to every commission-paying shop in the souk.
Should I require transportation, I will break step, look around and hail the relevant vehicle. Should I require a boat, I will go to the waterfront, inspect some boats, and open negotiations.
Furthermore, I do not want to buy:
- Papyrus – banana leaf or genuine
- Alabaster – wax and stone chip or genuine
- Pyramids – plastic or otherwise
- Scarabs – of any kind
- Plastic Tutankhamun masks
- Antiques — even genuine ones!
- Fake Marlboros
- Tour tickets
Since in Egypt as elsewhere career professionals have other things to do than hang around outside tourist attractions claiming they are shut, I will switch off when you claim to be:
- An Egyptologist
- A museum worker
- A teacher
- A lawyer
- A doctor
I will wait politely until you propose a trip to the government bazaar, or perhaps an antique shop, and then exit the conversation promptly.
If, and only if, you are school-aged, I will give you a pen or a pencil. I will not give you money or sweets.
Why? Because I am a bitch.
And because sweets are bad for your teeth, and begging is bad for your future.
Because I am not stupid, I will not:
- Change your “euro coins”, lavishly admixed with Egyptian pounds, into euro notes.
- Or, for that matter, Egyptian notes. Sorry!
- Or English ones!
- Mistake a 50 piastre note for a 50 pound note, which has 100 times its value
- Take change without checking it
- Allow you to identify the correct note for what I am purchasing in my wallet
- Establish a price for anything in pounds without establishing whether the pounds are Egyptian or English
In fact, if you make change for a note larger than 50 Egyptian pounds without performing the local equivalent of the death aria from Tosca, I will become instantly suspicious of you.
Nor will I:
- Believe you when you say you can get me into tourist sites for free.
- Accept your assertion that my hotel is no longer open.
- Believe you when you say anything has moved.
Further, I will not enter your shop to:
- Transcribe the yellowed address with which you have been pestering tourists for the last decade
- Write a text message to your Italian girlfriend
- Get your business card. I have been trying to lose you for the last three blocks. I DO NOT WANT TO STAY IN TOUCH.
- Drink tea
- Enjoy “traditional Egyptian hospitality”
- Or “just look around”
Nor, for that matter, will I be patronising your restaurant.
“WHY WHY WHY lady?” you say?
BECAUSE I DO NOT WANT TO BUY ANYTHING.
Well, actually I do.
I would like to buy some cigarettes, some water, a soft drink and some flip-flops.
I have found a nice supermarket which, after brief and civil initial negotiation, allows me to buy commodities at a tourist tax only 10p or so above the Egyptian price, without hassle, and with no touts. Therefore I will be patronising them.
He is a nice man. He is helpful.
Whereas you, the gentleman who bodychecked me out of the road and into his pavement kiosk with “Best price!”, are not.
You might remember me.
I’m the one who said: “Best price? That needs to be Egyptian price. 14.”
Now, I don’t normally get hung up on pennies. I know I’m wealthy compared to you. And so I’m happy to pay one Egyptian pound as a tourist tax. This is standard.
Still, if you are going to bodycheck me into your kiosk with “best price!” you need, as I explained at the time, to deliver that. Not charge me 50% over the local rate and 33% over basic tourist rate.
Because that, as we say in England – where we DO NOT, for the record, say “lubblay jubblay!”, or even “lovely jubbly!” – is taking the PISS.
In fact, “English?! Lubblay jubblay!” is up there with “you have beautiful eyes” and “you look like Princess Diana!” on the list of phrases I REALLY, REALLY NEVER WANT TO HEAR AGAIN.
But, back to flip-flops.
I believe that there are streets downtown where I can buy such luxuries unassailed by “helpers” in search of a commission, and, for that matter, walk for maybe as much as a minute unmolested.
Perhaps even two minutes. Or maybe as much as five.
“Where am I going?” you ask.
I am going for a WALK. I am having a look at stuff. I am going to the shop. I am going to my hotel. I am going to the temple. I am going to a restaurant. I am going to meet a friend.
Where I am going is NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS and I do not need your help.
You see, I have a map.
I checked the map before I left the hotel, to avoid the kind of unwise pause which will bring a barrage of helpers on me like the time the chap left the lights on in 28 Days Later.
Should I require directions, which I don’t, I will ask a woman. A nice, normal woman, with her kids, and perhaps her husband. Or even the husband.
A nice, normal person. Of whom there are SO MANY in Egypt, and of whom I meet so very few.
Or possibly a police officer, given he, with the stars, will not require bakhsheesh.
Now, I fully appreciate that you live in a desperately poor country, with soaring unemployment and a tanking economy, and I represent riches beyond your wildest dreams.
I appreciate that tourist numbers in Luxor are down 75% – though has it ever occurred to you that the unrelenting hassle may have something to do with this?
Further, I understand that, despite my efforts to adopt a dress code that suits your cultural standards, even in temperatures well above 100F, despite the fact that I am walking with my young son, because of the colour of my skin (and the behaviour of some of my Western sisters), you consider me a whore.
I don’t like this. Few women would. But I do understand the hows and whys.
And, mercifully, I know that you are not the real Egypt.
But none of this, gentlemen, makes your behaviour any easier to deal with.
Much as I try to maintain a sense of humour, which I use routinely when negotiating with men whose services I wish to purchase – Sales Tip 101: These are not the men who bodycheck me, get right in my face and yell at me! – I find you, collectively, wearing in the extreme.
A few of you have asked why I am afraid. Some of you have correctly identified the relevant emotion as anger, which, much as I try not to display it, does occasionally slip out.
“What is your problem, lady?”
“Why you no want my carriage?”
“Why you afraid? You think I am terrorist?”
Let me try and explain to you, again, WHY, WHY, WHY I DO NOT WANT YOUR CARRIAGE.
You see, sir, here’s the thing. I walked for 40 minutes through Luxor today. To keep my son and myself amused through the constant onslaught of attempted petty fraud and hassle, we kept a running tally.
You were, as I explained to you, the 21st of 23 horse and carriage men to approach us over those 40 minutes.
My son and I differ as to whether it was 14 or 16 men who approached us offering boats – my fault, I know, for having the temerity to walk along the Nile – and either 7 or 9 men offering us taxis.
I would like to have kept a physical tally, but unfortunately this would have involved breaking step and then we really would have lost count.
We agree, however, that there were 10 men inviting us into shops.
That is, averaged over the course of 40 minutes, approximately one approach from one of you every 40 seconds.
I am pleased to report that, thanks to wardrobe efforts which leave me hot and sweaty, only three gentlemen made audible, English comments on my appearance.
Although, as I endeavoured to explain to you, sir, the man who appeared from a baying mob of horse and carriage vendors to request a kiss, IN FRONT OF MY YOUNG SON, “If you said that to an Egyptian woman, she would slap your face.”
I may, I confess, have raised my voice.
Still, at least today not one of you has grabbed at me, offered me cigarettes for sexual favours, masturbated at me or adjusted his genitals at me.
Further, as far as I registered, the only man who swore at me in Arabic did so while smiling and pretending to say something nice rather than as a blast of whispered filth while checking me up and down. A pleasant change for both me and my young son.
So, I guess, things are looking up.
“Why you afraid, lady?”
Yes! You are all men. And I am a woman. My male escort is only 11, though more of a man than all of you already, but, yes, many of you are larger than both of us put together.
That does not make me AFRAID of you. I am not awed by your masculinity. I am not terrified by your male power. I am, frankly, f*cking pissed off.
One more time!
I am not AFRAID. I am ANGRY.
“Why you angry, lady? No hassle here!”
Now, I try not to get angry.
But when you get within a foot of my face, right into my personal space, and yell at me “No hassle!” I find it hard to immediately feel the humour in the paradox.
Further, when I see the sheer aggression some of you display to a passing foreign woman on the street, I dread to think how you behave to the wives and daughters you keep at home while you are out harassing strangers.
And, for that matter, your sons.
Grabbing my young son physically to drag him into your shop is NOT, actually, OK. Though I guess you don’t slap him around like you do the beggar children. Another plus!
Gentlemen! For you are all men!
Much of this stuff is, simply, not OK.
You have an ancient culture. You have an old and venerable religion, whose name means peace. Your capital was once one of the world’s great cities. Your landscape is awe-inspiring. You have four Nobel Prize Winners among your ranks.
I don’t expect you to live up to these exalted standards.
I don’t even expect you to be nice.
All I want is that you, please, please, please leave me the F*CK alone! For once.
And, yes, that means you too, “tour guides”.
Tour Guiding 101: The phrase “Dancing, cha cha cha!” does not illuminate my understanding of a tomb relief showing people dancing which I am already discussing with my son.
Even if you say it four or five times. ESPECIALLY if you say it four or five times.
Nor, for that matter, does pointing at headless statues with a cartouche round their hieroglyphs that shows they are pharaohs, and shouting the names of gods at random, help progress my understanding of a site.
“No guide! No money!”
You are no guide, that’s true. But you will want money.
I am more than happy paying an Egyptian pound to take a photo in the tomb. I am happy to pay an Egyptian pound for you to take my photo with my son.
In fact, I will pay an Egyptian pound to dispense with your services altogether.
I will, of course, tip you if you provide covers for my shoes in a mosque or a museum, and pay the requisite fee to use the toilet.
Should you unlock tomb doors for me, escort me up the minaret of a mosque or provide me with useful information, I will tip you higher. In fact, I have a special pocket in which I keep my tipping change and tipping notes.
I am also happy to give all and any of you cigarettes. Because you have a tough job and no education with which to do it.
But, here’s the thing!
Your random guiding interjections spoil my day.
Not as much as your toutly cousins, granted.
But I do not like you breathing down my neck. I do not like you shouting random names from history. I do not like you pointing at pictures when I am trying to look at something else.
And I especially do not like it when you grab me to escort me somewhere, because I know, that at your level of Egyptian society, you would never touch an unrelated woman in that way.
Dear touts! And guides!
In the words of Oasis, “There are many things that I would like to say to you, but I don’t know how…”
But I think what I am trying to say, gentlemen, is that I like to look around at things, and walk around, and appreciate what’s around me, as I have done on six continents to date.
And, call me what you will – and I know you have and do! – you guys really are not helping!
THE SWEATY SHOUTY LADY WITH THE SMALL BOY IN TOW
Currently hiding in her hotel
And, to my regular readers, thank you for listening! We’ve been doing some AMAZING things which make Egypt well worth the hassle, and I do appreciate I’ve been a bit ranty of late. But there’ll be more lovely stuff coming soon. I PROMISE!