Thursday, March 27, 2008

My rant

Egypt is a good place to come to strengthen and/or develop negative stereotypes about "Arabs." For anyone who is into that sort of thing, I recommend a visit. Nothing is simple in Egypt. Nothing is easy. If Tunisia prides itself in being a "country that works," Egypt is a country that doesn't--and where nothing does. Consequently, it is easy after what is almost invariably a string of bad experiences, to become fundamentally distrustful of Egyptians as a tourist.

Not only is there no such thing as a free lunch in Egypt, there is no such thing as a free smile. Especially in the south of the country, where tourism is the mainstay of the economy, it can seem as though everyone is out to rip you off. Let me amend that statement. It doesn't
seem as though everyone is trying to rip you off. Almost everyone is.
Take the policeman who--quite unecessarily--"helped" me to buy a train ticket and then invited me for coffee. "Nice of him," I thought as he got up to go to the toilet. He never returned, leaving me with the inflated bill he had negotiated with the cafe for his and my drink.
Take the tea I was offered on the bus to Cairo (every bus in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan included free refreshments) that then came with the price tag of 25 Egyptian Pounds--more than 20x the going rate in a cafe.
Take any of countless examples that grow increasingly tedious... Just as every traveller in Syria has a story of out of the ordinary kindness and hospitality, every traveller you meet in Egypt has a story of ridiculous, blatant and wilful extortion--not to mention the dreary and endless encounters with touts, baksheesh collectors, and "guides" from whom one expects no less than single-minded, duplicitous pursuit of cash.

In Egypt, if something seems too good to be true. It probably is.
If something seems reasonable. It's probably too good to be true.
Adopt this dictum as a mantra (written as a sign upon your hand, doorpost and wherever else was available).

1 comment:

mehda said...

Oh, I am really sorry you had to make such bad experience. I guess this follows from an unhealthy mix of poverty, bad education and misconceptions. I hope this won't be the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of the Arab world!

PS: Found your blog through your great articles on the guardian.