Egypt can be a turn-off to many travelers because of the aggressiveness of the vendors, the haggling, and the tipping system. Even the most seasoned travelers can get frustrated at times. If you want to make your trip more enjoyable, here are a few suggestions:
- You will be approached by hordes of vendors selling everything from pens to papyrus. If you’re not interested, ignore them or say “no thanks” and walk away. You aren’t being rude by doing this. They’re used to it.
- Due to the economic crisis in Egypt, the vendors will be more aggressive than usual. They will say or do anything to get you to buy from them or even just get you into their shops. Many times, even when they appear to merely make small talk and be friendly, it’s not small talk, it’s a sales tactic. Repeat advice in #1. In Luxor, I had a guy chase me all the way to my bus and call me every name in the book when I refused to go into his store after having a nice chat with him.
- Some vendors will give you something and say “it’s a gift”. It’s not a gift. It’s never a gift. They will walk away and then come back expecting you to give them some money, usually any amount. Don’t accept “gifts”.
- If you do decide to buy something, don’t pay full price. The price they ask is meant to be haggled. If he asks 50, you reply 10. It isn’t an insult by going so low. Depending on the item, you can get some real bargains. Don’t pay above half of the asking price, but try as hard as possible to get it cheaper. If you don’t like the price, walk away and I guarantee they will chase you shouting lower prices at you every step of the way. One guy went from E£350 to E£50 on a traditional shirt the moment I walked out of his shop (I still didn’t buy it!). A friend got a belly dancer costume in Sharm el-Sheikh for E£275 with an original asking price of E£850. There are deals to be had if you try.
- Under no circumstances should you give money to children. First of all, it’s probably going directly to their parents. Secondly, it encourages them to stay out of school. Why should they go to school if they can make money from foreigners on the street?
- In touristy areas, you can haggle at restaurants, too! Before getting a table, ask the host if they can give you a free drink, starter, or take out the tax. Usually, they will want your business and will do whatever it takes to make you happy. At one restaurant in Sharm el-Sheikh, our group of four got a round of free drinks, a free starter AND a free sheesha – not bad!
- If there is a man standing at the entrance of a pyramid, he will want a tip. If someone volunteers to give you information on the history of an ancient ruin, he will want a tip. If someone begs to take a picture with you, he will want a tip. If you look in the direction of or take a picture of someone’s camel – you guessed it – he will probably want a tip. It can be overwhelming. Tipping in Egypt is tricky. Everyone expects a tip for any kind of service they provide you, and many people you aren’t sure deserve a tip will ask you without blinking an eye. Tips, or “baksheesh”, as how my guide Sem Sem explained it, are how people in Egypt get by in life. Wages and salaries are low, so people supplement their income with tips. It isn’t just tourists who are expected to tip, but Egyptians as well. I still haven’t mastered it on three trips to Egypt, but here’s a small list of people I have tipped in the past: tour drivers, barmen, bell boys, doormen, cleaning staff, hotel reception/concierge, and anyone who goes above and beyond for you. Usually a pound or two is more than enough. If there’s a service you don’t want or you are wary of parting with your money, say “no thanks” and move on.
- As far as tipping in restaurants, I do know they will charge a “service charge” to customers. As Sem Sem explained, this money does not go to the waiter. It’s a tax that goes to the government, and unfortunately, that’s not explained to tourists. This causes the waiters to lose out on valuable income. Generally, 10% at meals is enough.
- Tip your guides! If you feel that they deserve a tip, by all means, give them one. My group tour was advised to give US$3-5 per day for the guide. Of course, this is just a suggestion, and you can give more or nothing at all if you so choose.
I hope these were helpful suggestions. Everyone has a different experience in Egypt, and others may tell you differently than I have, but this is my own personal experience and how I’ve dealt with it.