'No hassle here my friend'. And so it starts. If Luxor had a sound-track it would be 'Money, money, money'. It's said with charm and delivered with a smile, but hear anything too often and it begins to grate. The concept of baksheesh can be hard to take.
'Something for me, for help', wheedled the young man at the visitors center in the Valley of the Kings. This is 'baksheesh' in it's purest form - a bit extra, a tip - and it's often expected for nothing. The young man had simply turned on the information film. Agree a price with a boatman, or a taxi driver, and they still ask for a 'present'. One caleche driver (coachman) asked for baksheesh 'for the horse'. Kids run up to us in the street and before they had shout 'hello', they stick out their hands and whisper 'bonbons, baksheesh'. It's constant and it's just the way things are done here. Even Egyptians must pay baksheesh - to get their post delivered, to get the best cut of meat or the freshest vegetables. Baksheesh makes the world go round.
'Tourists are to blame as well', Ali told us, 'they give too much for too little. It makes people lazy'. Maybe. But no matter what you offer, guides and guardians will look at you with a wounded stare, or fake anger... 'is very little...' They are master manipulators. Baksheesh is hard to get right.
Many people earn such a meagre wage that they rely on baksheesh to live. Guardians at the monuments are paid by the government, but it's a paltry sum of EGP 400 a month. (£40!) No wonder that they hassle tourists, for what they feel for us, is very little money. At the noble tomb of Naakt, the guardian stuck to us like glue, repeating the few English phrases he knew over and over. 'Fish', he mumbled, pointing. 'Naakt wife' pointing again. 'Ten meters thick' pointing to the walls. The quest for bigger and better baksheesh leads to baksheesh in it's second form - 'breaking the rules baksheesh'. Guardians will urge visitors to duck under a fenced off area, or take photos. 'But it's a secret', he murmered, putting his finger to his lips.
Baksheesh number 3 is bribery pure and simple, a transaction with it's own complicated set of rules. Better not to go there.
Baksheesh colours every transaction and can leave a bad taste in the mouth. The person who at one moment is your best friend will walk away from you without speaking the next. But it's all just a game. And all those taxi drivers, would be guides, and guardians are experts at it. When you hear 'hello, welcome', know that your new best friend sees a walking wallet, and smile and walk on by.
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