Money troubles

There are three things that really differentiate the way money is used in Egypt from how it is used in United States: bargaining, tipping, and an almost exclusive reliance on cash. All three present a problem for me.

First, I should explain that I really don’t like money. I like having it, of course. But I hate dealing with it. I don’t like to talk about money, I don’t like to make a big deal out of it. I’m the guy who, at a restaurant with a group of people, will throw down an extra fifteen dollars just to avoid a lengthy discussion of the bill. I just want to ignore money as much as I can. That’s not how things work here.

They say that the price of everything in Egypt is negotiable. When most people buy things here they name a price, the vendor names another price, and then the two parties work their way toward a price in the middle. There are plenty of exceptions of course, but with many, many things that’s how it works for everything from taxis to a kilo of cucumbers. I see it happen all the time. When I go to buy something, though, the process is a bit simpler: I say a price, get another price from the seller, and then say, “Um. Well. Okay.”

The next problem I have is with tipping, known in Arabic as baksheesh. I’m a generous tipper at restaurants and bars. I always go with at least twenty percent. But that’s not what baksheesh is. Baksheesh is giving people a little bit of money when they do something for you. It’s supposedly an integral part of the Egyptian economy. (I recently read a story that said that visitors to the Giza zoo give baksheesh to the zookeepers.) The problem is, I have no idea how to do it. Whom am I supposed to tip? When? How much? Furthermore, I don’t like the awkward process of taking bills out of my pocket and handing them to people. I usually end up foregoing baksheesh, which I’m sure is rude and unfair.

Finally, there is the problem of cash. Almost nobody accepts credit cards in Egypt. My paycheck, which I received last week, came in the form of an envelope of cash. Egypt’s is largely a cash economy. There’s nothing wrong with that, except for me because 1) I have very little self control when it comes to money, and 2) I am really, really good at misplacing things. I crumple up twenty dollars bills, shove them in my pockets and then re-discover them a few weeks later after they’ve gone through the washing machine. Then I get excited that I found a free twenty dollars and go spend it on some bullshit. Naturally, a cash economy does not suit me.

Why am I talking about this? What’s my point here? It’s simple: I am a stupid foreigner and will probably go broke in this country and in the process offend hundreds of service industry workers.



Filed under Egypt, Travelogue

2 responses to “Money troubles

  1. Helen

    This one made me do a little LOL.

  2. Tess

    This made me LOL too! In St. Petersburg, I had to go on foot to the British Airways office and pay $700 in cold, hard cash for a flight to London. With British Airways. My dad tried to book my ticket online, but got shut down at the crucial moment with an error message saying something like “must come to office in St. Petersburg to complete transaction, no credit cards or checks accepted, you presumptuous American fuckbag.”

    p.s. I like your blog! Hi!

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