It comes with the territory.
By the end of our 9 day trip, I was weary of any transaction made with the local Egyptian population. This time I was buying a lighter from the store set in an enclave of small shops within our resort.
“50 Egyptian Pounds” the small, tanned, slightly dusty clerk with dark eyes and hair said. After a week of haggling, I assumed that his first offer would be high, but I still chuckled out loud.
“50 Egyptian Pounds? That’s almost 6 euros!”. He laughed as well, can’t blame a guy for trying.
That’s pretty much how you have to view the negotiation policy in Egypt. You really can’t blame them for trying to make some extra cash off of you. During our trip, we encountered this type of game almost daily. At the airport, our taxi driver requested two times the amount that we ended up paying.
Once we arrived at the hotel, we thought we would be shielded from those that would have you pay exorbitant prices. However, we quickly found that even within the confines and the beauty of the sprawling resort area, with its manicured lawns and marble ceilings, negotiation was still the name of the game.
Inside the hotel, they have a taxi service that will take guests all over the city. I called the hotel concierge to find out how much a taxi ride to downtown would be.
She said “I don’t really know. It depends.”
“You mean there are no set prices”?
“I’m sorry sir but no. You will have to work out the price with Said”.
It turns out Said had bigger plans for us. You see, he wanted to take us to El Gouna, a tourist town about 45 minutes away, that has a nice restaurant and shopping district, and to Luxor after that.” We worked out a price for downtown and said we would discuss El Gouna and perhaps Luxor later.
During our trip to the marina downtown area, we started a bit of small talk and even ventured into some Egyptian politics. He was in favor of the new president, but thought that nothing had yet changed. He was still optimistic. When he came to pick us up, he even walked around with us for a half hour to help us haggle with the local shop keepers.
We started to form some type of friendship, as far as it was possible under the framework of roles and the limited time frame we would have together.
Said ended up taking us everywhere we needed. Although we had to haggle a bit each time, it didn’t seem like it got in the way of getting to know each other better.
“200 Pounds to El Gouna my friend”
“Said, how can you do this to me? Who do I look like? You think this is my first time getting a taxi ride in Egypt?”
His small stature and eyes that told he had not had an easy life, masked a jovial spirit that came through when you made him laugh. He snorted and smiled widely “ok my friend, for you 125”
Everybody calls you “my friend” in Hurghada. Even I started to call everyone my friend.
On one particular taxi ride, we started to discuss his living conditions. Said was not only the driver but also the owner of a small taxi company, which I thought would translate into a pretty good standard of living.
Most of the hotel staff lived in small rooms with 3 other individuals. If he could make 200 Euros in a month, he was doing very well. According to the Egyptian Independent, the average annual family income is 25,353 Egyptian Pounds, which works out to be about 230 € a month with today’s exchange rate.
They would work 3 or 4 weeks non-stop, and then have one week off completely. If he could convince a tourist to take a trip to Luxor (around 150 to 200 Euros) he could almost make his entire monthly salary in one go.
I think that’s one of the reasons you see so much haggling and high pressure sales. If they get that one big win, they are set for the month. If not, they have to keep dredging along.
Some people get very frustrated when confronted by this type of behavior. They feel that they are being taken advantage, which in some ways is true. However, Said gave me a bit more perspective. He was a regular guy, just trying to make it. Not some predator that wanted to leech off of you.
He had dreams. He had aspirations. He wanted to visit England and possibly move there. Unfortunately, his visa had been rejected twice; they said he didn’t have enough cash in his bank account.
“I will try again my friend. My brother, he says that you need to try three times. Then they let you go. I need to make some money and try again.”
And the lighter? I ended up paying approximately 6.50 in Egyptian pounds, equivalent to less than one euro. You definitely can’t blame a guy for trying, and his face told me that he had won more of these negotiations than he’d lost. His territory was, well, his own.