There aren’t a lot of tourists in Egypt right now. Every traveler I’ve met has said the same thing: “my friends thought I was crazy when I told them I was going to Egypt.” Maybe all of us travelers are crazy, but there really aren’t many of us, at least in Cairo. And what that means is that tourism in the country is suffering right now. For street vendors, tourists appear as an opportunity, and when there are fewer tourists walking around, there are fewer opportunities. This, in turn, has shown me many different sales techniques and borderline scams. Some are more effective than others, but I think they’re worth talking about.
The Paper Pusher. His story: Detailed. His demeanor: Highly Instructive and friendly. His English: 8/10
This guy was the best of the best. On my way to the pyramids, my driver dropped me off at a papyrus paper museum. (Drivers will often do shit like this because they will earn commission on any sale made. They will also often take you to their preferred camel stable if you head to the pyramids.) Once I arrived at the “museum”, I noticed papyrus artwork on the walls with pricetags on them. I saw what was about to happen — sales pitch number 7,341, or was it 42? Fuck it, I thought. I’ll listen. The Paper Pusher proceeded to teach me about papyrus and showed me how to cut the plant, wet it, and ultimately, how to turn it into paper. I learned a lot from this guy. He then taught me about some of the Egyptian stories that were painted onto the paper works throughout the museum; he was dropping Egyptian knowledge all over my sweaty head/back. (Yes, my back was sweating.)
By the time he got to asking me if I was interested in anything here, I told him “not really.” He then gave me about 5 offers I couldn’t refuse. I refused them all; I almost bought some legit papyrus paper and artwork of “The Final Judgment” but didn’t because I couldn’t justify it. Dragging that paper around for another 5 days would have pissed me off. Even though it was just 200 Egyptian Pounds (200/6 = 33.3 USD). “Good price, my friend. I give you good price.”
The Stubborn Toe. His story: Non-existent. His demeanor: Old. His English: 8/10
A fellow traveler (Dan) and I are walking around Tahrir square and are heading to the Nile river, it’s not far now. We are ready to cross the road and an old man approaches us. He is selling papyrus paper with Egyptian art on it. I had already turned this down back at the pyramids. He asks how I am. He asks where I’m from. I make something up. He shows me the papyrus and says “good deal.” I say I’m not interested. He says “look, I am old man, this is good deal.” I say la shokran (“no thank you”) and my mate and I start across the street (which is really a busy highway). The old man takes it upon himself to attempt to act as a guide and tries to stop traffic for us to pass. He follows us across the street. As we get across, the old man asks again if I want papyrus paper – I do not know why he continues to ask me and asks Dan nothing. Why does he also assume that something has changed since we crossed the busy-ass highway? At this moment, we are in front of the famous Egyptian museum and I see a middle-aged man in decent clothes walking at a fast pace in our direction. He stops us and talks to Dan. The man is known as the Egyptologist, and his sales technique is listed below.
The Egyptologist. His story: Detailed. His demeanor: Calm and Instructive. His English: 8/10
The Egyptologist was seemingly self-proclaimed. He introduced himself as Dr. Shieik. This man told us he worked at the Egyptian Museum – the very building we were in front of – as an Egyptologist. Meanwhile, I’m still fending off the Stubborn Toe who continues to attempt to sell me papyrus paper; he has become a fly I wish I could swat. The Egyptologist, meanwhile, tells an elaborate story about how he works on the 2nd floor and was trapped inside the Museum for three weeks during the protests in Tahrir Square. “We stayed to protect the museum. On the 2nd week, people raided the museum and stole everything from the gift shop. They thought they were stealing priceless pieces of history, but they were really only stealing the bad stuff,” he said. At this point, the man’s story is so far from having any connection to selling any goods that I am half-believing. Nor was I at the gift shop during the revolution to confirm anything. He continues to provide us his contact information, and even wrote Dr. Shieik on the piece of paper. At that point, he asks, “you guys want to see where the best place for drinks and food is, it’s right across the highway.” We walk over to the highway and he begins to cross – the same place we just came from. Aha, the jig is finally up. He wanted to bring us somewhere, maybe the aforementioned store, but maybe somewhere else. We decline on reason that we were heading the Nile – the exact opposite way, and that we were in a bit of a hurry. And on we walked away from him – he seemed to give up.
The Artist. His story: Straightforward. His demeanor: Friendly. His English: 7/10
After seeing the Nile, and being constantly harassed by individuals offering Felucca boat rides, we started back towards the hostel. On the way, a guy is walking quickly and actually walks past us. Once ahead, he turns back, “where you guys from?” I said California, Dan said Australia (both true). “Welcome to Cairo! Los Angeles?” I just replied with “yes.” He asked what we were doing and we told him – heading back to the main street to the hostel. He asked if we had been south, “it is a fun area by the water, with lots of shops and things to do.” We replied, “no.” He took this as an invitation to attempt to show us. “It’s right around the corner,” he pointed. We couldn’t see anything. “I know it’s hard to see,” he said, and started to walk backwards, pointing. He stopped. “I’m an artist, you know? I am a great artist. You should see my work. It’s just around the corner.” We were running tight on time and told him we had to get going. He gave up.