The Tipping Game
This article was written by Natasha Behbahany, a International Development Studies major at UCLA who lived in Cairo, Egypt and contributed to the Travel Guide Urban Lowdown.
The Egyptian people are very nice, but as soon as you advertise yourself as a foreigner, you become a walking dollar sign.
For any traveler to Cairo, there is one slogan to keep in mind: Baksheesh, don’t leave home without it.
Baksheesh, or tipping the way it is done in Egypt, will immediately confront the tired traveler. Coming out of the airport, porters will grab your luggage. In this situation, one general rule applies: If the service is not wanted, then state this assertively. If you do accept, it is necessary to tip the porters, so change money in the airport and specifically ask for small bills. Small bills are a prized possession in Egypt because no one will give change back for a tip; when the porter says “baksheesh” you do not want to hand over large bills.
This problem leads to the issue of what amount is appropriate to pay. If one man is carrying your bags for you, LE3 is more than enough. If the bags are very heavy and difficult to handle, increase the tip fittingly. It is also important to note that tipping in Egypt is individual in nature and if two men are assisting with baggage, it is not possible to give tip to one person and expect the money to be shared with the other person. The details of the baksheesh system are second-nature to an Egyptian, but can be very confusing for a foreigner. How confusing can be best described by my personal experience.
When I came out of the airport, I found that my ride was not there to pick me up. I had no idea what to do and it was obvious. The Egyptian people are very nice, but as soon as you advertise yourself as a foreigner, you become a walking dollar sign. Apparently I looked like a lot of dollars signs because in an instant, a man walked up to me asking me if I needed a taxi.
The end result of my taxi ride was about LE85 when it should have only cost about LE25. So, please be forewarned of any men who solicit taxi rides in the following manner:
- 1. They ask for pre-payment
- 2. They ask for a tip before you even get into the taxi
- 3. The person who solicits you is not the person who drives you
Tipping is not limited to the airport: at tourist sites like the pyramids, using the restrooms may require a tip as well. During my trip to the pyramids, the call -to- nature cost me LE2. Initially, I was annoyed, but an Egyptian friend later informed me that the money I gave to the old woman standing at the door will be spent on buying toilet paper. The museum allows her to stand in the bathroom collecting tips, and in return, she provides toilet paper.
In general, tourist sites are often tourist traps. At the pyramids in Giza, money is not required in order to take pictures. Take note of this because at these sites, there are men who will offer to take pictures of you complete with pyramid and camel in the background. If their offer is accepted, be prepared to pay baksheesh. Also be ready for outright annoyance if the solicitor thinks he can squeeze more money out of you - especially US dollars.
However, don’t take money out of your pocket for just any service. There are instances in which tipping is not appropriate. In general, do not tip for a service that has been paid for. For instance:
- 1. No tipping is necessary for directions
- 2. Taxi drivers do not need tip in addition to the fare
An exception to this rule is dining out. A 12% service tax is automatically added to the bill, however, it is customary to tip in addition to the total amount listed on the bill. This sort of tipping is done in sit-down restaurants with waiters servicing customers and is discretionary: if the service was good and you enjoyed the meal, a few pounds shows enough gratitude.
Whether or not monetary appreciation is displayed, Egyptians are always more than happy to help in any way they can. Nevertheless, baksheesh will be a frustrating game for all newcomers to Egypt, but it is part of the way this system works. The most important thing is knowing the rules of the game so that the foreigner is also an informed traveler. This way, baksheesh will become a tool, rather than a nuisance.
Click here for the Urban Lowdown website.
Published: Thursday, August 25, 2005