Connect the dots

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pyramid Scams

After traveling through Africa for 9 months and in 15 countries, Egypt is the first country on our trip that has required constant vigilance. In even the poorest countries of Burkina Faso and Ethiopia, we never felt as if couldn’t trust anyone. But in Egypt, be aware, be very aware. And be aware all the time!
Not only does every transaction involve serious and energy-sapping haggling, you constantly still feel cheated at the end. I understand that as tourists we will always be paying more than locals. However, inflated prices such as taxi rides that are 4-6 times the tourist price, we have not encountered until here.
If they have the opportunity to scam you, they will.  The techniques used are usually the same, down to the exact words used to reel you in.
Scam #1: The Old Switch-A-Roo
Normally skeptical and thinking that we are fairly good at avoiding touts, we unfortunately hired a tour guide at the pyramids. He seemed harmless enough as some of them do and he was going at a decent price, so we decided to go with him. He initially was able to fend off camel ride touts and souvenir sellers. He even offered to buy the tickets for us to enter the pyramid so that we wouldn’t have to make the long trek to the ticket office in the hot sun. Seems okay so far, huh? Well, Marc handed over the 200LE for the 150LE tickets and the guide passed it to a guy on a camel. Tip#1: Never hand over money to ANYONE other than the official ticket seller at the booth. Well, the guide apparently handed it to a camel guy who was going to ride to the ticket booth to help get the tickets. I sent Marc to go with the guide. We waited for nearly 20 minutes for the 2 to return. By Marc gestures, something had gone wrong.  Here’s the story.  The camel guy hands the money to the guide who then hands it to Marc. Without checking how much was handed to him, Marc hands the money to the ticket seller who then tells him he only gave him 50LE – with 100LE still lacking and 50LE missing! Tip#2: Check the bills that you are handing over and make sure they gave you the right change. They love to give the WRONG change. (Even more confusing is that the bills are in Arabic on one side and English on the other.) So by now, the 200LE is long gone and Marc must pay the difference of 100LE for the tickets.
Scam #2: Free = We’ll Find A Way to Get Something Out of You
Again at the pyramids, a camel guy wraps a cloth around my head and hauls me onto  a camel. He then proceeds to grab Alex and do the same. I tell him that I would like to get off and that we don’t want a camel ride. He continues to tell me that it’s only for a picture, that it’s free and we don’t have to pay for the camel ride. Before we know it, Marc is also on the camel and we are taking a ride a few hundred meters along the pyramid. He even offers to take pictures on our camera. I agree and continue to insist that we be let off the camel. As soon as we get down, Alex and I immediately run away, but the camel guy and his friend try to trap Marc to pay for the ride and the pictures. We tell him back that it was his choice to place us on the camel and not ours.

Starts with the turban
Scam #3: The Cardboard Box or “Free Gift T-Shirt” Over Your Bag
Persistent “souvenir” sellers around the world love this one. They take the box or t-shirt and try to cover your bag to get into your bag or place it over your waist to get to your wallet in your pant’s pocket. This time, Marc was accosted by one of these guys who was slick enough to open his bag, but only get his glasses. Marc spotted this immediately and slapped the guy in the face with his glasses while yelling at him. Tourist police nearby defended the thief/souvenir seller saying that he was a good guy and only wanted to sell souvenirs.
Scam#4: “Let Me Show You How To Get To The Egyptian Museum”
On your way to the museum, there is a very busy street to cross. A supposedly helpful local decides he “just wants to help” and that he “doesn’t want to bother you” and that he “doesn’t want anything from you”.  A few variations on this theme include: “I’m a student at the university” or “I work at the museum”. They even offer to lead you to the underground walkway that leads to the museum even though there isn’t one from that street.  In addition, they try to convince you to “wait another half hour before going to the museum because it’s too crowded with groups.” After this speech, they try to walk with you towards the non-existent underground walkway and then tell about a shop that is cheaper than the tourist market at Khan El-Khalili. They then try to trap you at a store. If not, they walk you across the street and try to lead you to the non-tour group entrance, which also doesn’t exist but to the tourist store that does.
Scam #4: “There’s Nothing There” or “It’s Closed”
You’ve hired a taxi driver (or maybe worse, a tour guide) for the day to take you to the sites outside Cairo proper. When you get to a site like Saqqara, you request to see the lovely tombs of Mereruka or Ti. What does the taxi driver tell you? They’re closed. You request to drive toward the tombs and he refuses. Insist they go anyway because most of the time, they are lying because they just don’t want to go. Often also, when there is “nothing there,” it’s the complete opposite.  Such was the case with the eastern section of Karnak – nothing there but beautifully painted columns, ceilings, and statues.

Nothing to see at Valley of the Nobles
 Scam #5: “Only Two”
Only two what? Two Egyptian pounds? Two Dollars? After you’ve entered the shop, the price suddenly turns into two HUNDRED! Then you start haggling and magically, the price goes down to twenty Egyptian pounds.
Scam #6: “Where Are You From?”
Throughout Cairo (and other tourist cities), if you don’t look Egyptian, you will constantly be asked where you’re from. After they try to establish some commonality with you such as being able to speak a bit of your language, they walk with you to try to then lead you to their shop or their friend’s shop.
Scam #7: “You’re a lucky man, how many camels for your wife?” or “Is your wife Egyptian?”
Both are specific to men, clearly. The second one gets a follow-up of, “You look so Egyptian.” Both get you an escort to a shop.
Scam #8: “Okay, okay, five.”
So, you’ve gotten the guy down to 5LE for a shoe shine. When the guy finishes, you hand him a 5LE note. He then tells you, 5LE for EACH shoe. You laugh, say shukran, and then walk away with your newly polished shoes. 
Scam #9: Getting the bill at a local restaurant
ALWAYS ask for the price before ordering at a local restaurant and get an itemized bill before paying! We ate with a group of 5 other people from the tour in Luxor at a local establishment. When we asked for the bill, the guy quickly wrote down 420LE. We divided it, paid and realized that we each paid the equivalent of US$10 for the peasant dish of kushari (in Cairo we paid US$1), hibiscus tea, and salad. When I asked for an itemized bill, he had difficulty coming up with the figures. Ultimately, we paid US$10 just for a salad that he originally said was included in the meal! 

Has anyone else come across this? Is this a result of tourism? Is it cultural? 

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