On being an asshole

Authored By Brian

Despite the dire plane ticket situation, Jennifer and I both managed to score flights out of Cairo tomorrow using the good ole Internet today. That means we only had the afternoon if we wanted to go see the Pyramids. Abercrombie & Kent was unable to get a guide together on that type of notice so we were going to take a taxi and do it ourselves. We asked the concierge to hail us a taxi to the Pyramids. We got into the taxi after the concierge explained where we were going. What follows is an abbreviated transcript of our conversation. I’ve snipped the really repetitive parts:

Driver: Hello, welcome! How are you doing?

Me: We’re doing well, thanks! How are you?

Driver: Good, thank you. Where are you from?

[They always ask where you’re from. It seems very friendly but it’s step number one in establishing what language to speak, what jokes to tell to act endearing, and to guess where to start the gouging. ]

Me: We’re from California.

Driver: Ah, good! I am from Oklahoma!

[There’s the joke. It’s funny the first time you hear it. Ok, now we’re skipping this part because it’s some useless chit chat as he points out things on our route through the city. Skip forward to the good part.]

Driver: I take you to Pyramids and I have friend who give you camel or horse ride around Pyramids and Sphinx for one hour. I will wait and bring you back.

[I’ve read this part of the guidebook one million times. I know where I want to go this time.]

Me: Actually, we would just like to go to the Pyramids entrance on Pyramids Road in front of Cheops.

Driver: No, no, it’s much better to go to the Sphinx and my friend, he give you camel or horse, whatever you prefer, and I wait for you.

Me: No, that’s ok, we just want to walk around starting on Pyramids Road.

Driver: No, no, it’s no good to go there, we park at the Sphinx. If you go alone, you must buy tickets three times, my friend, you only buy tickets one.

Me: Why can’t we go to the Pyramids Road entrance?

Driver: I park car at Sphinx and wait for you there. Understand, yes?

Me: That’s fine, but I want to go to the ticket office on Pyramids Road.

Driver: It’s much better to go to the Sphinx first, and then see Pyramids.

[At this point, I open the Lonely Planet guide because I want to see where the Sphinx sits in the Giza Plateau. My blood pressure is rapidly rising. The Sphinx isn’t bad per se, but it’s not near the ticket office where you can buy entry into the actual Pyramids themselves. The cabbie sees me looking at the book…]

Driver: Book no good! Too old, all closed now, this is much better. Go to Sphinx first and my friend, he take you on camel or horse for ride one hour, good man, and show you Sphinx and Pyramids and I wait for you and bring you back.

[Note: the guidebook was published in 2004.]

Me: We do not want to ride a camel or a horse. We want to go to the Pyramids Road entrance and walk. Understand?

Driver: Pyramids, yes, yes. I park car at Sphinx, ok?

Me: So long as we go to Pyramids Road entrance.

Sometime during all of this, we actually see the peaks of the Pyramids poking out between dilapidated apartment ghettos and billboards in the distance. It’s an awe-inspiring sight that lowers my blood pressure slightly. A few minutes later we’re much closer and I just catch a sign that points to the exit for “Pyramids Street” as we drive past. The cabbie is taking us to the Sphinx!

It only gets better. He brings us to his friend who starts to sell us a goddamned camel ride and tour and begins a lecture about the 9 pyramids (3 large, 6 small). I got a bit short tempered and explained we were going to the Pyramids and that was it and we left. It was about 4:10 and the Pyramids closed at 4:30. And since we’re at the Sphinx, we can’t walk all the way over to Cheops, the biggest Pyramid, before then. We bought tickets and looked a little at the nose-less Sphinx before walking up towards the Pyramids to get a better look. A guard tried to turn us away but recognized a profit opportunity and led us through some ruins to show us a little room with some statues before fleecing us for a few bucks of baksheesh.

It’s hard to say no to dudes with machine guns.

We spent about 45 minutes there before we went back to the taxi. Cabbie’s friend then tries to get us to come into his shop before I cut him off with “No, we’re going home now.”

What kills me is that this is how the country runs. Everyone is like this. From the guy who helps you cross the street, swears he doesn’t want any baksheesh, and then tries to get you to go to his brother’s perfume shop to every taxi to every vendor. I’m happy to support the economy as a tourist. I’m polite. I am respectful of their culture. I’m open-minded and interested in learning about the locals but this place makes me feel like Bruce Banner ready to bust loose and go green.

Why do I have to be an asshole to enjoy your country?

It’s my own lack of preparation that is to blame. Jennifer was with me and I knew she had some reservations about Egypt in general so I have been trying to keep a cool head about everything. I didn’t come ready to be more forceful because I just didn’t know. The guidebooks describe the hassle but they don’t frame it anywhere near what it’s really like. My accounts shouldn’t turn anyone away from visiting because it’s an incredible country with incredible people but it isn’t like touring an old castle in England.

I definitely didn’t see everything, especially in Cairo. Knowing how things work a little now, I’m looking forward to coming back and getting things to work in my favor when I have a little more time to slow down, stop and bargain.

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