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The Middle East @ Work

<em>Baksheesh</em> . . . or Bribery?

Richard Core Mar 3, 2008

One of my first encounters with the particularities of Egyptian culture … A driver met us at the airport. When he brought his car from the parking lot to pick us up at the curb, he was stopped by a policeman. They argued (chatted?) for a while, and then he came back to the car to ask us if we had change for a 20-pound note. (Twenty Egyptian pounds is about $3.60 US.) We did not. So he took the twenty, paid off the cop, and came back to the car. He didn’t speak enough English to tell us what had happened. But I assumed we’d encountered our first illustration of baksheesh.

Baksheesh in Egypt is the term that describes everything from the tip you leave the hotel housekeeper, to the spare change you give the beggar, to the … ahem … bribe you apparently pay the policeman at the airport.

When we arrived at the hotel, the clerk told us the non-smoking room we had requested was not available. But when I pushed, we got the room. No problem. No baksheesh either. Maybe I missed my cue.

You get used to tipping for services you don’t require, or even want. Like the elderly man at the train station who walks several hundred yards to show you to your train car, despite the fact that the car is clearly marked both on your ticket and on the car itself. Even the tourist police, whose job it is to keep people from pestering the tourists, insisted on taking our picture at the Pyramids and then scoffed when the tip was too small.

— Amy Scott

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