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The Middle East @ Work

The Out-of-Towners

Scott Jagow Mar 7, 2008
The Middle East @ Work

The Out-of-Towners

Scott Jagow Mar 7, 2008


Tess Vigeland: The biggest complaint about living in Dubai seems to be the high cost of living, so we thought we’d check in with a Dubai-based blogger named Colin Bramson.

He said gas, not surprisingly, is pretty cheap — around $1.40 a gallon. Food staples like milk, for example, aren’t too bad either.

Scott Jagow: Yeah Tess, but a ribeye steak from the U.S. isn’t cheap. It’s about $10 a pound and sirloin from Australia is around $8 a pound.

Vigeland: So it sounds like if you cook at home, prices are more or less reasonable. It’s when you decide to treat yourself to a night out that things start adding up. A so-so glass of wine is anywhere from $8-10, a beer isn’t much cheaper, so really, it’s the foreigners and the tourists in Dubai that get hit hard in the wallet.

Now Scott, you just had your own tourist experience in another part of the Middle East — Cairo — and it sounds like you had your share of difficulties…

Jagow: Well Tess, for me, the problems started as soon as we landed in Cairo.

The passport computers failed, so we gave our passports to one official, then waited until someone else shouted our names.

This took two hours.

I spotted a European gentlemen looking amused. He said he comes to Egypt all the time.

European man: See the pyramids once and never come back. This is a rich culture, but politically, it’s so inappropriate. Nothing works.

I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel already. My colleague Amy Scott and I just got our passports:

Amy Scott: Amy Scott.

Official: Amy Scott?

Scott: Yes. Whew-hew!

The next night, we took a ride on the Nile, in a little sailboat called a felucca. The ride cost 50 pounds — about $10 dollars — for four people.

Our guide was Abdullah. He told us how he sleeps in the boat and how cold it is and how much he loves Americans. He said the word tip a lot. Then, he sang for us.

We had a great time. We pooled our money for a nice tip — 50 percent. But Abdullah was singing a different tune. He wanted more money. I gave him a couple extra pounds.

Abdullah: Two more. No good baksheesh, no good.

Baksheesh means cash. As we walked away, Abdullah was still complaining about the tip.

I asked a Cairo tour guide if this kind of thing hurts the tourism business. Last year, 10 million foreigners visited Egypt.

Nora Abdel Khalick said Egypt is trying to limit the harassment. For example, at the pyramids, the government has increased the number of tourism police. They’re supposed to protect visitors from getting fleeced by the Bedouins who offer camel rides.

Nora Abdel Khalick: Tourists feel much more safer than the past and those Bedouin people, they are under control. It is much better than in the past. Really.

Let’s find out. That’s me getting on a camel. The camel’s the one that sounds like Chewbacca.

Our camel guide was also named Abdullah and he told us how he loves Americans and he constantly asked me if I was happy. We got off near the Sphinx and now he wanted five times as much money in American bills.

Abdullah: But I like American money. I love the green color.

Scott: We don’t have American money, sorry.

Jagow: We have Egyptian money.

Abdullah: I shall have a look. Take this, give me hundred.

Jagow: No, I don’t have a hundred… I don’t have American dollars.

Abdullah: Just give me another hundred.

Jagow: I don’t have American dollars.

Abdullah: Yeah, give another hundred. Take this back, give another hundred.

You can’t see it, but right now, Abdullah is trying to put his hand in my wallet.

I see a tourism officer approaching — thank goodness — but what does he do? He asks me for money.

I didn’t give him any. I did pay twice as much for the camel ride.

I asked other tourists about their experience at the pyramids. Sarah Abuharoon said she was born in Egypt, but this was her first time back in 50 years.

Sarah Abuharoon: I saw a policeman on a camel and I told him, “Can I take a picture?” He said, “Sure, why not?” and then he told me “Don’t you think my camel needs money?”

But Sarah says this is just part of the Egyptian culture:

Abuharoon: If you don’t want it, don’t come here. You take it or you don’t take it.

And some people, like John and Sue from Britain, said they didn’t have any problems. Well, maybe one…

Jagow: How would you rate your experience here so far?

John: Well, we get hassled by American journalists all the time…

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