Thursday, February 9, 2006

AFRICAN CUP OF NATIONS - Talk like an Egyptian

As the tournament reaches its last days I felt it was time to reflect on life in Egypt and how much having the knowledge I have now, would have helped me when I first set foot here in Egypt.

Arriving in Cairo you are thrown at the mercy of the locals who will try out every scam they can think of in order to get you to part with your cash. They will give very little away as they realise the power they have over you, a stranger in a foreign land.

"Welcome to Egypt". A standard greeting given by any Egyptian looking for your money. Engaging in conversation will see them then ask you your name and where you are from. Don't be surprised if next time you pass the same area someone else calls out your name and says "Remember me?" the chances are the first person you spoke to has briefed the neighbourhood and now your personal details are no longer protected by the Data Protection Act.

By now I am no longer surprised that when someone wants to show me where I want to go that the route taken is by way of their families papyrus shop which sells quality hand painted pharaonic scenes.

The number of people using these lines, has led me to the conclusion that somewhere in Egypt there is an English language school where these lines are taught. Once they have learnt how to repeat these lines they seem to think that they will then be able to make their fortune out of unsuspecting tourists. As a result they leave the school without finishing the course. This results in a conversation where they repeat the lines they have learnt over and over, whilst you at first think that they may be able to help and may engage in conversation. Which you will soon realise is going nowhere.

Policemen and young children alike will give the game away as they shout, in your wake, "Hallo, money". Seeing you as a commodity that they want to get a piece of.

"Just wait 5 Egyptian minutes," the guides will tell you as they explain the attractions in front of you. They then add "5 Egyptian minutes is maybe 5 hours in your own country" If only I had known this when I first went to the Ministry of Youth that first morning.

"Get, to the ground early". This is no joke, throughout my stay here I will have spent over a day solely inside the Cairo International stadium. Turning up three hours before the kick off has become normal for any Egypt game.

"The price for this is..."Do not believe a word, every time there has been additional extras along the way. The Egyptians don't understand that we like to know how much things cost and that if agreed that is what we will pay. They think they can add on extras later and everyone will still be happy. Haggling is a way of life and exorbitant prices will be set in the hope that you are too weary to join in.

"Get a taxi" In response to any request for directions and asking where the local transport is, this is the answer they will give. Even the guide to this competition is misleading in giving distances to the stadiums. It states that in Ismailia the stadium is 13km away. In actual fact it is near the town centre and walking distance from the train station.

These scenarios are common around the world. However I do believe that Egypt is one place where these scams are practised from a young age, and that the majority of people leave school before finishing.

Being aware that this is how things work from the start meant that I had no problems dealing with life here in Cairo. I have the added bonus that now I can describe events depicted in the pharaonic reliefs. Haven't got round to working out the hieroglyphics yet as I am still trying to remember the Arabic numbers.

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