9 Tips on How to Deal With Aggressive Touts When Visiting Egypt
T he country of Egypt has some of the most valuable treasures in the world — the pyramids, the Sphinx, the tombs of Tutankhamun and Nefertiti to name a few — but aggressive touts can easily ruin what can otherwise be an enjoyable and educational experience.
A tout is a person who solicits business or employment in a persistent and annoying manner — and in the case of those in Egypt, they will pester you until you finally relent; and then expect compensation for their typically minimal service which was unwanted in the first place.
Especially due to the decrease in tourism and the economy reeling from political unrest in recent years, touts will do whatever they can to extract money from you — including pretending to be official employees of the establishment where they are working; initially offering you their services for no charge at all and then slowly convincing you to “add on” services for pay as time passes; attempt to sell you objects and pass them off as genuine; and even initiating “small talk” to earn your trust. One common example of small talk can start off with a smile while the tout says “welcome, my friend” and asks you what country are you from originally.
A common tactic amongst touts is to offer you access to areas otherwise closed off to the public; or photographic opportunities where no cameras are allowed. There have even been reports that touts will hold your camera for ransom after taking a photograph of you unless enough of a gratuity is paid to him.
For the most part, I have been very fortunate with touts — although I have paid a few for their “services” with barely a dent in my wallet — but here are 9 tips on how to deal with aggressive touts when visiting Egypt with some of them based on either my personal experiences or witnessing the experiences of others:
1. Do Not Be Afraid to Politely Question Authority
Do not be afraid to politely question authority for your own protection. When I drove up to the site of the pyramids, a man dressed in plain clothes started giving me instructions — such as opening the trunk of my rental car, for example. I hesitated, asking how was I to know that he was indeed a real police officer and not a tout. He insisted that he was a police officer and showed me his credentials — which, of course, were written in Arabic and I could not read them. I was still hesitant. He finally called over a uniformed police officer, who confirmed to me that he was indeed legitimate. Only then did I comply with his requests; and I also believe that he understood my hesitancy, as he laughed about the situation and assured me not to be concerned. Aggressive touts will take opportunities to pretend that they are official authorities to advance their agendas.
2. Say “No, Thank You” in Arabic
Say la shukran — which generally means no thank you in Arabic — as a polite but firm way of declining their services. You might have to say this several times; but this simple tactic usually does work.
3. Speak Another Language
If a tout does not understand you, he will likely not bother you. I started speaking phrases I know in such languages as Japanese and Romanian. Heck — I even started fabricating languages. It was actually quite fun. They “dropped off like flies”, not knowing what to say next. Do not use more common languages such as German, English or French, as they will know phrases in those languages and attempt to use them instead on you.
4. Ignore Them Outright
This is a technique I learned as a native New Yorker where people will approach you on the street to either attempt to sell you something; give you some unwanted brochure on how to get pimples off of your nose hair; or beg for some spare change from you. Ignoring that a tout even exists is incredibly frustrating to them — but it works.
5. Do Not Enter a Secluded Area
Touts wander the secluded areas of tourist attractions such as the pyramids not to outright steal money from you; but rather to ambush you and have you all to themselves to perform their work on you. If this happens, turn around and walk out.
6. Do Not Violate Any Rules
As I pointed out earlier, aggressive touts will take whatever opportunities they can to pretend that they are official authorities to advance their agendas. If you are caught breaking a rule — such as taking a picture where no photography is allowed, for example — a tout will take advantage of that situation and act as an official, first admonishing you before accepting a “bribe” to forget about the incident and let you off easily.
7. Do Not Place Yourself in a Vulnerable Situation
Do not give a tout any items of yours — such as a camera — which he can hold hostage if he does not get what he wants. Do not allow him to take you into a secluded area — such as a construction zone — to show you something “exclusively”; and especially do not allow him to take you into an area which is locked and he has the key. He might not let you out unless you satisfy his demands.
8. Say You Have No Money
Let the tout know that he is wasting his time on you when he approaches you by saying that you have no money; and if he decides to continue providing his “service” even after your refusal, at least you gave him fair warning in advance.
9. Do Not Be “Guilted” Into Giving More
If you do decide that a tout was worthy of his service — rare indeed, but possible — realize that no matter how much you give him, it will never be enough money. He will complain that his service is his only job; how his mother’s dog’s aunt’s father’s second cousin twice removed needs emergency surgery on an ingrown toenail and cannot fund it — and he will reveal all of this after using his mobile telephone, which is the latest model available. If he complains and you are not in an aforementioned vulnerable situation, be firm and walk away. Do not be “guilted” into giving more money. After all, it is your money — not his. He should be appreciative — not ungrateful.
I am probably missing some tips here — please feel free to add any additional advice and experiences with touts in the Comments section below — but following the advice listed above should give you some peace of mind and reduce at least some the frustration of dealing with annoying and aggressive touts. Just remember, though, that dealing with some aggressive touts is similar to dealing with flies — and when the weather is hot, you will be dealing with persistent flies as well.
Realize that touts are not harmful and present no danger to your safety — but be prepared; keep your guard up; never get yourself into a vulnerable situation; remain skeptical of the claims of potential touts; and never relent to them. Most of all, do not take them seriously. As irritating as they can be, simply shrug them off and accept their attempted advances as part of the experience.
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.