Friday, March 27, 2009

Baksheesh or tipping, some guidelines

In the West, we call it "tipping" or "service." But those words don't fully express the breadth of flexibility and purpose of the practice known as "baksheesh." Egypt appears to run on baksheesh and the protocol of the practice becomes evident quite quickly once in the country.

Basically, there are three kinds of baksheesh. The first is baksheesh as "alms giving." One of the 5 tenants of Islam is the giving of alms to the poor. The giver is made more holy by the action.

The second type is baksheesh as "for services rendered." This is the closest to the western tipping practices. Except it goes further. There are people at the airport whose only job appears to be opening doors. Of course, they require baksheesh. And every bathroom has an attendant, who expects a little for keeping the place clean (supposedly). One is continuously passing out a few pounds here and a few there. Guides and drivers use it as feedback and like others their basic pay only covers simple food.

The third kind of baksheesh is "for the granting of favours." Want to see what's in the tomb which is posted as closed? A few pounds will see a key miraculously produced. Want to see an excellent photo location? Want to see a forbidden mummy? The amazing thing is that you don't even need to ask for the services. Upon identifying a mark, even the museum guards will follow you around and provide services and grant favours. Interestingly, after getting over the initial adverse reaction to the practice, it becomes expected and even pleasurable.

Yes, I know it is strange but we pay it too. Everyone seems to expect it, though even I was surprised when Mahmoud paid the Doctor a hefty baksheesh when I was ill recently.

Toilet money 1LE
Small service 5 – 20LE
Medium Service 20 – 50Le
Big Service 100Le upwards

The biggest tip one of my drivers got was $1,500 USD, the lady concerned sent it after she returned home as she wanted to help him send his child to a good school

Please be generous, many rely on these tips for doctors and medicine, schooling and books etc.

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