Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tipping/ Backsheesh


One will soon find that people in Cairo expect a tip, backsheesh, for everything from bagging your groceries to posing for a photo. Even the tourism police will ask for a tip for letting you in snap a photo where no photos are  allowed or letting you in to a secluded location. At first, I was completely confused by the tipping system. Some people outright demand backsheesh and won't leave you alone until you firmly refuse or gice in.  Now, I tip when I felt that I requested a service and was waited on properly (I wont tip you for following me around the grocery stores and pointed at products that I may be interested in). Here is a comment on a post about tipping that I think summarizes it pretty well.

10% is fine for EXCELLENT restaurant service, but sadly, one rarely receives excellent restaurant service in Egypt. I say it's more common to leave small change (<10 LE) unless it's a fancy sit-down restaurant and the service is amazing.
And for "services"... there are many services in Egypt that warrant tipping. Anytime someone offers to show you anything or do anything for you, they usually expect a tip, or "baksheeh." In most cases, 1 to 2 LE is sufficient for these types of services. 10 is too much for just about anything, unless they are really going out of their way.
Many people will approach you at antiquities sites, offering to show you something or latching on to you and trying to become your guide. Only tip these people if they are truly helpful, and don't give them more than about 5 LE. Many of these people are rude and get spoiled by big-tippers. Don't add to the problem by being one of these people who gives 50 LE tips.
Also, there are often people who hang around bathrooms to get tips. They will turn on the water for you, or hand you a tissue to dry your hands. Only accept it if you want to tip the person, and don't give them more than 1 LE.
Many of these bathroom people are overly pushy and I've seen some of them at the pyramids with wads of cash so big that they won't fit in their pocket. Generally, if you've paid admission to any site, then use of the restroom is included and you aren't obligated to tip. At some places, there is a designated bathroom attendant, placed by the management, with a dish for tips. In this case tipping is usually mandatory. But at other places, such as most museums or antiquities sites, bathroom tips are not required and the people who are trying to get them are not authorized employees. In this case, it's not good to support them.
Whatever you decide to give, keep in mind that the average salary for most workers (i.e. policemen and shop/ hotel attendants) is 40 LE per day, so 10 LE is an excellent tip for most people.
Some people try to complain that you didn't give them enough. Never give in to this scam! Anyone should be happy and gracious to receive any tip, even 25 piastres. So if they pester you, saying "Hey, this is only 2 pounds, it's not enough!" Then they are rude and they probably didn't deserve the tip in the first place. Ignore them, or tell them they're lucky they got anything from you.
One useful phrase in Arabic that foreigners can use is "Mafeesh fulus," meaning no money.
Good luck!

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