08.25.09

Taxicab education

Posted in Travel at 16:25 by RjZ

I stepped quickly into the taxi in order to get out of the way of the Charlotte airport traffic. I didn’t even see the driver as I got in, but I was able to catch his picture on the ID on the back of the seat. I guessed that Mr. Faroud might be Egyptian and he was impressed that I’d guessed correctly. “Have you been to Egypt?” he asked, “Only as a tourist,” I responded.

Downtown Charlotte, NC

Downtown Charlotte, NC

He asked me what I thought of the country and naturally I told him how much I enjoyed it, but I couldn’t help revealing that I thought it can be a bit difficult for tourists there as well. “Egypt may have been a tourist destination for longer than any other country in the world. I guess Egyptians know how to get the most from tourists.” His eyes narrowed as he looked back at me in the rearview mirror and he wanted to know how so. I described how, for example, the price of common place items like a falafel sandwich seem to be as much as the falafel seller can get.

I ordered the national dish of Egypt regularly from street side vendors and the price ranged from 5 to 50 Egyptian pounds. I discovered that if I didn’t ask how much it cost, but simply offered what I’d learned they cost elsewhere, then there was never any complaint. In Egypt it sometimes feels like you have to haggle over how much to pay for a newspaper even with the price printed right on the front page, but, hey, that’s the local culture. If you’re not prepared to negotiate prices, consider taking a tour, and living with prices that are still low, even if they are many times what you need to pay for things.

As we were arriving at my hotel in downtown, the driver began to tell me a story of his own. It seems when he first arrived in New York City, he was driven all around the town by an unscrupulous driver who charged him over $60 for the unrequested city tour. Later, when he returned to the city a bit wiser, he was able to get where he was going for less than half of that.

I guess it isn’t just Egyptians who are trying to get the most out of tourists. I’ll think about that more carefully, before mouthing off to the cab driver in the future.

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