Tipping Egyptian Style

The tour company promised to take care of tips for every service they arranged other than the main tour guide.  That sounded wonderful.  No stress over who to tip how much.  …If only.

Almost every restroom we used featured someone handing out toilet paper at the door.  The five pounds they expected in return was next-to-nothing, but a pain to keep handy.  Qualms crept in as well.  Shouldn’t the attendant who put herself out to be pleasant and keep the room nice, get more?   (Note:  Even when the five pounds was considered a charge rather than a tip, these generous souls allowed relief to folks lacking fives.)

“It’s a tipping culture,” our guide explained.  “I pay the camel boys, but they will look at you and want a tip.”  He suggested that we give our handler twenty pounds (a dollar) AFTER the final leg of the trip.  “If you tip them at the stop, why should they come back?”  I ran into a further complication when the handler who’d helped my mother, asked me for a tip in addition to the one he’d collected from Mom.  I thanked him emphatically but didn’t come across.  Later I decided his wasn’t an unreasonable ask.  He’d gone over and above with Mom, he was fun, he spoke English well, and answered my questions.  He deserved an extra tip far more than some of the people I did tip.

Mom’s habibi

A friendly man at the botanic gardens told me the names of some of the plants and picked some leaves for me to smell, then hit me up.  I hadn’t wanted his company to begin with, but it seemed rude to tell him not to talk to me.  Another man offered Mom a place beside him on an apparently public bench.  Then he urged me to take their picture before asking for a tip.  I must have overdone it because he walked with us to the bus, kissing Mom’s hand and shouting habibi (my love.)

The demand for tips was so pervasive that when our guide told how far the migratory birds had come to float on the Nile, I asked if we needed to tip them.

I was especially surprised when the sales clerk who’d sold me some items at the souq, requested a tip.  I still had my haggle attitude up and said that he should tip me.  But we tip everyone else who provides a service…

Bodyguard’s gun

Next the Uzi toting security guard who protected our bus, followed me as I shopped the market and even led me to a shop that probably belonged to a buddy.  I appreciated guard’s company, if only because I didn’t have to worry about getting lost.  When I got back to our group, I wondered if he’d been hoping for a tip.  Professionals in Egypt seldom make enough money to get by.  They work their real job along with another that brings home real dough.

Clearly there are no hard and fast rules to simplify Egyptian tipping, but maybe these ideas will help.  First, soothe the guilt.  Even if we don’t tip anyone ever, our tourist dollars help most everyone there.

Next, do no harm.  By tipping those annoying men whose “service” was not appreciated, I reinforced the behavior, increasing annoyance to future tourists.  Another tempting pitfall was the darling little boy who helped with the donkey tour.  One of our group tipped him and got a less than thrilled expression.  A higher tip from another tourist brought a big smile.  Cute, but how does the darling boy’s hardworking brother feel when he sees the little guy haul home bigger takes just for having chubby cheeks?  And, is Mr. Cuteness likely work at developing his talents when all he needs to do to succeed is flash a dimple?

I asked the guide if it was okay tip the security guard, and he replied, “Please do.”  How much to tip a man with a machine gun who’s putting his life on the line to protect us?  I can’t say, but make it good. 0

Also be sure to budget big baksheesh for the blogger.

About breathtakebyways

Ann Williams’ travel articles have appeared in publications all over the country including The Washington Post, Roads to Adventure, and Jack and Jill. Between researching and writing books, she specializes in creative lectures.