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If you’re planning on heading to Egypt on vacation, then first of all, congratulations. Now that the Kingdom of the Sun is open for business to tourists again, there may never be a better time to go. A few years of political unrest have seen visitor numbers to the country fall, and so both travel companies and hotels have cut prices to encourage tourists to come back now the worst of the trouble is over.
You’ve probably got most of your travel itinerary in order already, and we expect that it included a lot of sightseeing. Very few countries in the world can rival Egypt scenery; especially if you’re looking for history and culture. In the Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt possesses the last of the remaining Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, along with many other artefacts of the time of Pharaohs. Egyptian iconography has been used for movies, video games and even Egypt-themed slot games. In the case of the latter, they’re an excellent choice. The Pharaohs of Egypt were treated as living Gods, famed for both their power and their riches. As well as making for striking visuals, the slot games offer players the chance to wrestle some of that Pharaoh gold away from its owners. Such is the lingering fame of the Pharaohs that Tutankhamun and Cleopatra even have slot games of their own, thousands of years after the time they lived in.
One thing that you may not have given consideration to though is the purchase of basic goods. Virtually nothing in Egypt, from the price of a taxi ride (by the way, be careful getting in cars. Driving in Egypt can get pretty crazy!) to the price of a drink at your destination, has a fixed cost. Everything is negotiable. This is the land of the world famous Khan el-Khalili bazaar district, where the value of an object lies somewhere between what you want to pay for it, and what the owner wants to receive. It’s therefore crucial that you don’t just pay whatever the stall or shopkeeper asks you for; they’ll quote you an inflated price upfront, and they’ll be shocked (but happy) if you pay it!
If you want to avoid paying over the odds, you need to know how to haggle and barter. Here are some principles to work with!
Although the majority of traders do enjoy haggling with you, they expect to reach a deal in the end. If you’re casually browsing or merely curious to know how much something is, don’t get involved in bartering at all. There’s nothing a merchant hates more than wasted time when they could have been talking to another potential customer. You’ve probably had your time wasted at work by people who strung you along; don’t become one of them!
If you have no idea what the item you want to buy should cost, ask the vendor to make an offer on price first. This is important because whatever price you start at – whether it’s fair or not – you’ll be expected to move up from. The vendor will start high and look to move down. It’s better for you that they open the bidding.
Most – but not all – vendors will quote a price of around double what they would accept for the item. That leaves you clear to go in at around half – or even a pinch less – and you’ll still be within the price range the vendor would accept. We often shy away from going in ‘low’, but when haggling in Egypt, it actually gets the deal done faster.
The majority of vendors are reasonable. If you’re offering a reasonable price, they’ll make a deal with you. If you feel like they’re quoting too high, or they’re taking too long, don’t be afraid to walk away from the stall or out of the shop, even if you’re interested. You’ll often find that the seller will respond by offering you the lowest price they’ll accept, and it’s then down to you whether to accept it or not.
If you have roughly the amount you’re willing to spend on the item in your hand, and the vendor can see it, they’re more likely to offer you a reasonable price. Showing them the money tells them that you’re serious about buying, and there’s a deal to be done. All of Egypt’s (and especially Cairo’s) haggling vendors are experienced professionals; they have a sense for when someone is interested, and someone isn’t. If they don’t think you’re a serious buyer, they won’t offer you a serious price.
Haggling is something of a sport in Egypt; you’re supposed to enjoy it! Smile and laugh throughout the process, and you’ll get the same in return. This is especially important because you’ll get a better price if the seller likes you; as there’s no fixed price for anything, sellers are free to offer and accept any price they wish. Obviously, that means they’ll go lower for someone they get on with than they would for someone they don’t. Make friends with the traders!
You’ll find that most of the vendors in tourist-heavy areas are comfortable communicating in English; it’s necessary for them to go about their business. They do appreciate it when people make an effort to use a little of their own language though. ‘Shukran’ is ‘thank you’. ‘La shukran’ is ‘no, thank you’. If you’re walking through a market area and don’t intend to buy anything, you might as well keep repeating that out loud to avoid shopkeepers trying to drag you into their stores! ‘Fill mish mish’ is an easy phrase to remember and a fun one to use; it means ‘not while I’m alive’, and should be used as a response to a price that’s far too high.
As with any negotiation, remember it’s about the person as much as it is the price. Be confident, calm and courteous, and you’ll be able to come away with a few bargains. More than anything else though, enjoy your trip!