Thursday, January 10, 2013

Talk Like an Egyptian

As my friend Rosie warned me before I left, look an Egyptian man in the eye, and he'll try to sell you something.

Now, this is not universally true.  For example, this man

the one in the back, with the water buffalo, neither minded being in our photos, nor expected to be paid.  He was a farmer; to him, we were whatever.

However, around the historic sites, it's a whole 'nother story.  I felt some compassion for what our guides called "Friends of the Tourists"--tourism in Egypt is down about 85% since the revolution two years ago, so hawking Chinese-made souvenirs in Giza doesn't provide the living it used to.  But, as guide Hazem warned me sternly after the giving-a-dollar-to-the-pony-girl episode, "You think, one dollar, it's not much, you're happy to give it away.  But then instead of one person you've got two thousand people around you, and they all want a dollar.  And then you're in trouble."

So I learned to walk through the bazaars without focusing my eyes on either the souvenirs or the vendors.  I learned just enough Arabic--"La, shakron.  La.  La."  (No, thank you--) to shake them off.  Guide Abdu taught us an Arabic word, emshee, that he guaranteed would make any vendor back down, but since he refused to translate it for us we were all afraid to use it. ( My husband suggested it, "began with F and ended with Off," but Abdu said that wasn't it.)   We joked about it, as in, "Did you see the guy with the camel?  I nearly had to drop an emshee on him," but we never used it in public.

My husband, being a much nicer person than me, had a hard time brushing off the vendors, especially the children.  Whenever a little girl approached him he would smile his big gorgeous smile, and say, "No thank you, I'm so sorry," at which point the child would decide he was an easy mark and follow him for a quarter mile, shrieking, "Mister!  Mister, please!"

But at the pyramids, he had an inspiration.  When one of the vendors approached him, saying, "American?" he turned and blandly replied, "Je suis Francais."  (I am French.)

"Bon!" the man replied.  "Je parle Francais!"  (Great!  I speak French!)

Caught, he tried diversionary tactics.  "Yo quiero Taco Bell."

"Habla Espanol!" the vendor cried.

As my husband walked away, laughing, the man, also laughing, said (in English), "How about Turkish, eh?  You speak some Turkish?" and rattled off a string of what was, presumably, Turkish.  Because these vendors are so uneducated, you know, compared to the monoglot Americans.

Only much later did I realize I should have tried my Polish on the man.  I still know how to say, 'go to bed!" in Polish, and also, um, 'emshee.'

My husband by the smallest of the three Giza pyramids.  Yep, they're really that big.  Note the smooth facing stones at the bottom.  Most of the facing stones fell off the pyramids in an earthquake.  In 1300 A.D.