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note on baksheesh

William Golding notes in his excellent Egyptian Journal that over twenty years of visiting Egypt the immemorial begging for baksheesh diminished hugely. People got richer, tourists got more numerous, officialdom grew more aware and more effective at halting begging. I hardly notice it when I am around especially after I adopted the dead pan refusal to be annoyed in the street. Mostly.

But it remains one aspect that makes some people suffer. There is obvious corruption, both low and high level. People think they are the same but they aren’t. One is a small payment to speed things on their way, the other a sizeable Al Fayad style chunk of money designed to pervert the public good. Some think they are connected- I don’t. The baksheesh is a hangover of a feudal non-money centred society. The big bribe simply their version of lobbying, or big business doing what it does the world over. Sometimes, qute often, you are surprised to meet people who are utterly unbribable, perversely almost when I offered 10 sterling to a waiter (a weeks wages) to go and buy me some coffee from another shop (he was out of the stuff)- he wouldn’t. His job wasn’t at risk, he just wouldn’t do it. I’ve also seen people who refuse huge sums of money to have their photos taken living next door to people who let you photograph them for free or 10p for the kiddies. I suggest the dysfunctional state of the economy here is a result of people refusing to sell themselves quite as cheaply as we do in the West.

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