Anti-Tout Bootcamp: Egypt Edition

The last days I spent amid the sands of sun-parched Egypt, I was in the tourist capital of Luxor doing two very important things: a) enjoying ancient history to the point of mental illness, like I always do, and b) conducting a groundbreaking scientific study on which strategies are the best for turning away Egyptian hawkers, with me as both the subject and tester. Pursuit A can simply be discussed through pictures and captions, but B deserves a complete exposition for the sake of expanding humanity’s knowledge base and the future well-being of unwitting tourists who will need to cross 500 meters of infested Egyptian boardwalk without breaking down in tears or going to jail for assault. I came close to both, so there’s no need for anyone else to suffer! My paper on the experience will be coming to a scientific journal near you soon, but until then I’ve reproduced the meat of it on my blog for your convenience.

Below are five rigorously-tested tactics to parry the verbal advances of the dreaded Tout, ranked on a scale of 3, estimated for average time consumption by seconds, and accompanied by a helpful explanation. And all of these methods were accompanied by a purposeful forward walking speed, without any unnecessary stopping along the way. If I had stood still, they would still be holding me up today.

Oh, and ground rule number one: TRUST NO ONE.

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“No Thank You”:
 ♠ ♠ ♠ 5 seconds
By far the best way to shut down a tout without a struggle, a simple “no thank you” with a determined stride forward will have you freed up quickly. Giving eye contact to the man will add at least five more seconds to the situation, as he will then think you are instantly more persuadable. Just look ahead, give him the Arabic “La Shukran”, and keep marching. Arabic is the key here—throw in a “Khalas!” (Enough!) if he persists and you’re good as gold.

Silence: ♠ 30 seconds
Maybe not saying anything to a random man who wants to sell you shit you don’t want is your instinctive reaction due to annoyance or shyness, but this tactic really doesn’t work as well as the first, especially if you’re alone. By not talking back, the tout believes you are listening to him — like you’re his freaking psychologist! So he will give you the full run-down of his marginal services and will only leave once he is tired of talking or has gone beyond his general selling turf. Looking at him in the eye will double your wasted time to a minute, easily, because then you really seem sympathetic to his pathetic deals.

Whistling like R2D2: ♠ 20 seconds
One day, the sun fried my brain so much that I thought I was a three-legged servitor-bot from Tatooine.  So, how does the average hawker handle modulating whistles as answers to questions? He doesn’t handle them: he becomes confused and the remaining grey matter in his crusty skull lights on fire. Some of his ilk may instantly back off from you, others may look at you like you are insane—let’s face it, you kind of are—but nobody will play along and have a nice old robo-chat with you. Thus, if you’re at the edge of madness and you’re good at whistling or love Star Wars, this is a potential option.

Insulting the Person: Varies Depending on Whether Mother is Mentioned and/or Occurrence of Physical Conflict
Every male tourist out there feels some sort of aggression when exposed to persistent touts, but please gentlemen, just bottle that fury up and tear a pillow apart with your bare hands back at the Four Seasons. You get three per bed there, anyway! Trading insults only happens when you can’t control yourself, which is a sign of a person of poor character, like me. I did this twice on my trip. I mentioned the first time a few posts ago, and the second was after a full day of hawkers asking me if I wanted to buy marijuana. Now, how could this make you crazy? Well, if being profiled ceaselessly for an illegal product that somehow all of your friends avoid being offered doesn’t make you grumpy, just imagine this whispered into your ear about 20 times a day in horrible Eengleesh:

SMOK MAREEWAANA?
HAASHEESH?
DA MAREEWAANA?

DA HAASHEESH?
YOU WAN
HAASHEESH?
SMOK DA MAREEWAANA?
YOU LIKE HAASHEESH?
GOOD PRIGHS HAASHEESH?
YES MAREEWAANA? YES HAASHEESH?

Therefore, it was only natural that I answered one group of offending young hawkers by pointing a finger and declaring “You all smoke too much marijuana.”

They got angry. “YOU DIE!” came from one of the teens, to which I turned around and responded “YOU DIE! YOU DIE!” with a ridiculous accent, flailing my arms about like a fool. Luckily, no fight happened, but I probably just created three new members of a Westerner head-sawing terrorist cell that will be declaring jihad on The Imperialistic Great Satan as soon as they get enough cash for plane tickets to Pakistan. My bad.

The point is this: try not to get in a spar with a hawker. Especially do not mention anything related to Islam or their mothers. In that case, they’ll forget all about selling you that camel ride and probably offer you a neck-choking for free.

Talking About Particle Physics Education: 900 seconds
The final tactic involves taking a hawker and, with full eye contact, hand gestures, and expressions, delivering a riveting lecture on the mysteries of particle physics one quark and boson at a time. You can dive into any aspect of the field you feel is most valuable for a carriage ride salesman; I personally chose a discussion of the Large Hadron Collider and opportunities for international cooperative research on studying particle collision. Well, the fellow was rapt for about ten full minutes, walking a full kilometer with me and trying to add some irrelevant point about “Is very cheap” right when I was pontificating about recent efforts to detect the Higgs Boson at CERN. Once I’d made the basics of the field known, I recommended that he scrap his carriage business and use the cash for a bachelor’s in Physics at an esteemed European university. “With hard work,” I said, “you can even land an internship in Switzerland with the world’s best physicists!”

Well folks, this may not be the best way to shed a vexatious hawker, but if you want some interesting entertainment for fifteen minutes, spread the joy of physics to a tout. If you’re lucky, he’ll be so bothered by your deep questions, he’ll never talk to tourists ever again!

There you have my hard-earned research and all its illuminations for you, ready to be used by any future traveler to this fascinating country. If someone gives the “uhhhh” method a try–after every statement say uhhhh–I’d love to know how that goes, so please message me with any statistical analysis and/or results.

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