One of the day to day normalities of life in Egypt that can cause much stress to first time visitors, is the question of “baksheesh” (tipping).
Not only does it add unforseen costs to the budget at every turn, but it tends to annoy and irritate at every turn.
What is helpful is to have a total paradigm shift of the norm in “your country”! The immediate thinking when a hand is held out, or you are given the “look”, or the person lingers at the exit door is…
- That is what they are being paid to do!
- Why should I tip them? It is part of their job!
- We only tip waiters back home.
- We usually only ever tip in a sit-down restaurant!
- But the bill already includes a 10% service charge!
WHY THIS PERVASIVE SOCIAL NORM?
Many of us make assumptions based on what happens in our own countries. One of the first is that people here are being “paid” for their jobs so should not need extra money from us just for doing their jobs. Well, sometimes they are paid and sometimes they depend on these tips as their only source of income.
However the basic stipulated wage is frighteningly low, and with the usual large families this culture embraces, most men try and work 2 jobs in an attempt to get enough money for food and schooling.
Some “doormen” are given accomodation in exchange for work, so need every “guinea” (Egyptian pound) that they can possible get: your tips are their livelihood.
And the “service charge” on the bill does not actually go to those who have provided service. It is simply an extra add-on that goes straight into the till. The waiters themselves are usually paid a very small salary, and look to customers to supplement this meager income.
So yes, it is expected, indeed almost compulsory… for you as a foreigner and even Egyptians themselves! But understand that a small tip can make a big difference to an individual and his family.
Some have said that we continue this cycle of begging/dependency by tipping everyone everywhere, but the weak economy, the high unemployment and the staggering surplus labour are all massive issues which will take many years to resolve.
CONSIDER IT AN ACT OF CHARITY:
Instead of getting angry and irritated at every exit and entrance, rather take this “tipping” culture as an act of charity. Understand that as a foreigner who has flown into Egypt, and is a tourist, you are far wealthier than most of the population of this country. Their incomes are way below yours, their housing, education, clothing, food are nothing near yours. So be kind, generous and give out a few coins as you go along, knowing that it will help a family.
WHEN AND HOW TO TIP:
For any basic level service (opening doors, rubbish collection person, shoe keeper at the mosque, use of bathroom) 1 – 2 le a time. If you are in a high tourist area, or upper class hotel, perhaps more.
Restaurants: 5 le per customer (again depending on the restaurant and the total bill!)
Delivery man: 2 – 5 le
Tourist drivers and tour guides: they usually get an additional 10 – 15 percent of charge as a personal tip. But check this out with your trip co-ordinator if you are uncertain.
Person carrying your bags: 2 – 5 le (depending on how many bags and what class /mode of transport you have taken!)
Of course if you are very pleased with someone’s service, you are welcome to give larger amounts. If you see someone begging on the streets and you would like to give, again, you are most welcome. But do take care not to flash too much cash, as there could be eyes watching. Keep your tipping coins and notes in a separate pocket or wallet.
Watch other Egyptians and see how they hand over the tip: discreetly and with respect. So be subtle and considerate in the way you tip.
WHEN NOT TO TIP:
If people are hassling you (and sometimes in the high tourist areas you may find this) you do not have to tip anything. Also, if the service has been really bad, then again, don’t feel you have to. There is a balance between not offending people by not tipping, and being taken advantage of! But be happy with your decision either way!
If you have the joy of visiting some of the rural areas, there is less of an expectation for tipping. They just love having you in their homes and villages. So if you offer a tip, it may be refused. Sometimes they forbid their children to take money from you. If this is the case, a small gift would be more appropriate: a lovely cake from a nearby patisseri, an item of clothing for the children, some stationary for school. The giving and receiving of gifts in the rural areas is something with which they are familiar, enjoy and appreciate.
So we encourage you to keep a sense of perspective, and along with lots of small change, bring a lot of patience with you!
Give with a cheerful heart…
and don’t let the cost of a few dollars a day ruin your holiday!