Can I give you a business card?

After we were dropped off at our hotel, we were starving. As we were walking down the main street looking for a restaurant, a man started walking next to us and asking us who we were and where we were from (in English as we apparently do not pass for Egyptian :)). We politely told him that we really just wanted to go eat and that we were not interested in buying anything. He responded that perhaps he could just give us a business card from his shop around the corner. It turned out however, that he in fact did not have a business card, nor was his shop around the corner but he just wanted to draw us into his shop to sell us perfume.

The Gift

Coming back from dinner, we fell prey to this trick once more before we learned our lesson. We were stopped from entering our hotel by a young man roughly our age telling us (in English) that we were neighbors, as his store was in the same building as our hotel. We were exhausted but after speaking for a minute or two, he said, “just come quickly and I can give you my business card.” However, upon entering his store, which sold ancient Egyptian style paintings on papyrus paper, he started shuffling through the art, and quickly found a small piece, saying he would paint our names on it in hieroglyphics and give it to us as a gift.

This is one of those times where we should have stopped to think, you can’t run a business by giving out gifts, especially if you are so quick to make the best of “friends”. Instead, we were sitting down, drinking tea and “waiting for the ink to dry”. He then asked us, since he was studying art, if we could look at some of the paintings he had and let us know what we thought. This quickly turned into a process where he chose the pieces he thought we liked (as we were not very interested in the art and could sense where this was probably leading) and then set them aside. He then proceeded to paint our names on the two we/he had chosen, despite our insistent protests that we were very uncomfortable with him writing our names on art we did not want to buy.

The conversation then became more serious as he rolled up the three art pieces and put them into a tube, taping the top closed and handing it to us as if we had already bought it. He said that we were friends and he was not expecting us to “buy” the art at the price listed on the wall, which was boldly listed at $400. He instead said, “perhaps you can tell me what you think the two pieces are worth and what you would be willing to pay.” We frankly had no idea what they were worth, but we did know that we really did not want to buy something, so we somewhat reluctantly said $20 for both.

The $20 piece of art we ended up with. Note our names at the bottom.

His face noticeably changed when he heard the number, which was obviously much lower than he expected or desired. This led to a long, somewhat tense conversation where he told us they were worth far more and that he now could not sell them to anyone else and we responded that he had basically forced us into a position where we had to buy them and perhaps this was a lesson for him to not write names on art before a price was agreed upon (props to Caity for making that last point).  We finally left an hour after we entered, exhausted and on slightly less friendly terms, having paid $20 for one of the pictures (he took the other back but let us keep the “gift”).

We have since discovered that many of the salesmen in tourist heavy areas use a number of tactics to sell their wares to foreigners. First, every person seems to have either lived in the US or have family there, giving them a personal connection to us/our country. We have also had one person ask us where we were going and then inform us that the store “did not open for another forty minutes” (not true) so we might as well see what he has in his shop while we wait. And of course, everyone has a business card, which they conveniently forget to bring with them, but they will give it to us if we go to their shop.

Thankfully, we have only experienced such tactics in the areas that receive lots of tourist traffic. We have elsewhere been greeted with smiles, stories and invitations for tea, which in one case lead to a 30 minute conversation in a kitchen wares shop with the owner who also writes drama pieces for the local paper and whose nine year old son was nationally recognized for his poetry. Those are the conversations that we most enjoy, and he didn’t even have a business card :)

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