Hello my friend game. Northern Africa
The hello my friend game – Northern Africa
At the time of this writing (February 2014) there have not been the usual amounts of tourists in Morocco, Tunisia or Egypt – which means for you fellow backpacker, that there are many more “tourist guides” then there are tourists. It is almost impossible to walk down the street as a solo female backpacker without being accosted by several local business men – and I call them business men because they are all business.
It goes like this – you leave your hostel and walk down the street to just go and see the city, or grab something to eat, and in the first 2 minutes you are approached by a friendly, smiling man asking you “Where are you from my friend?” which seems harmless enough right? Yea, then he gently says to you, “Come my friend, let me offer you some tea” – and if you refuse, the next thing you hear is “Oh please, do not insult me, it is my tradition, my way – come please, have a tea with me, I want to welcome you to Alaska” (which is a common joke in Cairo Egypt). If you do agree, what happens next is this man will take you into some shop (usually selling perfumes, art, and a range of other things) and have you sit down while he prepares some tea. After he serves you tea, then comes the sales pitches- and they are good- really, really good. They will try to sell you anything.
When you are a backpacker, not a traditional come to visit a city and go home tourist, you have no intention usually of picking up items that one, you don’t need, and two, won’t fit in your pack anyway. I understand that people need to make a living and can definitely respect this, but after hearing this same thing over and over and hoping that one of them- just one- would actually like to sit and just talk about their city or ask about yours without this ever happening. . . for me, was a turn off. I have learned now to politely ignore these business men and just keep moving on to explore the city without being asked to buy something more, and that when I walk with someone else and not alone it happens less frequently.
There was one time in Morocco where I was taken on a “tour” in which I was promised to be shown the palace, where the Berber people made their handicrafts, and through the maze of alley ways and coffee houses in the old city. On this “tour” what I was taken to was shop after shop after shop in which many different people tried to sell me many different things. After telling my “tour guide” over and over again that I was not interested in buying anything other than the price of the tour to see the city, I finally did buy something – a gift for my sailing mate and his boat. I then told the man that this gift would be the only thing I would buy, and to please show me the city as that is what I paid for.
And guess what happened next? The tour was suddenly over- once we got into the car we headed straight back to the marina where the boat was docked. No palace, no nothing that was promised which was quite a disappointment. I later learned that these “guides” are earning commissions from the stores on everything a tourist that they bring there buys, and their only intention is to get you to spend money, not to show you their beautiful country…
First, it’s not the time to travel alone in Egypt as a female backpacker apparently unless you want to play the hello my friend game (I was never approached again after I started traveling with Fabrice, a gentleman I picked up at the Dahab hostel who ended up being loads of fun along with agreeing to be filmed for the Spare Some Change Tour. You can meet him here 🙂
Second, to be weary of “tour guides” when your packing, and do what you usually do and go your own way.