As always, we enjoyed our recent Nile cruise, including an intrepid salesman who braved the fast currents of the Nile River at Esna (because of the High Dam, the river now has a series of locks and dams at Esna). The oarsman pulled up parallel with the boat and the hawker began yelling at the side of the ship: “Hello! Ola! Salaam! Bonjour!” Of course, the sundeck was full of tourists watching the ship go through the lock, so everyone looked over the side and I stuck my head out the window of my stateroom. From there, he began tossing merchandise up to the various prospective buyers. This guy should play American professional football – he has the aim and the arm of <insert the name of any famous NFL quarterback here>!
He catches my eye in between haggling with a group of Chinese tourists on the sundeck and a Russian man two floors down and to my left. “Hey, lady, where you from?”
I lie and say I’m from Canada. “Ah, Canada Dry!” I smile and nod.
The first thing I get is a plastic sack containing a truly hideous black and orange beach towel with a print of the pyramids embossed on it. I don’t want it, but he insists I keep it. He then tosses up a bag with a lovely printed scarf, and I yell down, “Yes to the scarf. More!”
“What color you want? You want red? Yellow? You want blue? I make good price for you!”
“Yes, blue – throw some blue scarves!” Up come some more scarves in assorted colors. I choose what I want and tie them to the railing so he can see what I’ve kept.
“Hey, lady… you want tablecloth?” A tablecloth and 12 napkins came sailing into my room. (I swear, this guy is an Egyptian Joe Montana… actually, better than Joe, since this guy is throwing accurately from a standing position on the prow of a moving rowboat tied to the side of a cruise ship sailing down the raging Nile River.)
“No, I already have a tablecloth.” (As I had just bought a similar tablecloth at Philae Temple, I send the package zipping back down to the rowboat. My aim and my arm are not nearly as good as his, but I somehow manage – probably with divine intervention – to hit the rowboat and not the river.)
So now I have indicated I intend to keep some merchandise, and he’s ready to haggle. I look surreptitiously at Adel and ask what’s a good price for four scarves. He answers, “Two hundred Egyptian pounds.” I yell down to the man, “How much for four scarves?” as I gesture to the scarves I have tied to my balcony railing.
“Nine hundred pounds! I make good price for you!”
“Nine hundred pounds? No! Two hundred pounds!”
“Joe Montana” affects a look of sheer horror. He is scandalized that I would sully the reputation of his merchandise by offering this pittance, when his scarves are clearly worth four times this amount. But he’s no fool… he’s got me on a hook, and he’s willing to deal.
“OK, 500 pounds! You believe me… This is good price!”
I look over at Adel. He shakes his head. “Too much.”
I yell down again. “Two hundred pounds. No more!”
Now “Joe Montana” is beating his chest and looking like he will have a heart attack. “I make lower price. Now you must make higher price! I say ‘500’ and you say again ‘200’. You believe me. I make you a good price. Four hundred pounds!”
(Remember… all this is happening in passable English and he is simultaneously dealing with other buyers in at least two other languages. I swear, I think he’s even conversant in Mandarin.)
“Two hundred!” (I am wavering under the constant pressure of haggling but when I look over, Adel is still shaking his head.)
“OK, 250!” I look at Adel. He’s nodding. Two hundred and fifty Egyptian pounds is apparently an acceptable price for four scarves, and he whispers, “Put 50 more. This will make him happy. We want him to be happy.”
I put 300 Egyptian pounds into the cellophane bag with the hideous beach towel and drop it out the window, where “Joe Montana” neatly catches it one-handed. He swiftly counts the money, finds the extra 50 pounds (remember, in 2017, 50 EGP = $3.50), smiles a beatific smile, and bows to me. We have successfully haggled, I am happy, and he is happy. He is most grateful for the “tip” which wouldn’t even buy a small Starbucks back home. His shouts out his parting words to me as our ship heads through the lock and his oarsman is forced to release the lines holding it to the rowboat: “Thank you, Canada!”