So you’ve decided to become a merchant selling to tourists in Egypt? Wonderful! Welcome to an exciting international life of bonhomie, interesting conversations, and the possibility of great wealth. Here are the rules yoù must live by to make a success of it.
1. Talk to them. Every obvious foreigner must be stopped on the street, by force if necessary (standing in their way and grasping an arm, leading into a firm hanshake, is the preferred method) and engaged in conversation. You must ask their name, although it is not necessary (or desirable) to remember these; addressing the tourist as “Hello Mister’, or better still by nationality (‘Hello Mister English’) is much better. Remember: they get stopped 100 times an hour, but they secretly love it.
2. Learn their national idioms. Most tourists only stay a few days, so when you say ‘Lovely jubbly’ to a South Londoner they will not realise that 100,000 Egyptian tour guides have been taught this phrase. Nor will they question the fact that you have a friend in Yorkshire and that your wife’s family is from Surrey. On the contrary, they will adore you for it.
3. Tea. You’ve got to have tea. Carry cheap Lipton teabags everywhere and invite tourists to tea at the drop of a hat. It is amazing how often a 2p teabag can produce the sense of obligation needed to separate a tourist from the $100 in his pocket on the spot.
4. Hide your merchandise in hard-to-reach places. When a tourist expresses interest, this enables you to demonstrate great effort in giving customer service: you will appear to be reaching up to high shelves, diving under tables etc, all in an apparent desire to give the best possible attention to the tourist.
5. The ‘camel gambit’ – offering camels in exchange for the tourist’s wife / girlfriend / sister – has lost currency recently, owing to heavy inflation: offering less than 200 camels seems to produce no interest these days. Only engage the camel gambit if you’re a) a really credible liar, or b) you’re really bored of your camels.
6. Remember: if you really want to make a sale, it is vitally important that your daughter is getting married tomorrow, and that today’s shop profits will all go to offset her wedding costs, so the tourist will be saving an entire family with his purchase. It is not necessary to have a daughter for this gambit.
7. Making a sale is just the start. If the tourist walks away with his purchase, you have failed. He must be persuaded to visit / take tea with / contribute to the daughters’ weddings of all the other merchants in your souq, and if possible other souqs as well.
8. Remember, any comment at all from the tourist indicates desire to purchase. Utterances such as ‘The papyrus is very colourful / the perfume smells wonderful / the model Tuthankamen mask isn’t really right for my lounge’ should all be taken as synonyms for ‘I would like to pay you a great deal of money right now.’
9. Refusal to buy from you is of course extremely rude, and must be met with loud cries of hurt indignation, which should continue down the street, following him if necessary, until he is out of earshot. This of course signals the presence of a target to your brother merchants, giving you credos in the absence of profit.
10. And if all that doesn’t work for you, your mosque has some excellent preachings that will focus your mind wonderfully on what we should really be doing with Westerners. Allah akhbar!