Sunday, 28 February 2010

Learning from Experience or Egyptian Entrepreneurship

1. A well-dressed and friendly man approached J and me as we were walking towards the entrance of Cairo’s Egyptian Museum. He introduced himself as a director of the museum, Dr. A, and we chatted for a few minutes. Unfortunately, he said, during prayer time, some tills were unmanned and the museum was now and for another 45 minutes open to groups only. We could walk about in the surrounding streets, he suggested. There was much to see, he said. He recommended a visit to the “government bazaar” that was right opposite the museum. Both his wife and his mother, he added, liked to shop there.

I knew that there was no way out once J heard the word bazaar. The friendly Egyptian showed us where we should cross the very busy road. I actually enjoy negotiating the crazy Cairo traffic but our friend insisted on crossing the road with us. We were, by now, accustomed to the friendliness of the Egyptians although I became somewhat suspicious as he continued to the point of handing us over to the man at the entrance of the shop. The “government bazaar” turned out to be an ordinary souvenir shop that like all such shops in Egypt has a government license.

An hour later, as we made our way to the museum, I suggested to J that not only had this been a ploy to divert us to the store but that there was actually no break in the opening hours of the museum. I was right; J was full of admiration for Egyptian entrepreneurship.

2. A couple of days later, as we were walking towards the Sultan Hassan and Refa’i mosques, another man approached us. The mosques, he said, were closed to non-prayers in the coming hour. He suggested that we might want to visit another mosque just around the corner. He was a music teacher, he said and was neither a tourist guide nor did he expect us to tip him. He simply enjoyed practicing his English and would gladly accompany us to “his” mosque.

We thanked him for the information but decided not to accompany him. Instead, we continued on our way to the “closed” mosques. The mosques were open to visitors and – not to our surprise - had no prayer breaks at all.


  1. Kompliment den beiden ägyptischen Geschäftsleuten. Sehe es wie J, tüchtige Burschen. Habe ähnliches in Kairo erlebt. Für die orientalische Mentalität sind wir Nordeuropäer ganz offensichtlich zu dumm, oder sagen wir besser, zu naiv.

  2. vielen Dank für Deinen lustigen Bericht. Sowas passiert halt, wenn man potente Käufer vermutet. Ich blieb von solchen Sachen weitgehend verschont als ich in Ägypten war; aber das ist schon einige Jahre her.

  3. Cair(ans) sound like Neapolitans - the product of the vicissitudes of history and the wit of survival. Even if you get conned, you cannot but admire. Nothing much to do with religion I guess - would a Cairan find a kindred spirit in Naples, or Mecca?

    Tutto il mondo e paese - ma non uno.

  4. If I don’t get there soon, I’ll have to discover the new entrepreneurial trick the hard way.

  5. dein blog ist mir immer ein vergnügen.

  6. Hi,

    The same scam is very popular in India as well. Human Entrepreneurship might be very creative, but good ideas are both sparse and universal. I'm not sure if in the con market they are exported/imported, or simply discovered.

    As a service to the public, I'd like to advertise a very popular Paris scam: Free Gold Ring. You can read about it here:

    As for myself and my father, we lost about 6 Euro during my last visit to Paris. In this visit i just observe the dally attempts on the streets...

  7. מענין - אם כי לגמרי לא מפתיע. ממש כמו בהודו