Why Egypt is not a cheap place to live
Egypt is a considerably cheap country compared to other places, like The United Arab Emirates or The United States. However, what a lot of people don’t realize is how the Egyptian culture actually makes living in Egypt rather costly. While we might spend less on food and housing in comparison to others, we have a lot of hidden, unnoticeable costs that we are socially obligated to abide by. These costs are so embedded in our culture that most of us rarely notice them anymore -but that doesn’t deny their existence.
So if you’re an Egyptian, prepare to suddenly notice a lot of payments that you don’t have to make. And if you’re someone planning to live in Egypt because it’s cheap, prepare to consider changing your mind.
You’re frustrated after driving for two hours on the ring road and finally reach the cafe your friends are at. You find a parking space and park. You’re gathering your things and get out of the car to find a random guy waiting next to your door. He will say something like “mashy ya basha” or “tamam keda ya sett el koll”.
Guess what? You have to pay him when you’re leaving. Actually, if he’s pushy, you will have to pay him then and there, even though he didn’t do anything.
The concept of the sayes probably only exists in Egypt. In fact, I don’t even think there’s a translation to the word sayes, because no other country has this weird phenomenon. He doesn’t do anything except stand next to your car when you’re parking and when you’re leaving, and he expects money. And if you don’t pay him, he will get pissed off and may even tell you or show you how much he’s pissed. Actually, in some cases, if he asks for money as soon as you park and you refuse, he might slash your tyres or damage your car. And if you ask him how it happened, he will claim not to know anything about it. Don’t believe me? Ask around.
“But, Mona! He did help me park! Why are you spreading lies about Egypt?”
Oh, you mean he helped you when he stood behind your car as you were hitting reverse and yelled “baaaaaas!” when you bumped the car behind you? Yeah, that sounds like a legit career.
I have to admit that in 0.0001% of cases, he might actually help someone park. But that would require work on his part, so he saves it for when he’s in the mood. Other than that, he’s probably making hundreds of pounds a day just by standing in the street. Entrepreneurship at its best, yes?
It may not seem a lot to you to have to pay two or three pounds. You might think he’s poor, even though he probably makes more money than you. But think about it. Let’s say you run into three of them a day and pay each one three pounds. This means that you’re paying 9 pounds a day, which is still not much. Calculate that in a month and that’s about 279 pounds, a bit more but not entirely unreasonable.. Calculate that in a year and it’s 3348 pounds.
Bear in mind that I am making the most minor calculations possible here. You may run into more than three per day. Better yet, you may run into the ones who monopolize part of the street, claim its theirs and charge you five or ten pounds to park in their spot. We’re all probably paying about 5000 pounds a year over this.
One of the many disadvantages in this country is the need to tip every single person you come across. Travelling? Rest assured, someone will grab your bag and carry it for you. And yes, I said “grab”, not “offer to carry”. It’s not your choice; you should let the nice man do his “job”. And what a wonderful situation it is when you’re travelling abroad and have no Egyptian money on you. What I usually do is quickly pull my bag away from his firm grip and tell him that I have no money. He then drops the bag without so much as a “no problem” and wanders off to find his next victim.
The same scenario applies to people putting your groceries in a plastic bag, people opening doors for you, people handing you tissues after you wash your hands (don’t even get me started on how creepy that is)..the list is endless, really. It’s basically a list of people who wait on you hand and foot, even though you can do the things they’re doing yourself.
The problem is, we can only blame the people to a certain extent. Yes, they choose to make you feel obligated to tip them, but it’s not really their fault. I’m not a cheap person; I will tip someone if they help me..but there’s a limit to how many people I can afford to tip.
The concept of tipping is universal; everyone tips waiters and hotel clerks, but the concept of tipping for things that people can do by themselves is something Egyptians have maximized all on their own. So it’s everyone’s fault, really.
Furthermore, you’ve got a lot of greedy business owners who hire people to work these shitty jobs like handing people tissues at the bathroom and not pay them enough. You’ve also got a government that pay all its employees close to nothing. You, a normal, ordinary and not at all rich person, are then obligated to pay the money they are supposed to be paying in the form of tips. Because, let’s face it; sometimes it’s just out of compassion. Other times, like the guy at the airport, it’s them taking advantage of people.
Again, let’s make some calculations. Let’s say you tip one of these people two pounds three times a week; that’s 6 pounds per week. That’s 186 pounds per month and 2232 pounds per year.
Bottom line is, you’re paying about 2232 pounds a year just because some snobby rich bastards in power do not want to pay their employees properly.
You have just enjoyed a happy occasion. You got a new car, bought a house, got engaged, got married, had a baby or graduated from university. You may have just spent a shitload of money already (on the car, the marriage or engagement ceremony, or buying baby stuff).
Now, get prepared to spend a lot more money.
You will now have to pay every single lower class person around you. Your doorman, your driver, your security guard, the cleaning lady, the man who cleans your car, the doorman at work and any other person applicable or any other person who found out about your happy occasion.
This, I believe, is because of a mix of two reasons. One of them is the presence of the concept of the halawa, meaning that you should share your happiness with everyone around you -in the form of money.
I was once sent to school to pick up my fifth grade final exam results. I was in the fifth grade; so bear in mind how young I was. A group of school nannies then crowded around me, even though I had never seen them before, and demanded their halawa. Confused and alone, I asked them what they meant. They told me they wanted money. I checked my pockets; I literally had nothing in my pockets except an old Nokia cellphone that was a hand-me-down from my mother. I had nothing else because I was just required to go to school, pick up my results, and go back to the driver so that I could go home. I told them I had nothing, but they only agreed to “allow” me to go after ten agonizing minutes of demanding money. Call me crazy, but looking back, it seems insane and incredibly mean to try and take advantage of someone so young.
The second concept here is the concept of the evil eye. It is the common belief that if you do not give someone money, they may just cast the evil eye on you. How many times have you seen someone compliment your new car and have it crash the very same day? Scratch that, how many times have you accidentally dropped a pizza slice after one of your friends commented on how delicious it looked?
I’m not afraid to say that I am a firm believer in the evil eye, because I’ve seen the concept of 7asad (envy) happen right before my eyes more times than I can count. Egyptians are expert at envy. It’s like each Egyptian is handed a magic evil eye wand as soon as they are born.
So, how it works is that you pay a lot of money to make the less fortunate around you happy enough not to cast an evil eye upon you. It may sound ridiculous to some, but it happens. Ask any Egyptian.
This will not be easy to calculate, but let me try. These occasions do not happen often. Let’s say they happen about once every two years. Think of all the occasions you go through; it doesn’t have to concern you directly, it may be your brother getting married, or your mother buying a new car. So when this occasion happens, you will pay an average of 5 people, about a hundred pounds each. Again, I am using minimal calculation here; chances are you will pay more people and pay them more than a hundred pounds.
Even with my minimal calculations, that’s 500 pounds every two years. 250 per year.
You’re eating at a cafe with friends or family, and you’re sitting in the outdoor area. You’re enjoying your pasta and the good weather when a young child in dirty clothes comes and begs. You politely tell her to leave you alone and mumble a few religious phrases telling her that God will give her everything she wants in life.
She doesn’t leave.
She won’t leave until you give her money, simple as that. She stands there, looking at your food and making you extremely uncomfortable.
You should feel sorry for the child, not because she’s poor, but because all the money she collects either goes to the gang of beggars who hired her or she just uses it to buy drugs.
Nevertheless, you are forced to give her a few pounds to be able to enjoy the rest of your day. Even though that child should probably be in school, or grown up beggars who do the same thing should go off and actually work for a living.
Let’s say you meet five of those beggars per week. You pay each one two pounds. You’re paying ten pounds per week, 310 pounds per month and 3720 per year.
The total cost?
3348 + 2232 + 250 + 3720 = 9550 EGP/Year.
Let’s just round that up to 10,000 pounds every year. And that’s just the best case scenario.
Imagine if that money were in your savings account.
I have nothing to say beyond this point. Enjoy living in Egypt!