I have been wrong before in this column over the years and I may well be wrong this time, but I feel that Cairo has become a more aggressive place. Do you?
Money, money, money. I hear this all the time, for every little thing.
Then there are those that speed and weave through traffic, flashing their headlights in a childish tantrum. Their day will come!
The dogs seem hungry and the street cats are more miserable than ever.
Baksheesh once had style. It was both a cultural necessity and it felt cool as you passed those few gineihs folded into a secret handshake.
But now I feel the hand is out and the social contract that was once sealed in that clasp is unraveling.
There are fewer smiles on the street I am sure. I possibly could be suffering a form of growing paranoia or I’ve been here too long and lost my sense of humor.
But the swagger of the working man; grateful for the food on his table and children at his feet, has lost his sense of humor too.
It is possibly because GNP per capita, $1,300, which is never going to be high given the over population of the Nile Valley, just isn’t making ends meet. Imagine if you can, living on LE 100 a week. Food, rent, gas and clothes. No wonder the cats look miserable.
I thought of trying it for this column, but I might wait until the weather warms up.
No one minds the baksheesh culture; it is the way things are done. In fact, acting like the pasha can be rather fun; pampered by the maitre de, a barman or the car pusher who takes care of your ride.
Not any more. Those offering a range of personal services are demanding more. Who can blame them? And they are finding that aggression helps them to get what they want.
Expatriates, like Israel’s foreign advisors, have known for years the value of shouting to get what you want in a country where language is the barrier.
Now Egyptians, who have a talent for cloning, have picked up on this personality defect.
I am sure my car is washed less than it once was. The car guys are not avoiding me, just withholding their services. They are on strike, I think.
It came to me at an ATM where I was exchanging foreign currency and the indomitable machine wouldn’t take my cash. A kindly stranger appeared, pushed the right button and the transaction was underway.
He demanded baksheesh. Which I guess technically isn’t baksheesh when it is demanded, but he got it.
The butcher should be baksheeshed, whether or not in a shop or at the supermarket counter. Let’s face it, he has the knife. But again, I am getting attitude from behind the chopping block.
During the food crisis last year, I wrote about the rising cost of taxi fare and an increase in shouting between driver and passenger over the fare; rightfully so. But I am sure a new aggressiveness is spreading wider.
I think Cairenes are learning from taxi drivers; they are hungrier for money than a few years ago. Desperation is hitting new lows.
Maybe it’s the winter when you sense it more and with the falling exchange rates you feel it more.
But LE 5 doesn’t register like it did. Eyes don’t light up. Ten is the new five and as for LE 1 and 50 piaster notes, their worth is as crumpled as the paper they are printed on.
Apart from the texture, LE 1 and 50 piaster notes are really smelly and I am sure they carry the gastroenteritis bug, fewer people want them.
My barber, the wine and ham delivery man, the electrician and the supermarket trolley guy all balked at my crisp fivers this week and I had to slink away.
I’ve always disliked the service in Egypt. That may be a bit strong, but I think good service is a quick efficient transaction, not fluffing and pampering. Now I am not getting either.
The streets do seem more desperate, there is not the charm and smile of a few years ago. The spring in the step has gone and those walking the streets have their eyes on the pavement and no longer walk like Egyptians.