False Depictions of Haggling/“Beggars”


From the moment that I was still evaluating my choice to study abroad, up until I actually arrived in Egypt, students that had studied abroad here along with students from Egypt warned me about the culture of haggling and “beggars”. The continuous warnings I received all echoed the same tone of annoyance and frustration towards the shop owners that raised prices for foreigners and always tried to get them into their stores and towards the locals that are experiencing homelessness asking for money. I was told to ignore these people and just walk away or sternly tell them to get away from me. This “solution” never sat well with me because it felt inhumane, even in the annoyed descriptions I received from students it felt as though they were forgetting that they were talking about real people who must be struggling being in the positions that they are in. 

I absorbed all of the opinions and warnings I received from others, but kept an open mind for when I arrived and experienced it myself. Ever since being in Egypt, I have not once felt annoyed towards the haggling or the homeless individuals, but I have felt extremely guilty and sad within each interaction due to my inability to help all of them. The intensity of my guilt and sadness has been very overwhelming, especially because they are drastically different emotions from the warnings I got about what I would be feeling. Across the globe, there are heavy stigmas surrounding poverty and asking for assistance which has created a separation in most people’s minds between themselves, those not experiencing poverty or not experiencing it to certain degrees, and those who are experiencing it. This separation causes individuals to not extend the same amount of empathy and care towards those experiencing poverty compared to the empathy they extend to those who look like them, in this case financially. The lack of empathy and understanding then leads to the sole thought towards these individuals being that they are an inconvenience to the rest of the community. It broke my heart to witness people giving me warnings as if all of these people, whether they had a home or not, were not each human beings with entire lives and families of their own. There is so much more time spent whining about being inconvenienced by others rather than time spent discussing the individuals actually living those lives and the ways they are inconvenienced everyday, with “inconvenience” being an understatement for their experiences. 

I have now had various conversations with individuals who express annoyance towards the culture of haggling and locals experiencing homelessness asking for money, oftentimes these people have very rigid beliefs and don’t want to budge out of them. A simple way I have tried to get across to them is by creating relatability across both groups of people. For example, the majority of people who are well off financially, or at least have a place to live, often hate asking others for favors. There is a sense of embarrassment and societal judgment that is attached to asking for help. So, imagine the position one would have to be in to continuously put themselves out there requesting assistance from strangers everyday of the week. This bridge of relatability then opens the door to discussing the larger issues that have forced many communities to be in a constant state of survival, without any resources that would allow them to just “choose a different lifestyle”, which is one of the main arguments I have been met with. 

Although I can understand and relate to the overstimulation that can occur when shopping and also experiencing haggling or the anxiety when strangers come up to you in public, especially for women, I do believe it is necessary to extend understanding to the new culture you are experiencing in the same way the locals are trying to understand you as a foreigner. A huge aspect of this is understanding the economic situation of the majority of the population in the country you are visiting. For me, learning about the extreme rates of poverty in Egypt, the conditions that most locals live in, and the fact that so much of their income is based off of tourism allowed me to get rid of any potential of annoyance or frustration. Those emotions could not even cross my mind because I understood where these communities are coming from and that they are just trying to support their families and make a living in the best way they can. This mindset also allows frustration to shift towards the proper target that will motivate people to create change by understanding that these conditions exist due to systemic reasons and not personal choices.