We Four in Egypt

Now back in the US!

A tale of two taxi drivers

“Are you krees – tee – un?”

I worked late on Thursday, til 9pm, and took a taxi home in lieu of the metro. I hear it’s quite safe even at night, and Cairo is considered a safe place for women to walk alone most times of day or night (you may get verbally harassed, but you won’t get mugged or assaulted), but I decided to forgo experiencing this for myself.

So I hailed a cab downtown, and almost right away the driver asked me, a couple of times, “Are you krees – tee – un?” before I finally understood he was asking me if I was Christian, a pretty safe bet to make of a white foreigner.

But it’s not a question I hear very often, and I was flummoxed. Technically, no. And in the US, I would answer no. But why was this guy asking me this? Because in the sense of how I was raised, I am Christian (Catholic, actually). So, tentatively, I said (much to my own surprise), “Yes.” Then he told me he was Christian.

Ah-ha! He was trying to find common ground. He said something like, “Ramadan no,” and I said, “That’s right. We eat all day.”

He also asked me how much I’d pay for him for the ride. That’s a big no-no in Cairo’s taxi-land. The passenger is expected to know a fair fare (ha ha) for the ride, and that’s what the driver expects to be paid. No meters, no conversation, nothing. I knew a fair price for my ride was about 25LE, or even 18-20LE at non-busy times. So I offered, “20?” I should have been more confident. He said no, so I fussed and grabbed the door handle and said I was getting out. He found this amusing and retorted, “25.” Deal!

That was pretty much the entirety of our conversations. But he was a nice guy. He didn’t know my part of town very well, and I was having a hard time recognizing landmarks in the dark, so we went a round-about way to get to my building. I actually paid him 30LE, about $5.35. Not shockingly generous, but money goes a long way here. And he was a really nice guy. I was glad I fibbed my way through his original question.

Fast forward to Friday night. Our family was invited to a (new) friend’s house for dinner. She lives near us, but in a different area of town. She gave me directions, when usually I just tell the driver our destination. The other complication was that it was just before dusk, meaning just before iftar. Meaning there was a good chance most drivers hadn’t eaten for over twelve hours. The roads were already pretty empty, as most folks were home for iftar, and we felt lucky to get a taxi at all.

In attempting to direct the taxi, however, we got close but missed the street. And, surprisingly, the driver didn’t know how to find the street we wanted, a pretty significant one. He got increasingly frustrated, as did we. We own mobile phones here, but they’re not set up yet (two different processes here), so we had no way of calling our friends for clarification. Plus we couldn’t really talk to the driver. As he grew even more agitated, Mr. Four suggested we got out of the taxi and go home. The driver was a little bit scary.

Finally, we did get out. But not before the driver was swearing and yelling at us. I have never been so glad not to understand a language. His message was coming through loud and clear, even sans details.

I also knew that whatever we paid him (because I had the small bills at that point) would not be enough. So when we were all out of the cab and firmly on the sidewalk, I told Mr. Four to start walking with the kids, and I gave the driver 7LE, a more than fair fare. He yelled and screamed and swore (we recognized some choice English words) and then he drove off.

Ugh. Mr Four and I were a bit stressed. But we finally oriented ourselves and started walking, only to discover we were about two blocks from our friend’s apartment. And they were so great, we got over it. But, wow, I really hope never to see that man again.

Now, I’m going to cheat and tell you about a third driver, the one who attempted to teach me basic navigational Arabic on the short ride from the metro to my house (3LE). I can’t remember any of it now, but he had me practicing left, right, stop, etc. He was an excellent ambassador.

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23 September 2007 - Posted by | our life in egypt, transportation

3 Comments

  1. I just got a cab ride yesterday (in Raleigh) from an Egyptian Coptic Christian. He took me to the airport (don’t ask about my car…) Fortunately there was no mystery about the fare, but he did want to follow a different route than I suggested. He came from near Cairo to Queens and somehow ended up in Raleigh. He misses the food from home, but said they make it at his church for special occasions. Who knew there was a Coptic church in Raleigh?

    Comment by Monica | 23 September 2007

  2. All three of your experiences are pretty common. When I lived in Cairo over the summer I experienced all three at one time or another. An ability to converse with the taxi drivers can make a world of difference even if it is in a small way, not to mention it may soften the negotiations once you get to your destination. The most common things I would ask about would be their family especially children and who they support in local futbol (el Ahly or Zamalek). Obviously it will depend from driver to driver how much conversation they like with women, but most are surprised and intrigued when a white foreign woman attempts to converse with them in Arabic. Good luck

    Comment by David | 25 September 2007

  3. I know, when I first arrived in Egypt, I always wanted to run and hide whenever they got “emotional”, and they get emotional on an hourly basis. But after a while, I just ignored it and tried my best to keep out of harm’s way – okay, and sometimes I snap back (that often works, when an expat snaps back at them, it’s like they don’t expect us to do such things? hehehe). Sometimes it’s difficult, but you’ll get the hang of it soon! 🙂

    Comment by Blabarella | 26 September 2007


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