Photo by Marcodede
Sharm El Shiek is an Egyptian city that exists purely because of tourism.
With the average wage for most Egyptian men (there are almost no Egyptian women in Sharm) being around a measly 60 – 100 USD per month, they inevitably turn to taking advantage of the tourists in order to make a living.
And they do it well.
The first night we arrived, we went for a walk in the market and were quickly accosted. The Egyptian sales method is cunning and very aggressive.
A little observation revealed a distinct pattern:
- Friendly greeting – The salesman / scammer calls a friendly greeting towards you -“Hello my friend!” By ignoring this you are made to feel guilty and / or rude. The goal is simply to get you to respond, thus leading to….
- The handshake – Once you’ve responded to a greeting the next step is to shake your hand and engage you in conversation. At this point it is even more difficult to disengage, the scammer knows this and will quickly follow it up with a series of rapid fire questions and comments all designed to gain small commitments.
- Build rapport – Next the scammer will attempt to find out as much information about you as possible. Where are you from? How long have you been here? Etc. He will also take any opportunity to pay you (or your partner) compliments. The purpose being to ingratiate himself with you and burden you with a feeling of obligation.
- Ask you to look at his goods – After you’ve gone through the first inevitable steps you are now at the point where you will be asked to look at his store. By this point you will be feeling engaged, obligated and predisposed towards the salesperson. A ripe target for buying overpriced junk.
Sam the Strategic Hustler
During the trip we couldn’t go anywhere without being constantly harassed. This left us feeling constantly on edge and unable to relax.
The hotel porters and cleaners were no different. They would be excessively friendly and helpful, but all with the ulterior motive of receiving a big tip. It felt like everyone was out to scam you.
The only different person was Sam. He was a well-spoken and friendly photographer and photoshop guru sitting near the entrance. His business was taking glamorous photos of guests and then photoshopping any blemishes and printing or putting them on CDs.
He was usually sitting at his PC and I would talk to him every time we walked past. Being a bit of a computer geek and football fan we instantly had things in common. I enjoyed his conversation and often asked him questions about the country and culture. Another thing I really liked about Sam was that while I asked him questions about his business, he ever tried to sell me anything and didn’t talk about his business, unless I first asked about it.
On our last night I decided it would be nice for my girlfriend to have a professional photo done as a keepsake of our trip and adventures. And I figured my good mate Sam would look after us with a sweet deal and I could leave him a generous tip for his kindness.
Sam quickly agreed and told us to get dressed up for the occasion and come down after dinner. I only wanted a photo or two but figured he knew what he was doing. Sam led us to various picturesque locations around the hotel and proceeded to take photos of us (in really stupid poses I may add, and no you’re not seeing the photos!) for about an hour.
After this we sat at his PC and selected the best photos, to which he worked his photoshop magic on. Another hour later he printed one off and burnt the rest to CD for me.
I magnanimously pulled out my wallet expecting to pay a certain amount, thinking I would generously give him double as a tip, reasoning that what I earn in an hour would be close to a week’s wages for him.
I’d asked him about his pricing before but naively did not discuss any sort of price beforehand and when he told me that it would be over 5 times what I expected to pay I was totally shocked.
The money wasn’t an issue. The price he was asking was still much cheaper then I could get the same service for in Australia or England. What sent me reeling was firstly, the feeling of betrayal, and secondly, the realisation that I had just been totally duped.
After some negotiation I ended up paying him about half of what he asked, not a great deal of money but still a very tidy profit for him I’m sure. That night I went to bed with a heavy heart, feeling like I’d been totally suckered.
With time, comes reflection. After the initial emotional reaction I began to think about the situation objectively. Eventually I began to see things in a new light and developed a great respect for Sam.
Whether or not we were truly friends was irrelevant – I was a tourist that would be leaving in 2 weeks, being friends was impractical. For a man in his position, becoming emotionally attached to a guests would be exhausting and counter productive.
The bottom line is that Sam understood psychology. He knew how his fellow Egyptians scammed tourists but he also knew that people quickly developed a resistance to this form of influence and for a lot of people the technique lost effectiveness after the first day.
Need for trust
At home, most people are not used to being on guard for extended periods of time. Being constantly on edge and taking care not to be scammed, one becomes disproportionately starved for a relationship with trust.
Sam’s business was geared towards people – like me – wanting a keepsake at the end of their trip. He also knew that by this time, most people would be very defensive towards the normal method of influence.
Sam understood this basic human need for trust and companionship, by going out of his way to be helpful and friendly without asking for anything in return he clearly set himself apart from other Egyptians trying to hustle tourists. By biding his time and fulfilling this need for trust he effectively disarmed any sort of resistance and put himself in the perfect position to take advantage, on his terms. Best of all he made me feel like he was doing me a favor.
Understand: it is imperative to observe and understand your victim’s psychology. Any sort of extreme behavior will invariably have a pendulum effect – creating a great need on the other end of the spectrum, waiting for you to exploit it.