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Thoughts on Baksheesh and Cruising in the Middle East

Posted by on June 1, 2010

Like most westerners we have always resented the idea of paying Baksheesh when we were cruising around the North of Africa and into the Middle East. To us baksheesh and bribe seemed synonymous. I recently read a letter which gave me a new perspective. It was written by Rob and Dee Dubin who cruised in Egyptian waters during 2009 on board their 40’Island Packet Ventana. You can see the complete letter reprinted in the March 2010 issue of the Seven Seas Cruising Association commodores Bulletin

Dee and Rob joined a packaged tour and paid for it in advance. But they found they were still being expected to pay baksheesh to the bus driver, guide etc. They felt ripped off. Then when they were back on board and getting ready to set sail they went to buy fuel at a gas station, escorted by a local friend. There they had an interesting encounter. Rob writes. …“There were three of us jerry-jugging fuel, two Americans, one Australian,” They needed three trips in all to get sufficient fuel to fill everyone’s boat tanks. “After the first run our Egyptian friend, who was driving us in his truck, told us we should give the gas station attendant some baksheesh for pumping the gas. He said he would normally do it himself and it was not a tourist scam. He suggested $6, which would have been about 8% of the bill. All three of us protested loudly and refused, whereupon the driver said, okay, but told us he would have to go to a different gas station for the next run.”

Rob then commented on the irony of being the best customer of the day yet being expected to tip. The Australian sailor commented on what he too saw as an outrageous situation, especially when the price per liter was clearly marked on the pumps. But that reminded Rob, in the USA prices are clearly marked on menus, but meals cost 15% more because you are expected to tip the waiter . To an Australian or New Zealander who rarely is expected to tip, as Rob writes, “the concept of any tip feels like a rip-off. For me as an American used to tipping waiters, bellmen, taxi drivers etc. those tips seem okay.”

Rob then realized for an Egyptian, used to tipping everyone, baksheesh is perfectly normal. He watched local folks tipping the man behind the meat counter when he handed them their package of ground beef. The same was true with fruit vendors, etc.

After thinking about the three different cultures, three different expectations Rob had far less problem handing out small change for services. Though we never related it to tips, the definition of Baksheesh given in the Encarta Dictionary is – money given as a tip, or charity or a bribe.

During our voyaging life we too have had to find ways to deal with baksheesh and also with the difference in tipping customs in various countries. As soon practical after as we sailed in to an unfamiliar country, we tried to find out what the local customs were on tipping or baksheesh, who expected a tip, what was the normal percentage then we tried to have lots of small change or small bills for tipping easily available but kept separately from the money we used for shopping.

One Response to Thoughts on Baksheesh and Cruising in the Middle East

  1. bshamblin

    I wonder if people in some 3rd world countries don’t get low salaries to be judges, police, etc, with the expectation that some of their income will come with each interaction as these “tips”?

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