Taxi Tales – Handholding Etiquette Tips

It’s been a while since I’ve posted any taxi tale collections. It’s not for want of taking taxis or gathering tales, but I think we’re becoming a little complacent about the ridiculousness of Cairo taxis. Sad really.

It’s not unusual for taxi drivers to holler at each other as they’re driving to ask for directions or a lighter or change. I’ve seen a lot of directional guidance, which must be done with a flurry of hand gestures, I’ve also seen money going back and forth between moving vehicles, but luckily I have yet to see a lit flame being passed (but I hold out hope).

Last month I was in a taxi heading to the embassy for class, and as we rounded a bend, the front passenger-side door flew open. Without really a second thought I leaned forward as we continued to fly along and managed to grab the swinging door and shut it. Must be a Tuesday.

Functioning latches and doorhandles are a luxury item here, so it’s a 50/50 gamble whether you’ll find functioning versus non-functioning. It’s not uncommon for a driver to have to either open the door from the inside to let you in because the outside handle doesn’t work, or even exit and open the door from the outside to let you out, because the inside handle is just missing. I did have one experience where I was struggling to get out of a cab and the road was too busy to let the driver easily get out, and a woman walking by just reached down and opened the door from the outside and kept going. It was like scratching an itch for her, second nature. Which I was grateful for.

Yesterday I hopped over to the Khan (market) to make a quick purchase after my class. My taxi there was actually one of these new Cairo cabs. They’re all white (I don’t even recognize them as cabs yet), brand new, with A/C and meters. I’ve taken two so far and the first one I never even looked to see the meter since we never use them. But the second one I did notice the pretty meter sitting on the dashboard, however it wasn’t operational. I’m sure they make more money without the meter, and now that I know what to pay for certain fares, I’m fine with not using one. But it’s good for tourists, as long as they request to use the meter up front. The one amusing thing about these cars was that they were both still covered with the factory plastic on all the seats and inside handles. We’ll see how long that lasts.

My return cab from the Khan was a typical battered black and white. The driver was a young guy, Ahmad, who was very chatty. I was nice and played along, practicing a little Arabic, letting him practice his English. At one point he reached back and shook my hand asking my name. I shook his hand, but then found that I had to wrench my hand out of his grip. He kept chatting and turning around to look at me as we drove (extra hazardous), at one point asked me to remove my sunglasses (which I didn’t), asked me if I had a phone (I said no, but my husband does), then proceeded to tell me that typical greetings in Egypt are two kisses to the cheek (this is correct, though only between friends), a kiss to the hand or holding hands for five minutes. (?!?)

We were within a 20-minute walk from home when I found myself wondering how best to tuck and roll when jumping out of a moving vehicle. It started with him saying he wanted to hold my hand for five minutes. I said no. He asked why. In Arabic I replied, “Mish ayza” (I don’t want to.) He laughed, and said, “Inti mish ayza. Ana aayiz.” (You don’t want to. I want to.) Ha, ha. Not funny. I wondered whether "La yanni la" would have the same impact as "No means no."

This type of stuff happens to 99.9% of expat women here at one point or another (the 00.1% who manage to avoid it never leave the house). And I’ve heard it’s as high as 80-90% for Egyptian women as well. At no point did I actually feel threatened by Ahmad, but my annoyance threshold had long been reached. So Ahmad the lecherous taxi driver can join the obnoxious “guide” from the Fish Garden and a few other taxi drivers in my list of applicants for lobotomy studies. I think the world’s going to need more lobotomists.