Doing business with a cup of tea

Eric Didier Karinganire and an Egyptian in Alexandria, Egypt: Egyptian shop attendants request the honor of having their picture taking with the esteemed visitors

Eric Didier Karinganire and an Egyptian in Alexandria, Egypt: Egyptian shop attendants request the honor of having their picture taking with the esteemed visitors

If you wondered why Arab people make an exception­al difference in the business world, you will have to pay a vis­it to Egypt to get to know the secrets of how they make wealth.

The Arab country has certain­ly inspiring lessons for the rest of the business world through strong friendliness. Whether in some major cities such as Cairo and Alexandria or in smaller towns, the traders display such good manners that you would find yourself buying things that you didn’t even budget for.

While travelling around the country as a tourist, you will of­ten end up in conversation with someone who suddenly ap­peared out of nowhere.

The first question would be “where do you come from?” and before you even finish replying, something will immediately fol­low sounding like “welcome to Egypt; it’s a good country with kind people.”

That is what happened few days back when I and a few Af­ricans from the region were for two weeks in the country to get an inside of agricultural media, courtesy of the Egyptian govern­ment.

One evening, a colleague and I had moved from Pharaohs hotel on the west bank of the Nile Riv­er, in Giza, Dokki, just to have a look at Cairo life, when suddenly a giant young man materialized.

Having introduced himself as Ahmed, he started asking a se­ries of polite questions. “How do you find Egypt? Are you enjoy­ing yourselves?” And so forth. But very soon the rather one-way conversation turned to what he had to sell. “Just come and look, it’s interesting.”

We were of course apprehen­sive – after all, the country had only recently been in the chaos of revolt, and the mores are a bit different.

But Ahmed’s attitude was en­couraging for two men who were new in the country and eager to explore.

So we followed him to the small shop of perfume just a few meters away, decorated with copies of ancient Egyptian paint­ings. “Welcome! This is what I have to offer,” were his welcom­ing words. “What kind of Egyp­tian tea do you like most?”

And off he went to make a cup.

We later learned from experi­ence that such a welcome is com­mon practice, especially when you seem to be new in the coun­try. Of course, the cup of tea is ac­companied by a lot of sales talk.

“This is not a tourist price, but a gift price,” Ahmed assured us.

And don’t worry if you don’t have Egyptian pounds, any kind of money will do – even if it’s Rwandan francs. Some even go so far as to propose that you take whatever you want and come back to pay later.

Great Pyramids of Giza (Photo: Eric Didier Karinganire)

Great Pyramids of Giza (Photo: Eric Didier Karinganire)

There are many traders of Ahmed’s kind in Egypt. Even the young boys who offer horseback riding and men on streets selling papyrus-made products are all saying: “we are friends because we all drink water of the same source of Nile.”

It’s true that Egypt presents one the richest tourism products in the world with the Great Pyra­mids of Giza, famed cruises on Nile, QaitBay Citadel where the Light House of Alexandria used to be, the Library of Alexandria, Pompey’s Pillar, and many oth­ers. But what makes all this really special is how the people know to market these treasures as if they all have undergone inten­sive customer care training.

You can meet someone on the road and he will ask: “have you visited any historical touristic place?” before giving you a full list of what is worth visiting. In shops, sellers will let you know how honored they are by your presence by asking if they can get a picture with you.

And while one may argue that the country has oil, it is really this spirit of hard work and hospital­ity that has turned Egypt into a middle-income country filled with high-rise buildings, high­ways, and the Cairo Metro which is one of only two full-fledged metro systems in Africa.

Compare that to Rwanda where, according to 2010 research findings by Institute of Policy Analysis and Research-Rwanda, 25% of tourists experienced bad customer care during their stay. If customer service was to improve significantly, the research esti­mated GDP could increase by as much as $40 million a year.

Clearly, Rwanda needs more Ahmeds in its shops.