By Bonnie Mack, 6-time traveler from Clearwater, FL
We were on the outskirts of Cairo, in a tourist trap for certain. But jet lag still prevailed, and we were happy to have a seat, a cold Coke, and some shade. Once all the tour groups were assembled in what looked like a tent, the show began.
As the salesman spoke, I noticed that his suit was a little snug for his portly physique. He seemed to focus his attention on our tour group, and I was sitting only a few feet away from him. He informed us of the many fragrant flowers that grow in Egypt, making it very desirable for the producers of perfume. “From the time of Cleopatra, Egypt was known for its varied fragrances.” When he made this pronouncement, he puffed up his chest in pride, as if displaying medals won in battle. However, after a closer look, I noticed that the only things he displayed on his white suit were spots that didn't come out in the laundry. As a matter of fact, judging from the creases in his trousers, and the crispness of his suit jacket, I knew those spots were well pressed into the fabric over a period of time.
Holding up a plain glass bottle, he demonstrated how, after mixing the fragrance of choice, a label was affixed to the bottle. I took a hard look at the label. It was a drawing of Cleopatra, and closely resembled a picture drawn by someone in grade school. Certainly, with all her cosmetics and fragrances, Cleopatra must have been better looking than this! She had a hawk-nose, and her eyes looked crossed. As the demonstration proceeded, I found it exceedingly more difficult to contain my giggles.
“And … ladies and gentlemen,” the salesman said most sincerely, “if you would prefer a jeweled perfume bottle, we also have those for sale.” He walked over to the dusty mirrored shelf, and picked up one of the “jeweled” bottles. I knew at first glance that this was going to be the straw that broke this camel's back. The jewels were nothing more than plastic beads glued on a plain bottle in hideous colors. They didn't sparkle – they didn't twinkle. Their colors fought with each other for attention, and the designs … well, there weren't really any designs. When we were informed that we could purchase the jeweled bottles at a special price of thirty-five U.S. dollars each, I felt faint—and I knew it wasn't from the heat building up inside the tent.
“If you don't want to take your perfume with you, we can ship it to you—anywhere in America.” He pointed to wooden boxes stacked in front of the audience, with addresses written in big black marker, “Lombard, Illinois, Chicago, Illinois, and Los Angeles, California.” There were destinations from all over the USA. Then I noticed something strange—none of the addresses had zip codes. Any company doing business with people from the United States or, for that matter, anywhere in the world, would know how important zip codes are in getting mail to its destination.
The salesman carried on, informing everyone about how Marshall Field's, one of Chicago's best-known department stores, buys their perfume from his company. Of course, it was pointed out that Marshall Field's re-bottles the perfume, and puts their own label on it, not to mention raising the price. I was certain that if I'd fallen for that line, I could be convinced that the papyrus painting I bought when I entered the tent was an ancient treasure.
When the speech was finished, we sat in silence. The tent was quiet, very, very quiet. I would imagine that the presentation was as overwhelming for everyone there, as it was for me. The only difference is that way back at the beginning of the presentation, I was trying desperately to control my laughter. I pursed my lips to prevent little giggles from escaping—but to no avail. Before long, I felt as though my head was a pressure cooker, as tears of laughter swelled in my eyes before rolling down my cheeks. The chuckles became contagious, and my travel companions on either side of me found themselves in the same predicament of holding the gales of laughter inside.
Americans are suckers—big suckers. We have it written all over our foreheads, “SUCKER.” When put in an uncomfortable position, we can't resist a hard sell, and we give in. I knew that once someone broke under the pressure, the dam would burst, and the Americans in the room would be waving their dollars high above their heads to place an order. Instead of taking advantage of the first sucker who dug into his pockets for American bills, and considered themselves lucky to be off the hook, others followed along, like lemmings.
The staff couldn't work fast enough, slapping labels on bottles, taking twenty-dollar bills, promoting jeweled bottles. I just sat in my seat and looked around me, thinking to myself, “Here I am in Cairo, Egypt. This is a dream come true.” Then I glanced about the tent. “I'm sitting in this tent, listening to a push to buy, of all things, Egyptian perfume.”
Fast-forward on the trip to the end of the week. We were waiting for our tour bus to pick us up in front of the hotel in Luxor, and I smelled something very pungent behind me.
“What is that smell?” I asked, turning around, and coming face-to-face with one of the elderly men on my tour.
“I'm afraid that's me,” he responded somewhat sheepishly. “My wife bought a bottle of that Egyptian perfume back in Cairo, and some of it escaped from beneath the bottle cap on our flight to Luxor, and got all over our clothes.”
I looked at him a little closer. Sure enough, “Sucker” was written all over his bald head. The temptation to laugh was overwhelming, but somehow I managed not to—but just this one time.
Take Bonnie’s advice and be careful not to get swindled by any convincing salespeople when shopping in Cairo during our Ancient Egypt & the Nile River adventure.