Simon Calder: Forget the dam – here's the Aswan scam

The man who pays his way
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The Independent Travel

The souk in the Egyptian city of Aswan is as relaxed as the sleepy, Upper Nile location. Laconic salesmen try to tempt you into their premises with some good-natured banter: "I don't know what you are looking for, but I have it in my shop"; "Today everything is free"; and "I pay you to look in my shop". But the real money is made by a large lady of advanced years, clad in black, who spends most of her time sitting in the shade against a wall the colour of old parchment. Only rarely does she get up, to waddle across and accost tourists – picking out a family.

She makes a cursory attempt to sell a shawl. When you politely decline she changes tack and presents a problem: she has been paid some euro coins, and needs to change them into Egyptian pounds. But the bank, like banks everywhere, is reluctant to take foreign silver. Look, she's holding out five €2 coins. Could you help?

Being a well-intentioned tourist, who perhaps plans to visit Paris or Tuscany or Spain later in the year, you agree to change them. But for how much?

On the basis that one British pound is worth around eight Egyptian, and is a bit stronger than the euro, you guess that EG£7 to €1 is about right. Thanks to the conveniently round number that she needs to change, 70 seems fair. She appears to agree. You fish out a 20 and a 50 pound note, which she takes, but then demands 10 more. "Eighty!"

Your mood changes, which is an essential element of the scam. You turn to your spouse and children to express exasperation that someone for whom you were doing a favour seems intent on taking advantage of your benevolence. They nod sympathetically. You turn back to her to demand your 70 Egyptian pounds back. She hands you a 20 and a 50.

Only later do you discover that, while your attention was elsewhere, she has switched a 50-pound note for a 50-piastre bill. They look similar, but the former is worth around £6, the latter just 6p. She has 49.50 of your Egyptian pounds, and still has euros in hand for the next victim. Con artists across Egypt must rejoice every day that the government keeps such a low-value note in circulation, while honest locals despair at the sight of yet more disgruntled tourists.

Curious currency conundrums continued in my home town of Crawley, when I visited last Monday evening to attend the biggest-ever football match for the local Blue Square Premier team: the FA Cup Third Round tie against mighty Derby County. (If you have better things to do than follow the lower reaches of professional football, Crawley Town play in the equivalent of Division Five, while "The Rams" gambol in the Championship, three full flights above them.)

Money was at issue in the nearest pub to the ground, the Half Moon. An away supporter who tried to pay with a Scottish £10 note found it non grata. While the Bank of England warns "these notes are not legal tender", I took a chance on being able to pass on the Clydesdale tenner somewhere even more cosmopolitan, and traded it for a "real" £10.

The phrase "Rainy Night in Crawley" doesn't have quite the same ring as Tony Joe White's anthem to travel misadventure, "Rainy Night in Georgia" ("Hovering by my suitcase/ Trying to find a warm place to stay the night"). But amid a tempestuous downpour, the home team won 2-1 with a last-minute goal from Sergio Torres – an Argentinian midfielder with an Italian passport, who appears implausibly to prefer winter in Crawley to summer in Buenos Aires.

Play the advantage

Tom Hall of Lonely Planet speculates that Crawley Town are "the closest senior football club in England to a major airport [Gatwick], with the possible exception of Hayes & Yeading Utd [Heathrow]". Next time your flight is late from either of the UK's leading airports, turn it to your advantage and see a match.

The closest amateur club to a big airport is Bedfont FC, whose touchlines practically touch the southern runway at Heathrow. That is why its clubhouse is used by the cabin-crew union, Unite, as strike HQ for each bout of industrial action against BA.

Once the result of the latest strike ballot is revealed on Friday, Bedfont will host the next fixture in the interminable battle over rosters and perks. A solution for staff, bosses and passengers: decide the dispute on penalties. Let Willie Walsh of BA square up against Len McCluskey of Unite. Now that would be a sell-out.

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