Most countries do good trade in tourist kitsch. They present generalized, easily digested images of their culture in mainstream tour itineraries, in entertainment, and most spectacularly in the items produced as souvenirs for visitors to take home as a reminder to themselves of their travel, or for a friend or relative who will be expected to respond as though they are delighted by these
thoughtful dubious gifts. Egypt really shines in the art of tourist kitsch, as Egyptians have been catering to tourists and feeding families from this trade for centuries.
In future posts I will share some of the better quality, more authentic craft products and entertainment, the things I would like to see more of here instead of bazaar after bazaar selling the same tacky Egyptian cliches. Many of the tasteless objects have evolved from originally excellent, sometimes exquisite craft practices, and it is the higher level of craft I enjoy seeing and prefer to gift people with.
During visits to Sharm el Sheikh especially I have enjoyed photographing some of what the average tourist will take away as memories of Egypt. The Old Market and Naama Bay present shop after shop of this, along with t-shirts, snorkeling gear, bikinis, beach towels and bags that are printed or embroidered with Red Sea scenes and other Egyptian images. I go to the Old Market to eat and for the best coffee but to reach those I must walk through all this gaudiness, and I can’t resist documenting some of it.
Any walk through the bazaars is accompanied with calls of ‘just come to look”, “free for looking”, “spices Madam?”, “best quality / good price / cheap price / only for you my friend”, “hello my queen”, “good morning my beauty”, and the same again in Russian, Italian, German, or whatever other language the sellers think I may be lured by. Some vendors will blatantly stick their arm in front of you to block your path or sing you a song, usually something like “Sexy Lady”. It is comical to see their smiles fail when I reply in Arabic “I am Egyptian”. Now many of the sellers recognize me as a regular visitor and say hello in Arabic instead, and they have given up on trying to get a sale.
In the next post I will share some of the peculiar entertainments laid on for tourists.