Everyday Orientalism Quiz: Egypt in Tourist Guidebooks, 1847-2017

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Image credit: Matson Photograph Collection, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-matpc-17903.

Can you guess when these guidebook descriptions of Egypt were written? All come from travel guidebooks, newspaper articles and other promotional materials designed to help western tourists plan a trip to Egypt. They date from 1847-2017. Note how the language used (‘the mysterious Orient’, ‘touts like flies’) remains remarkably constant. Answers at the foot of the article.

  1. “Papyrus sellers and would-be guides hound you at every turn.”
  1. “There is no better way to conjure the Orientalist mood than by taking a felucca ride on the Nile.”
  1. “A desert nation veiled in millenia of cultural mystery and architectural enigmas, Egypt summons images of towering pyramids, riddling sphinxes, and archaeological adventures.”
  1. Tourists “do not find it easy to resist the fascination of the picturesque oriental life in the native quarters, where it is still possible, when once the Mooski is crossed, for the imaginative traveller to realise the dreams of the Arabian Nights of his childhood.”
  1. “Touts like locusts.”
  1. “Negotiations are hedged round with and amount of ceremony that recalls the stately fashion in the Arabian Nights, when the purchase of a brass tray or an embroidered saddle-cloth was a solemn treaty.”
  1. “Egyptian peddlers have been pestering, cajoling and ‘refusing to take no for an answer’ for far longer than anyone can remember. Elaborate con tricks handed down through the generations will have you parting with your pounds without even realising how it was done. Online forums are filled with tales of bitter screaming matches and accounts of tourists being physically abused by touts if they don’t agree to a camel ride. It makes you almost nostalgic for the good old days, when all they did was overcharge people.”
  1. “A yelling crowd of donkey-boys, guides, porters, interpreters, dragomans, itinerant dealers in sham antiques, and all the rabble that live on the [tourist].”
  1. “Mena House dazzles with intricate gold decoration and air that perpetually smells of jasmine … whitewashed Moorish-style buildings with dark wood balconies, grand arcades and terraces are the European vision of the ‘Orient’ set in stone.”
  1. “Aggressive peddlers can ruin the shopping experience in Cairo.”
  1. “For millennia the iconic sights of Egypt have held visitors in their sway, from the pyramids of Giza to the dazzling colours of the Pharaoh’s tombs.”
  1. “The true Cairene’s ideas, ether good or bad, like his dress, his religion, his social customs and habits, his oddities of speech, his calm, impenetrable reserve, and his disinclination to worry – all date from the Middle Ages.”
  1. Islamic monuments are “curious specimens of the peculiarities of Oriental taste, abounding in great luxuriance of ornament.”

 

  1. Lonely Planet Egypt 12th edition, 2015.
  2. New York Times, 3 February 2008.
  3. Luxury travel operator Absolute Travel: http://absolutetravel.com/travel-destinations/africa/egypt/, accessed 4 February 2017.
  4. Reynolds-Ball, Eustace A. (1899) Cairo of To-day: A Practical Guide to Cairo and the Nile. London: Adam and Charles Black.
  5. Lonely Planet Egypt 12th edition, 2015.
  6. Reynolds-Ball, Eustace A. (1899) Cairo of To-day: A Practical Guide to Cairo and the Nile. London: Adam and Charles Black.
  7. South China Morning Post, 24 September 2016.
  8. Reynolds-Ball, Eustace A. (1899) Cairo of To-day: A Practical Guide to Cairo and the Nile. London: Adam and Charles Black.
  9. Lonely Planet Egypt 12th edition, 2015.
  10. New York Times, 3 February 2008.
  11. Luxury travel operator Abercrombie and Kent: abercrombiekent.co.uk, accessed 4 February 2017.
  12. New York Times, 22 November 1902.
  13. Wilkinson, Sir Gardner (1847) Hand-Book for Travellers in Egypt. London: John Murray.

Rachel Mairs

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