On the way home from my encounter with the costume shop queens I caught a taxi in Doqqi. As usual, I flagged him down, told him my destination while standing outside the cab so the driver could agree or disagree, then plunked myself down in the backseat. On this occasion, the driver went about half a block then asked me how much I was prepared to pay.
Normally if a driver is going to ask you this he will do it before you get in the cab, in which case I simply wave the car on because I know how much it costs, thank you very much, and I’m not about to get in an argument over it. There’s always another taxi who will take you without getting into a whole negotiation before you get in the car.
So, I replied in an annoyed voice that I would pay khamsa ginea (five Egyptian pounds.) Actually I’d normally pay six from where we were, but I’d said five and now I was going to stick to my guns. He slowed down, turning around to argue with me that he wanted seven. I insisted on five. I threatened to get out. He said, “La! La!” motioning for me to get back in. I asked if we had reached an agreement (okay, okay, I just said the words khamsa ginea again in a questioning voice.) He looked at me like I was nuts and said no. I got out, slamming the door and yelling, “Why did you want me to stay in the car, then?” He made some sort of reply while I motioned him on.
I walked to the corner to look for another taxi. One soon pulled over and agreed to take me, and I didn’t realize until we were already underway in the middle of a giant roundabout that it was the same guy.
“Khamsa ginea?” he asked.
I insisted, threatening to get out again (we were past the roundabout now.) He laughed at me. I continued to insist, pointing out it was a fair price and ultimately exhausting my Arabic vocabulary in trying to explain that now we were moving I wasn’t about to make a new agreement with him. He kept laughing, reapeating the phrase “khamsa ginea, khamsa ginea,” while banging his hand on the top of the meter. (Note: all black-and-white taxis in Cairo actually have meters. None of them have been functional since about 1934, which is why you end up haggling with the drivers.)
Finally he turned this into a little song, occasionally turning around to ask if I’d changed my mind yet. “La, khamsa ginea!” became the refrain to the song. We continued like this for some time. At one point he jokingly threatened to turf me out by the Gezira club, on Zamalek island but about a 20 minute walk from where I’d originally asked to be dropped off, saying that this is as far as khamsa ginea would go.
At first I tried to keep a straight face but eventually he was just making me laugh too much. I was glad I insisted on the khamsa ginea (though I did give him a little more at the end) because otherwise I wouldn’t have got a song while we drove!