The Life and Times of Bruce Bramson


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Egyptians bargain for everything. It’s in their blood, and unless you bargain, you will be taken and will not be respected, The concept is not easy to understand for westerners, and for some it was impossible. Generally, the approach that worked for me was that I would decide in advance what I would pay for an item or service, then I would give over somewhat less and let the vendor argue me out of the balance. They have to come away feeling they’ve gotten the better of you. Among themselves, the bargaining is more akin to haggling, and it can approach violence at times, with barterers grabbing at each other and making loud threatening sounds, but when agreement is reached, they are all smiles and the money changes hands.

Unfortunately, money changed hands all too often! The smaller bills particularly became filthier and filthier: they were never removed from circulation and replaced; when a bill became so scuzzy no one would accept it, the holder was stuck and either burned it or threw it away. For us foreigners, whose per diem was paid in local cash and large bills, having the right amount for a simple transaction like a taxi ride was a problem. Drivers would usually refuse a large bill, saying they had no change. This was often not really the case, but making the change would deplete their reserves of “small money”. Naturally, they would happily take the large bill and give NO change.

On a train one day from Cairo back to Alex, I saw a well-dressed gent paying for drinks with all brand-new bills. I asked him how it was that he had so many, and learned he was the administrator of a large Bank in Alexandria. I explained our problem, and he arranged that I could being a clutch of large bills into a teller and exchange them for small ones. We set up a revolving fund, and I sold off the small bills to my compatriots, so thereafter we usually had small money for the taxis (who were not happy about it!)

There were coins (aluminum), but they were not in circulation much. There was a 1 piaster coin, equivalent to our penny, but I only saw one or two in all the time I was in Egypt.

Egyptian currency was changed often to thwart counterfeiters, so there were often several different versions in circulation at any given time. Getting clean, uncirculated copies was difficult and often impossible!

If nothing else, the bills were colorful and all of different sizes, so keeping track of them in one’s wallet was easy. Unfortunately, as the bills wore out, they tended to stink! I have seen small money used to wipe dipsticks, and shudder to think what other things they might have wiped!

Anyway, here’s a representative group of the money in circulation while I was there. One Pound  (written £E) was a US$1.50


The Egyptian Pound was colorful, and = $30


Egyptian 10 Pounds. = US$15


Egyptian 5 Pounds, = US$7.50


One of at least two 1 Pound notes circulating then


More recent 1 Pound note, = US$1.50


An older 50 piaster note


Newer 50 p note. 1 p is 1/100th Pound


The Egyptian 20p note


Older 10p note still circulating in the late 70s


This bill was only about 4 inches long

Towards the end of my stay in Egypt, new, smaller bills of uniform size were being introduced. Since these may well still be circulating, I feel obliged to stripe the images.


These new bills were about 2/3ds the size of the old ones


The bills remained of different sizes by denomination


But all were more nearly "wallet size" than formerly


The 25p note was altogether new, replacing the 20p note

As I mentioned earlier, our per diem was paid in local currency. Basically, it was a means of getting cash into circulation, since we were paid far more than we coupld expect to spend, even if we rented quarters locally. We were “cash cows”, and on a future page I will explain what a lot of my per diem went for.



Written by Editor

May 23rd, 2010 at 10:31 am

Posted in Alexandria,Egypt