"Special Price for You, My Friend!"
Meetings between tourists and local salespeople in Dahab, Egypt
Martin Simonsen, Louise K. Jühne Paulsen & Nina Grønlykke Mollerup
Institut for Antropologi, Københavns Universitet
4. semesters kvalitativ metode projekt, 2004
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2. Entering the Field
3. Different People, Different Interests
4. The Rules of Interaction
4.1 'Language makes you confident'
4.2 'In the beginning you kinda get dragged in'
4.3 More Anthropological Insights
5. Spatial Aspects of Interaction
5.1 The Notion of Space
5.2 Control of Space in Dahab
6. Strategies and Tactics
6.1 De Certeau on Strategies and Tactics
6.2 Salespeople's Ways of Operating
6.3 The Tourists' Ways of Operating
6.4 Concluding Thoughts on the Value of Strategies and Tactics in Dahab
7.1 Our Role in the Field
7.2 Our Ways of Operating
Dahab is an old Bedouin village located in Egypt on the Sinai Peninsular. Within the last decades it has become a renowned tourist site, famous for its relaxed atmosphere and beautiful diving spots. It is situated on the shore of the Red Sea and has a beautiful view of Saudi-Arabia rising above the sea while the Sinai Mountains imposingly overlook the desert surrounding the outskirts of the city. For the knowledgeable observer, the coral reefs hidden under the sea are treasures of beauty to appreciate as well. Along the shore, palm trees create much appreciated shadow for the restaurants, where guests savour the magnificent view while enjoying fresh juices and seafood in a laid-back atmosphere ensured by Bob Marley tunes and comfortable pillow-settings around low tables.
We had been advised to find a place we liked to do our fieldwork and indeed we had. Our preparations for doing fieldwork in this remarkable paradise were many and extensive, and they included purchasing snorkelling gear for what we imagined would be our much-deserved breaks from intense fieldwork. We were mystified, however, at discovering that we did not seem to be able to take any breaks; we suddenly found ourselves engulfed by our field.
Wondering why it was so difficult for us to take time off in the field, in this paper, we wish to explore individuals' abilities to and ways of navigating in Dahab as a social space. We start by describing Dahab as an anthropological field and introduce tourists and salespeople and their different interests as our main focus. We then focus on ways of creating social obligations when interacting, using Erving Goffman as our main point of reference. Having looked at interaction as one aspect of social space, we then investigate the physical space in which it is embedded. By definition, being a tourist - or in many cases, an anthropologist - means occupying someone else's space and thus it is a space controlled by others. Therefore, by applying Michel de Certeau's notions of strategies and tactics we are able to show how control of physical space affects individuals' abilities to navigate in the social space of Dahab. Having done this, we will reflect on our own position and we are then able to explain our abilities to navigate in Dahab.
Arriving in Dahab we were faced with the reality that the place had changed and the amount of big hotels and broad streets had grown considerably(1). The atmosphere was the same though, and when walking down the streets we were greeted everywhere by salespeople who invited us to visit their shops and restaurants. The original aim of our project had been to study social space created between tourists and self-established tourist guides, who try to make a living arranging trips for the tourists. These guides were characteristic of the informal tourist industry that used to exist in Dahab(2). However, only very few of these guides were left and instead the salespeople became our prime informants. Thus we were able to retain the object of our study, namely the social space between tourists and people working in the tourist industry. As we had expected it was not hard to make contact in a field where people seek interaction with tourists. It was easy for us to make and retain contact with informants and we spent most of our time hanging out in the shops and restaurants of our informants.Working in the tourist-industry of Egypt is extremely time-consuming for salespeople employed in the small shops and restaurants; they often work seven days a week from 10 am to 11 pm. They spend almost all their time around the shop, doing a little business and otherwise hanging out and talking with their colleagues and tourists in the street. From past experiences as tourists in Dahab we were aware that it is a place where people hang out. We had prepared our method of research to suit this situation and had chosen what Finn Sivert Nielsen describes as the informal interview to be our main method. He defines the informal interview as the large and diffuse field of action between formal interviews and observation. In the informal interview the anthropologist participates in the field, interacts with the informants and observes, all varying according to the circumstances (Nielsen 1996:110). Since shops are often filled with tourists and salespeople doing business, drinking tea, and smoking shisha(3) conducting formal interviews would seem absurd as conversations were continuously interrupted. Therefore drinking tea, observing, and participating in conversations and sometimes even business became the essence of our method.
The salespeople are used to speaking English with tourists so we did not expect language to be a problem even though only one of us speaks Arabic. We were merely aware of the disadvantages of not being able to join in on conversations they had among themselves. Talking to the salespeople was definitely not a problem, but we discovered that talking to them about more complicated issues sometimes turned out to be problematic, since they were used to talking about business and many lacked the vocabulary needed. Thus observing became an even more essential part of our method.
With our original focus we expected it to be important to limit our contact with tourists and try not to be perceived as such in order to gain access to the guides' business-tricks and broader perception of tourists. Even when we shifted our focus to the social space of salespeople and tourists, this bias of whom we wanted as informants was retained. We did not have any tourists as key informants but we did speak to quite a few, though usually only for a short time. Since most tourists were only in Dahab for a short period, often walking around, we were seldom able to both speak to them and observe the course of their actions. Studying the social space of two parties it would seem appropriate having a balanced representation of both as informants. However, our representation of the tourists in this paper is focused on their interactions with the salespeople.
Dahab provides a setting for different kinds of people - for instance government authorities, salespeople, and tourists - with different interests and abilities in shaping and using the space. In this chapter we will investigate the interests of the salespeople and the tourists in order to provide the context for their interaction. The interests in the space, we will describe, are thus related to the status of Dahab as a tourist site.
Dahab provides a diverse range of activities and thus attracts a variety of different tourists. Some tourists stay in the bigger and more expensive city Sharm al-Shaykh and stop in Dahab to do some shopping for a few hours after visiting the Saint Catherine's Monestary. Other tourists stay in Dahab for days or maybe even weeks to take trips to the desert, go snorkelling and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and the cheap prices. Other tourists again come mainly for diving, some stay for long periods of time, possibly working as diving instructors and thus become what is considered 'semi-resident tourists'.
Regardless of tourists' purpose for staying in Dahab, it certainly provides a beautiful scenery and a relaxed atmosphere, which makes it an ideal location for recreation. However, when walking down the streets of Dahab, some tourists experience that the peace is being disturbed by salespeolpe trying to get their attention and persuade them to enter their shop. Salespeople have a basic economic interest in establishing contact with the tourist, likewise do the tourists if they seek to buy. But while the salespeople have an interest in selling many shishas to many costumers, the costumer rarely want to buy a large amount of shishas from all the salespeople. Hence for salespurposes, the salesman seeks to establish contact with a large amount of tourists and the tourist with none or just a few.
Nonetheless, the contact the salespeople seek to establish is sometimes welcomed by tourists. Either because they wish to experience foreign cultures, wish to buy something, or because they stay in Dahab for a longer period of time and seek to form friendships. The salespeople also often approach tourists for the entertainment and social contact. Friendships between tourists and salespeople are common and though it is often short-term relationships, these friendships are still both genuine and highly valued. As an informant told us, working in Dahab is always the same and can be pretty boring. According to him the best thing about Dahab was being really busy or talking to cool and interesting people(4). However, while it is desirable to sell to as much as possible it is not desirable to form friendships with everyone. Sometimes the chemistry is just not right and it is impossible to form close relationships with an infinite number of people.
In conclusion, salespeople try to establish contact with a large number of tourists, while the tourists do not have an interest in entering all the possible interactions and cannot overcome to fulfil the social obligations of all of them. In the following we will investigate the way salespeople and tourists interact with a focus on creating and withdrawing from social obligations.
When trying to establish contact with the tourists, there are not unlimited possibilities for the salespeople. There are certain codes of behaviour they have to follow. For instance, there is an understanding between the people working in restaurants and shops that they do not physically or verbally exceed the boundaries of the street in front of their restaurant or shop when approaching tourists. This means that once a tourist has crossed the invisible boundary on the street in front of two shops it is a new salesman's turn to approach them. Therefore, if an interaction is to take place between tourists and salespeople it must be established before the tourist passes the shop, hence in a very short amount of time. Since the tourists, while walking through Dahab, are usually approached by many people wishing to interact with them, it would be impossible for them to talk to everybody and salespeople must work hard at making tourists interact with them.
Since so many people approach them, tourists will only stop where they either want to or feel obliged to. As Erving Goffman (1967) has suggested, spoken interaction entails responsibilities for the involved parts(5). There are certain rules of interaction, which people are aware of and apply when conversing with others. According to Goffman, an individual cannot leave a conversation unless they have a basis for withdrawing (Goffman 1967:120). Not only because other interactants might be offended if someone does not maintain a conversation properly thus making social reprimands possible, but also because the person committing the offence will sanction himself by feeling his actions are inappropriate (Goffman 1967:115). Therefore if a conversation is maintained properly by the salesman it is harder for the tourist to withdraw.
In general the people working in Dahab tended to be fairly skilled at guessing the nationality of the tourists and immediately approached them in their own language. Eiga, an informant of ours who worked in a shop, one time approached a tourist by talking to him in Russian as he was passing the shop. The tourist seemed annoyed and did not stop. Eiga then walked over and touched his arm and said 'amigo!' This made the tourist, who turned out to be Italian, change his expression immediately and stop and enter the shop. When approached in Russian, it was easy for the Italian man not to engage in the conversation, since he had a legitimate reason for not replying: he did not understand what was being said to him. When the language switched to Italian the obligations to interact were intensified and a sphere of intimacy created. As one tourist said, 'language makes you confident'.
When salespeople cannot guess the nationality of tourists they often ask them where they are from. When replied, a greeting in the tourist's native tongue is likely to follow, even if this is an uncommon language. One of our first days in Dahab, a catcher - a guy working in front of a restaurant inviting people in - had lured Nina to reveal her nationality and asked in Danish, 'hvordan har du det?' - 'how are you?' Having captured her attention and made a withdrawal difficult he went on with a longer analysis of Denmark, partly in Danish, which concluded, 'Danmark er okay, men den danske 'government' har fis i kasketten!' - 'Denmark is ok, but the Danish government has a rotating fart in the sixpence'. However, after a while in Dahab when we had heard the most common lines quite some times we learned to reply in ways that made it harder to keep the conversation going and thus gave us a valid reason for withdrawing. When asked where we were from, we would reply, 'ana min Masr' - 'I'm from Egypt' or simply answer 'Østerbro' - a neighbourhood in Copenhagen - making a creative reply harder for them and making a withdrawal without breaking the rules of interaction easier.
Language is also an important tool since it creates obligations in a conversation. It creates a sphere of intimacy and thus makes it harder to withdraw without breaking the rules of interaction and risking social or personal reprimands. Creativity gives someone the ability to control a conversation; giving them the power to determine when withdrawing is acceptable. And as we will show in the following, it also gives them the power to create obligations in conversation.
Salespeople also insist that it is important to use humour and originality in order to get the tourists' attention and ideally make them stop(6). In general, approaching tourists in unoriginal and overly insistent ways, and thus not maintaining the conversation properly, was described as hassling by the salespeople. It was commonly accepted that it was wrong to hassle because after having been in Dahab for just a short time tourists would get tired of listening to everybody(7). Many people believed there would be more tourists in Dahab if they would just be left alone. However, many salespeople seemed to hassle anyway, some with the perception that what they did was not hassle; hassling was something other people did. Tourists also often seemed to have a hard time distinguishing hassle from polite conversation. Mustafa, a guy who worked in a restaurant, which did not have catchers on the street, said that he was very tired of all the hassling. One day when he had said good morning to some tourists they had told him to shut up. This made him upset with the tourists, since he had been polite and was not hassling them, but he blamed it on all the people who hassled and therefore made tourists tired of being approached. Thus it was accepted that tourists were relieved of the obligations of interaction when being hassled, but however difficult it might be, they were also expected to be able to tell the difference.
The awareness that when tourists were hassled they did not have the same obligations to answer as when they were being approached with originality and tact was very present in salespeople's statements and actions. We actually found them so aware of how to create obligations in an interaction that we were wondering if they had studied Goffman themselves.
Mahmoud, an informant of ours who worked as a catcher at a restaurant was fairly successful and got many people to visit the restaurant, though he did not have the advantage of speaking English. One Polish tourist, who had been captured by him, said he had chosen to eat at this restaurant because Mahmoud was 'magnetic'. Others described him as quiet and more tactful than most of the other catchers and liked the fact that he made jokes about himself. What made Mahmoud effective was his humour and personality, which made the tourists feel obliged to interact. A Danish-Canadian couple said that the more insistent catchers only worked well on the new tourists, 'in the beginning you kind of get dragged in, but you get tired of it'. Therefore it was very important to have a unique and tactful style. This also presented itself in a grudge between two of our informants. One accused the other of 'stealing his way of talking', thus taking away from the originality of the first. The importance of personality is stressed by the fact that the supposedly same approach did not work equally well for the two. An approach of the first salesman was to address tourists with personal comments about their clothing or appearance, thus avoiding being unoriginal. For instance, he one time asked a bald man where his hair was. Posing a question like this might be offensive to some people so it necessitates a feel for the tourists and their humour and one must be tactful when asking it. This might have been the difference between the two.
Another understanding of the obligations of interaction was employed when salespeople asked if they could show the tourists something or if they could give them a gift. Before the tourist would have time to answer, the salesman would turn away and walk into the shop. Thus the tourist would be left with the choice either to follow the salesman into the shop or to leave without a proper reason to withdraw, thus breaking the rules of interaction, risking appearing and feeling rude. The result of this approach was often that the tourists shortly after would find themselves sitting inside the shop engaging in conversation with a cup of very hot tea in front of them.
The offer of a gift in the shops - maybe a scarab or another small token - or a welcome drink in the restaurants represents another anthropological insight of the salespeople. The offer was always followed by an assurance that it was free and no business was involved. And indeed it was a genuine offer, but nonetheless an effective business trick as well. Once a tourist had received something for free or drank tea with a salesman, they were likely to come back, maybe even bringing some friends to the shop or restaurant. Our informants had not only studied Goffman, indeed they must had studied Mauss(8) as well! They were well aware that once a gift had been given and thus an exchange established, people would feel obliged to return the gift in any way they could, which often meant buying something in their shop or eating at their restaurant. As Pierre Bourdieu has explained, gifts or debts are the most effective ways to keep a hold over somebody (Bourdieu 1993 :191). However, we emphasise that it would be misleading to interpret this as merely a business trick as salespeople may also be interested in creating friendships with tourists.
Whether the purpose was business or pleasure, we found salespeople very reflected about how to establish spheres of intimacy and create obligations when interacting and indeed they were successful at it as well.
In the following two chapters we investigate how the organisation of physical space affects the interaction taking place between tourists and salespeople. To do this we employ a conception of space, which is inspired by Georg Simmel (Lechner 1991). In accordance with Simmel we consider social organisation, and the interaction mentioned, to be spatially embedded even though it is not spatially determined. Space is a wirkungslose Form, a context for action that is, however, shaped by action. Space is to be considered as a social construction, but not simply that since it retains a reality of it's own (Simmel in Lechner 1991:196). We employ the notions physical and social space, which are our elaborations of Simmel's description of space in the above. They are employed in order to allow a distinction between the socialized space and the physical space in which it is embedded. As for social space it is both made and in the making. The interactions between tourists and salespeople are affected by the social space formed by other interactions superseding it and as such it occurs in a space that is already made. On the other hand, the salespeople's relationships with tourists are continuously created and negotiated between the individuals and this influences the social space. Thus the social space is a space in the making.
In the previous chapter we explained how the salespeople engage tourists through social obligations. This is one aspect of the social space shared by tourists and salespeople. Another aspect of social space is the surroundings of it, the physical space, which will affect the interactions that take place in it and how the social space is constructed. In chapter 6 we argue that interactions in social space are affected by control of physical space. In the following section we will investigate this right to and control of physical space.
Tourists have no rights to physical spaces but are free to be almost anywhere they like in Dahab without a legitimate reason; they can walk between people's shops or houses, stay in any shop at any time, sit in the restaurants or use the restroom - without buying anything. Salespeople on the other hand exercise certain rights over physical spaces. Their movements are restricted by codes of proper behaviour. For instance, if a salesman enters another salesman's shop while there are tourists present, he can be seen as a possible danger to the current relation and is usually dismissed from the shop as fast as possible. The salespeople are competitors when it comes to rights to physical space and generally need a legitimate reason to enter the place of another salesman, while the tourists compose a very small threat to the interaction between salespeople and other tourists(9).
In Dahab the salespeople are dependent on their ability to establish contact with tourists and they have established extensive control of the space of the city where tourists are present. The streets in the back of the city, where one is not likely to find more than an occasional tourist, are not controlled to the same extent and it is a more anonymous space. It is a public place for passing through and people do not exercise rights over it. The main streets of the beach area constitute the opposite of this and here the salespeople occupy literally every part of the street and exercise rights over it.
Legally the streets belong to the Egyptian government, a thing that has been stressed lately by the government's construction of a tiled road along the beach where there used to be dirt road. The police who walk the streets and government employees who empty the trash bins continually stress the government's control of the street. Thus the government's actual right to this space is not to be ignored and the street has a distinct character of public space. As a consequence the shopkeeper is not free to build or put his goods there and if he does the police might sanction him. This happened to one of our informants who had his working-permission taken temporarily by the police when he put the goods of the shop too far out on the street(10). Yet the shopkeepers have divided this public space between them and exercise certain agreed upon rights to the area in front of their shop. As we mentioned in section 4.1, salespeople are not allowed to exceed the invisible boundary between the area of the street in front of their own shop and the shop next to you. Not at least if the aim is to address a tourist.
Another area that the shopkeeper obviously has some right to is his shop and the space immediately in front of it. Shopkeepers usually own their shops or rent it from the Bedouins for a set period of time whereby they also establish a legal right to the place(11). A shopkeeper is free to shape the place according to his wishes, a right that has some limits as construction of new buildings is regulated(12). Since the shopkeeper is not always present in his shop these rights are to some extent transferred to the people he employs and they take on the responsibility and right of shaping the physical space.
The connection between the control of a physical space and the shape of the social space will be treated in the following chapter, where we argue that a person's control of a physical space will influence his ability to act and influence other people.
In his book 'The Practice of Everyday Life' Michel de Certeau (1988 ) explores how ordinary people operate within a given system. He argues that ordinary people are too often described as passive consumers of the cultural productions of systems. It is necessary to focus on the practice of everyday life and not have a one-sided focus on the analysis of cultural productions, which does not include an exploration of the use they are put to (de Certeau 1988 :xi-xv).
When exploring practices of everyday life de Certeau describes two different ways of operating that are linked to individuals' control of social space, namely use of strategies and tactics(13). The strategy is used by the stronger individuals and it generates and requires a place from which it can operate and generate relations with the exterior. The place controlled by the user of strategies can both be a physical location and an abstract place, but in this paper we only explore how control of physical space affects the practice of individuals (de Certeau 1984:35-36). The user of tactics on the other hand is operating from a place of the other: 'it insinuates itself into the other's place, fragmentarily, without taking over its entirety, without being able to keep it at distance' (de Certeau 1984:xix). It is the way of operating that belongs to the weaker and it is dependent on time and on seizing the opportunities when they occur (de Certeau 1984:xix).
In our investigation of practices of everyday life we will here use de Certeau's notions of tactics and strategies to explore how tourists and salespeople control of space affects their interaction. De Certeau argues that since the user of strategies is dependent on a place from which to operate, this enables them to keep what they have won, whereas the user of tactics has to seize the moment and do not gain what they have once won (de Certeau 1984:xix). Thus users of strategies and tactics differ in their ability to affect the aspects of social space that are respectively made and in the making.
The salespeople's right to a place gives them a point from where they can operate strategically when trying to establish contact with tourists. As shown in chapter 5 they have a right to their shop and are free to shape the physical space of it in any way they want and thus affect the social space. It is common that the salespeople choose to line up two rows of shishas, which gradually narrows approaching the door leading the tourists into the shop. It has the shape of a fish-trap; a tourist trap if you like. Once the tourists are inside the shop they are often met by a small table and a couple of chairs and given a burning hot cup of tea to drink. One of our informants explained that it is better to give the tourist a cup of very hot tea instead of a cold soft drink, which they will be able to finish much quicker. As shown, salespeople were very reflected about what worked in order to control the presence of the tourist. The windows of the shops are most times covered by clothes and other items, and once the tourist is inside the shop the door will very often be closed and the place is shut off from the outside. These strategies were explained to us as helping to avoid the tourist from being disturbed by things happening outside, such as seeing somebody they know or hearing the noise of a bus and remembering that they too have to catch their own bus back to Sharm al-Shaykh soon. Thus the salespeople's strategies ensure the undivided attention of the tourist.
The salespeople's right to a place enables them to control the space there extensively and operate strategically in ensuring their control of the tourist. However, the salespeople are not always able to use strategies as their way of operating and sometimes they use tactics and seize opportunities when they occur. The salespeople's way of operating in the main streets of the beach area is an elusive example of their use of tactics. As we explained earlier the salespeople do not actually have a right to the place when operating on the street. What they gain they don't keep as shown in the example where one of our informants after placing his shishas a bit too far out on the street was sanctioned and had to remove them. The same is true for every verbal interaction the salespeople have with tourists trying to establish contact. When trying to establish this contact the salespeople seize opportunities when they occur and try to be as efficient as possible. As shown in chapter 4 an original phrase or applying language skills when knowing where the tourists are from, are generally effective tactics since it creates significant obligations to the interaction. Using tact and personal charm can also help ensuring a successful tactic and engage the tourists in a conversation.
The salespeople can also try to change the space by their own presence. We have argued that the street is a public place that the salespeople do not have a right to, but nevertheless exercise rights over. A salesman has an area he can occupy and in which he can approach the tourists. Sometimes salespeople will approach tourists and physically try to block them from passing by giving them a hug or offering them a hand to shake. Since the salespeople are competitors and can change the space by their presence it is thus necessary to divide and regulate access to that space. The salespeople cannot make permanent changes to the street, but instead they continually have to grasp the opportunities that occur. Accordingly their way of operating in the street is by means of tactics and there is an ongoing competition over the space of the street. The informant, who had his working-permission taken for placing his shishas on public ground, later placed them in the exact same spot again, despite having been placed in detention. This competition of space not only occurs between the authorities and the salespeople, but also among the salespeople themselves who have numerous conflicts due to the crossing of invisible boundaries between them.
In conclusion the salespeople control the space of their shop and this enables them to use strategies. By shaping the physical space they affect the social space and make permanent changes, whereas on the street they try to establish and exercise control, but here they are always at risk of being set back by the authorities or other salespeople and do not keep what they have won.
Being a tourist entails residing in other people's spaces and acting within a social space with norms and expectations that you are often not thoroughly acquainted with. In general the norms existing in Dahab, which apply to tourists are hard to break since tourists can go wherever they want and can dress however they like. Even though Egypt is a predominantly Moslem country(14) it is not uncommon to see tourists walking down the streets wearing shorts or even bikinis. When this occurs people typically stare and make comments and it definitely affects the people's immediate perception of you. Such an act, however, has few direct consequences for a tourist, whereas if an Egyptian did the same thing they would most likely be thrown out of town(15). The absence of strictly enforced norms does not imply that there are not expectations of how tourists ought to behave. As we showed in section 4.1, tourists are expected to answer back when addressed and are not to break the rules of interaction if they want people to retain a positive perception of them.
As explained in chapter 3 the tourists are addressed by dozens of people every day and thus their actions are more often than not aimed at avoiding and cutting off interaction. Like the salespeople the tourist can seize opportunities when they occur and by responding creatively to the questions, they will be able to break off the conversation and continue with a smile. Nevertheless most of the tourists we observed were rather disturbed by the numerous addresses they would get and seemed to withdraw from interaction by avoiding to look at people, talking very low, looking upset or simply ignoring the salesman and walking on. We also saw many tourists who would zigzag along the road trying to avoid people. Others again would walk so fast that they seemed to be participating in a race! As for zigzagging along the road in order to avoid people this is not a very efficient tactic since the people you are trying to avoid are actually standing on the same street. Walking fast is a rather efficient tactic since it indicates that you are in a hurry and not available for conversation. However, this is not really what most people want to do while being on vacation at the Red Sea.
Since the tourists do not have a place to operate from and are using the space of others and thus their rather inefficient tactics are not surprising. To be able to operate efficiently knowledge of the space you occupy is a definite advantage. As showed in section 4.1 a quick and original response will enable you to break off the interaction without sanctions on behalf of the other person. A response such as 'ana min Masr' - 'I am from Egypt' is an example of such an original response. This response is very unlikely to come from a short-term tourist, not only because of possible lack of Arabic-skills but also because quick responses are dependent on knowledge of what questions are to be expected. For many people quick and original responses are dependent on knowledge of the social space. Knowledge that short-term tourists do not have most times.
Another way of coping can be by protecting your own person from interaction by signalling that you are unavailable for conversation. One can walk fast, but there are also other less stressful tactics: A girl with an Egyptian boyfriend and significant experience of Dahab-life told us that she would always put on her disc-man when walking the streets in order to avoid people addressing her all the time. The only problem with this tactic was that her headphones were small and thus not visible to people from far away. So even if she felt she had a valid excuse for not engaging in conversation other people might not be aware of this excuse. This could cause problems if she did not realize that people talked to her and therefore ignored them. And it certainly did when the person she happened to ignore was her boyfriend! A set of more visible headphones is thus likely to make this tactic more efficient by ensuring that other people are also aware that you are not available for interaction. As explained in section 4.1 breaking the rules of interaction are not only sanctioned by others, but also of yourself. She is likely to have felt that she had a legitimate reason not to answer, even when other people did not realise it.
The tourists who come to Dahab occupy the space of the other and have little knowledge of the laws and norms that might apply to them in this space. Fortunately it is a place adjusted to this situation and there are few norms applying to tourists and even less laws. Acting friendly and showing respect of other people by greeting them is what is expected of tourists. After a while people get experienced with Dahab and find their own ways avoiding the hassle of the streets. They gain knowledge of the space they reside in and experience will teach them to act without even reflecting. Tourists can use this knowledge to enhance the efficiency of their tactics and therefore they do not stay ignorant tourists! The tourist might not have a physical place to act strategically from and shape according to their wishes, but they can use their knowledge of the social space to enhance the efficiency of their tactics.
The salespeople's control of physical spaces gives them a location from which they can operate strategically and thus in relation to the tourists they are to some extent the powerful ones. When tourists try to disengage from the conversations by responding in creative ways to the salespeople's tactics or strategies, the salespeople have an advantage due to their control of a physical space. A person jokingly replying in Arabic that she is from Egypt, will most times have to pass by the same salesman's shop again, at least if she is a long-term tourist. She will then be confronted with new questions, such as why she speaks Arabic and this time disengaging will be more difficult. The girl walking with her headphones on is doing so in response to the salespeople's continuous addresses. She might only want the space for passing through, but she will never be able to change the fact that tourists are extensively addressed, since she operates in the space of others.
Using de Certeau's notions of strategies and tactics we have explored who is the more powerful when it comes to shaping social space. We have focused on how one aspect of social space, namely control of physical space, affects what actions - strategies or tactics - are available to tourists and salespeople in Dahab. A different focus, for instance on economic power, is most likely to have showed the tourists to be in control and the salespeople to be acting with them as a point of reference. Regarding the ability to control social space, it is a problem to maintain that either the salespeople or the tourists are stronger. We will argue that, because of their lack of control and knowledge of the space, tourists are under the influence of salespeople who shape the social space. However, at the same time the tourists are the point of reference of the salespeople since the object of the salespeople's strategies and tactics is to interact with tourists. Accordingly they have much power since they can choose to engage or disengage in interaction.
However, not knowing the right ways of disengaging from interaction might cause the tourists to feel at unease about themselves and will most likely affect people's perception of them. This might not be of much importance to people who are only in Dahab for a short while, whereas for tourists who stay for longer might put more attention to it. Fortunately, their abilities to use tactics, which are less damaging to people's perception of them are also likely to be greater. As fieldworkers we were to a great extent dependent on people's perception of us and of their willingness to spend time with us. In the following chapter we explore how our own actions were influenced by our position in social space and how this affected our use of tactics.
Foreigners arriving in Dahab is an everyday thing, so the arrival of three fieldworkers was no big event for anyone there. Foreigners, or tourists as they usually are, staying for a couple of weeks and forming relationships with the people working in the shops in Dahab are quite common as well. So our presence was in no way out of the ordinary. In 'Doing Fieldwork. Warnings and Advice' Rosalie Wax (1971) explains that the role the fieldworker assumes is often one, which is in accordance with the social structures of the field. It is usually not a pre-existing role because most fields do not have the experience of the presence of a fieldworker. Instead the role is one, which is negotiated during the fieldwork to correspond with the field as well as the fieldworker (Wax 1971:50-51). In our case this was a bit different. Since many of the tourists who stay in Dahab for a long time hang around the shops and talk to and become friends with the salespeople, it was natural for our informants merely to recognise us as such. Since we had formed close relationships with salespeople, we thought we were perceived as something else than tourists, when we were simply being recognised as tourist-friends.
The consequences of having this pre-established role to fall into was that it became hard for us to negotiate the aspects of our identity, which did not correspond with the tourist role we were placed in. This meant that when we tried to bring our studies into play, it was hard to find room for it. When we brought out our notebooks or explained that we had to go somewhere to study, we were often told to forget studying and put our notebooks away and stay and drink some tea instead. Dahab is not a place tourists go to work hard but a place they go to relax. The only reasons to leave a place and not just hang out, which seemed to be accepted, were meetings with old friends, trips to the famous diving and snorkelling site, Blue Hole, or other typical Dahab-endeavours. Going home to write notes or going somewhere else to study was simply not a thing to do in Dahab.
Because of the nature of participant observation, the most essential instrument for anthropologists in the field is themselves and their personalities. We were three people conducting a study together and we are a very diverse group both in terms of backgrounds and personalities. Therefore we consider it important to reflect on the differences in our ways of operating. Like the tourists, we had to develop tactics for moving around the city, but we also had to develop tactics to negotiate our position as both fieldworker and friend in order not to feel we were deceiving people.
When negotiating our position as fieldworkers the notebook often became an important tool for all of us. Martin used the notebook a lot to try to distinguish between when he was a fieldworker and when he was a friend. Even though he at most times had his notebook out and was occasionally considered a threat by informants since he 'wrote information down and took it out of Egypt', he was still mainly considered a friend, and informants were surprised when he referred to something they had told him days ago. Louise was embraced as 'Tanta Louisa'(16) into her informants' lives in such a way that she would gain access to the most private spaces such as a family home. Unfortunately, this intimacy sometimes prevented her from studying what she was trying to, since it took her out of the place where interaction between salespeople and tourists took place. In places where studying seemed impossible, using her notebook often became a way of directing conversations. However, though all of us tried to bring out the fieldworker aspect of our presence and often let our informants read what we had written about them, we were still primarily seen as friends.
In order to move around town we needed different tactics. Martin and Nina had a large number of informants practically all over town and since people in Dahab are always at their shop or restaurant and usually have both time and wishes to talk to friends and tourists walking by, it would often take a long time to reach a certain destination. For Martin, a preferred tactic to go somewhere without being suspended on his way was to walk along the beach, which was quieter than the main street. This tactic functioned well for him, but was more problematic when Nina used it. She struggled to withdraw from interaction without feeling impolite and thus the beach also became a highly socialized space for her while Martin was better at avoiding interaction by smiling and giving polite refusals. Louise wore scarf and jeans when walking the streets of Dahab. Knowing that her appearance signalled decency and that a decent woman is not expected to answer men addressing her on the street, she was able to withdraw from interaction without feeling or appearing rude. For Nina creative replies became her main tactic. However, answering 'ana min Masr' - 'I'm from Egypt' might be effective in the immediate interaction, but next time she would have to walk by, withdrawing would be more difficult as people would ask her why she spoke Arabic. In this case she would sometimes be able to withdraw because she due to her limited Arabic skills could honestly say she did not understand, but most of the time this tactic would not work. As a result, moving around town without being suspended was extremely difficult for her. As an informant said, 'when Nina has to go somewhere she must leave the day before in order to get there on time'.
In 'Nærmere kommer du ikke… Håndbok i antropologisk feltarbeid' by Finn Sivert Nielsen (1996), Ånund Brottveit introduces a metaphor, which represents two opposed aspects of the fieldworker's role. One is the shell, the other the mollusc. Brottveit suggests the picture of an hermit crab, which is safe when in its shell, but completely unprotected when outside the shell. Because of the informal nature of our field, neither of us was able to assume a completely formal and reserved role. However, our abilities to protect ourselves varied from person to person. Louise was to a larger extent able to built a shell and thus protect herself from being expended by the field whereas Nina and to some degree Martin became the unprotected mollusc.
As fieldworkers we spent a lot of time hanging out with our informants and during the time we spent together many of them became our friends. We often visited them to see how they were doing and to hang out with them. But while hanging out with them we gained more information and our identity as friends and anthropologists became impossible for us to separate. We were well aware that we were studying all the time and it was important to us that our informants knew this as well. But since it was difficult to negotiate professional aspects of our identity with our informants they often did not recognise that we were studying. The informal method we used implied that we were hanging out with them, acting like ordinary friends. Thus our method entailed that we behaved in a certain way, which understated the professional aspect of our identity. We said that we were studying, but our actions showed something else. Though we tried to show our informants what we did by reading what we had written about them, it did not give them any real insights in what we were doing. We did not share our analytical interpretations with them and to them our notes were just words on a piece of paper. Thus they did not see us as anthropologist but as tourist-friends.
As it is true for every anthropological study, our fieldwork was fundamentally dependent on our informants' willingness to spend time with us. And we often felt that we ought to give something back to them in return, even though they might not think we owed them anything. But it was hard for us to give anything back. For instance, we were never allowed to pay when we asked them out. As Bourdieu suggests, to give time is a personal gift and thus irreducible to money and only a return of a comparable gesture is equivalent (Bourdieu 1993 :192-193). The only thing we could give back to them was our time and our friendship. However, in the act of giving time and friendship we continuously gained more data and wrote more notes, because we were still anthropologists. Thus the more we tried to give the more we felt we were taking and the feeling that we owed them something grew.
Throughout our fieldwork we were keen on being perceived as anthropologists and not tourists. This was not only for ethical reasons, but also because we had an image of tourists as ignorant culture vultures, which simply did not correspond with our somewhat silly idea about ourselves as serious professionals. We discovered that there is '...an uncomfortable kindred between anthropologists (sophisticated or dedicated long-stay tourists) and non-professional similarly interested in the cultures of the Others' (Tilley 1997:75).
The differences between us and regular tourists were hardly visible. In most ways we acted like tourists. We stayed at a hotel, ate dinner at restaurants, and like most of the tourists who stay in town for a long time we hung out with the salespeople. We were perceived as tourist and like them we were limited to using tactics when pursuing our interests.
Being perceived as tourists rather than anthropologists, the role we were given in the field was not completely in accordance with our own perceptions of our presence, and we felt that we to some extent were deceiving people. Being an anthropologist one arrives as an outsider and takes the right to interpret the reality of other people. This implies a position of power and even more so when your interpretations are distributed or published for anybody to read. Our informants never experienced the fact that our interpretations of them would be made available to other people and they hardly ever recognised the duality of our presence. They simply considered us tourist-friends.
Nonetheless, our motives for being in Dahab were ever present to us. Friendships and willingness to accept social obligations with informants were a necessity for our study. However, since we were perceived as tourists, the professional aspect of our relationship was undermined. Concurrently, our informants were skilled at bringing social obligations into play, and questions about why we had not come earlier, why we could not stay longer, and if we were not real friends were common. In order to avoid our feelings of deceiving people, we felt obligated to confirm that the friendship part of the relationship was true. Therefore we attempted to give them the time they asked for. However, in the act of giving time our true position was still not recognised and our feelings of deceit grew and our commitments to social obligations became even greater. Consequently, because we were perceived as tourists, being in a beautiful city on the shore of the Red Sea, we were not able to do the most basic thing for tourists: take time off!
Behbehanian, L. 2000 'Policing the Illicit Peripheries of Egypt's Tourism Industry', in: Middle East Report, 216.
Bourdieu, P. 1993  'Modes of Domination', in: Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
de Certeau, M. 1988  'General Introduction' and ''Making Do': Uses and Tactics', in: The Practice of Everyday Life. California: University of California Press.
Goffman, E. 1967 'Alienation from Interaction', in: 'Interaction Ritual, Essays on Face-to-Face Behaviour. Middlesex, England: Penguin University Books.
Lechner, F. J. 1991 'Simmel on Social Space', in: Explorations in Critical Social Science, 8 (3). 'Theory, Culture and Society': Special Issue on Georg Simmel, 195-201.
Mauss, M. 1957  The Gift. New York: Norton.
Nielsen, F. S. 1996 ' Intervjuer og notater', 'Usagt, uskrevet, ugjort' and 'Skallet og bløtdyret', in: Nærmere kommer du ikke... Håndbok i antropologisk feltarbeid. Bergen: Fagbokforlaget.
Tilley, C. 1997 Performing Culture in the Global Village, in: Critique of Anthropology 17 (1):67-89.
Wax, R. 1971 'Theoretical Presuppositions of Fieldwork' and The Ambiguities of Fieldwork', in: Doing Fieldwork. Warnings and Advice. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
1. This is in comparison to visits made by Martin in 2000 and Louise in 1999 and 2001.
2. For our original synopsis, see appendix A. For further exploration of the informal tourist-industry of Dahab see 'Policing the Illicit Peripheries of Egypt's Tourism Industry' by Laleh Behbehanian.
3. Water pipe.
4. For further exploration on the subject of friendship and business, see appendix E.
5. Goffman is introducing this in an Anglo-American context but we consider it to have broader applicability. As Goffman suggests, these obligations are not the same in every social context, but we found many of his insights to be pertinent for the interaction between tourists and salespeople in Dahab.
6. The most original and funny line we were approached with was actually in Khan al-Khalili in Cairo before we got to Dahab. When we had declined to buy every object a man offered to sell us as we passed his shop he sighed and asked, 'how then can I take your money?'
7. There is actually a shop in Dahab, which is named 'Hassle-free'.
8. In his anthropological landmark 'The Gift' Marcel Mauss introduces us to the obligations of exchange: giving, receiving and returning.
9. In general salespeople are competitors, however, some salespeople from different shops do work together even when the shops do not have the same owner.
10. He was put in detention, but the incident did not have severe or lasting consequences for him since his employer talked to the police and got him released. These shorter stays at the police station occur all the time. However, sometimes the consequences might be lasting, as when one of our informants during the construction of the tiled road, had to remove the balcony on the street in front of his restaurant since it had been built on the property of the government.
11. The Bedouins are the original owners of the land where the shops and restaurants are located, whereas the Government owns the beach and streets. Today some of the shopkeepers have bought their shops from the Bedouins and thus they can also rent it to a third part.
12. Informants told us that within the last couple of years the rules for constructing new buildings had been changed. At the beach area you are only allowed to build one-storey buildings and you now have to apply in advance for any new construction you want to make.
13. De Certeau describes the subject using strategies or tactics as both individuals and organisations. Since we are looking into the relationship between tourist and salesmen we will only include individuals in this description.
14. The estimated Moslem population is 90 % while most of the remaining 10 % are Coptic Christians.
15. In Egypt there is a clear distinction between what applies to tourists and Egyptians respectively. The Egyptians working in Dahab need a health-check and a working-permission in order to work there, whereas tourists can come on a tourist-visa purchased in the airport. Tourists are served alcohol and in Dahab they are even allowed to drink it on the streets. However, Egyptians are not allowed to drink in public or buy beer at restaurants during Ramadan even if they are Christians.
16. 'Auntie Louise'