Egyptian retail corruption as a sign of the times?

Our pattern-seeking species is very good at confusing correlation with causality. Brian Clegg‘s Dice World That I just read on my travel from Cairo to Nijmegen says some memorable things about that.

We actually go way beyond correlation as a basis for our causality attribution: once a pattern is established as a possibility in the canyons of one’s mind, one instance of something that can be fitted into the mold is enough to trigger it. I’ve mentioned that often under the label confirmation bias. Which is a more accurate term but ultimately all these cognitive processes are interconnected and Clegg reminded me again that pattern-seeking is the best overarching concept for what underlies many more specific aspects of what our brain does with input.

Anyways, it made me think about my immediate, automatic and questionable interpretation of what happened to me at Cairo airport this time.

I’ve been through Cairo airport a fair number of times this last year but the below was a first for me. When entering Terminal 1, one’s luggage goes through an x-ray check. The guy manning the machine started chatting, ‘where are you from, ah Holland’, then an effort to wink, but he was one of those who cannot wink which resulted in a somewhat grotesque performance, not threatening at all, just absurd; I didn’t get it immediately, was this about football? a sexual come on? He kept repeating his act, shaking my hand and telling me he loved Holland, and then finally said, ‘you know money, euros’…I said ‘no’, he laughed, said no problem, looked around as if wanting to avoid being spotted in the act, and waved me through quickly. A bit bewildered I entered the departure hall and had a look at the screens to figure out where to go. Immediately a plain-cloth guy walks up to me, ‘where do you wanna go’, ‘Turkish Airline?’, ‘come with me’, waves to someone in the area of group check-ins and urges me to go in. ‘I work here, don’t worry’, etc. I decline and ask where to go at an info counter and am pointed toward the right entrance. Waiting in line I am approached twice more, this time by guys wearing a national express company coat. A ‘no thanks’ is sufficient to direct their attention elsewhere but those making use of their services seem to be helped cutting the line in collaboration with the airport staff manning the next line of x-ray machines. At the Turkish Airlines check-in counter I ask what is going on and am told that there is this company that offers to help people for a fee, but if you don’t want help it’s no problem. All with a bit of an embarrassed smile.

Direct bribe requests from customer service personnel and offers for help by unidentified strangers, all at its main international airport, are not the best way for a desperate tourism destination to advertise itself.  But where did the immediate connection my mind concocted with these incidents being indicative of the country’s downward trajectory come from? I have no information whatsoever about retail corruption becoming worse, or dysfunctional policies (like licensing – for a hefty fee no doubt – companies to offer their ill-designed services inside the terminal) increasing, recently. As far as I know, Egypt has been plagued by retail corruption for longer, I may just have been lucky till now in avoiding direct confrontation with it.

So reflecting on my gut reaction I would conclude that the connection is unwarranted. My experiences are not a sign of the times. Tricky bastard that mind of mine. And yours is not so different I’m sure. Which brings this great Dr. John song to mind:

I been in the right place
But it must have been the wrong time
I’d of said the right thing
But I must have used the wrong line
I been in the right trip
But I must have used the wrong car
My head was in a bad place
And I’m wondering what it’s good for

I been the right place
But it must have been the wrong time
My head was in a place
But I’m having such a good time
I been running trying to get hung up in my mind
Got to give myself a little talking to this time

Just need a little brain salad surgery
Got to cure this insecurity
I been in the wrong place
But it must have been the right time
I been in the right place
But it must have been the wrong song
I been in the right vein
But it seems like the wrong arm
I been in the right world
But it seems wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong

Slipping, dodging ,sneaking
Creeping hiding out down the street
See me life shaking with every who I meet
Refried confusion is making itself clear
Wonder which way do I go to get on out of here

I been in the right place
But it must have been the wrong time
I’d have said the right thing
But I must have used the wrong line
I’d a took the right road
But I must have took a wrong turn
Would have made the right move
But I made it at the wrong time
I been on the right road
But I must have used the wrong car
My head was in a good place
And I wonder what it’s bad for



About roger henke

Still figuring out the story line that would satisfy myself here. Listening to what my family and friends evoke, what the words I absorb, the images that move me, the movements that still me, point to.
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