Committed to providing reliable information for entrepreneurs, Mind Your Own Business sent a man to the Middle East to assess the situation. To our surprise, he came back. He said he had been in no particular danger from war or terrorism. The real threat came from the street traders and hustlers.
Business is no children’s game anywhere. However, in the West, we tend to work on the assumption that most people are honest and fair until they prove otherwise. It was therefore something of a culture shock to find oneself in a place – and we emphasise that we do not imply that this means the whole Middle East by any stretch of the imagination, just some of the bits our man passed through – where there are seemingly very few limits on what can be done to separate the traveller from his cash.
We list some of the things he encountered as a warning to others doing business in the region. We do not recommend that other entrepreneurs adopt any of these methods. Honesty and fairness have proved, in the longer term, valuable business assets. It is significant that some of the street traders and hustlers of the Middle East remain poor.
1 Overcharging. The big one. The first price is never the real price. Always haggle.
2 Ambiguity of status. A hustler is quite capable of posing as an official, or implying that his product or service is compulsory. At the same time, many genuine officials are capable of a little hustling on the side. On top of that, there are close relationships between hustlers and officials that would be condemned as “conflict of interest” elsewhere. Ask for identification wherever possible before handing over money.
3 Lying outright. Locals know travellers are unlikely to take them to court for misrepresentation. You should not assume you are being told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
4 Providing goods and services without asking. The traveller does not object because he assumes it is “hospitality” and he does not want to offend. Then a bill is presented. Fear of social embarrassment means that most travellers pay without making too much of a fuss. Always ask if something is free or not.
5 Shameless begging. The clichés are true: references to starving children may be brought into serious business negotiations – or simply take their place. Save your charity for well-established organisations.