BAKSHEESH \bak.SHEESH or BAK.sheesh\ n. a custom of offering a small sum of money, with a variety of intentions, in parts of Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East. Also BAKSHISH
The following excerpt from the travel diary of TourEgypt guide, Joyce Carta, provides by far the most vivid description of the baksheesh culture I’ve been able to find…
Basically, there are three kinds of baksheesh. The first is baksheesh as “alms giving.” One of the 5 tenants of Islam is the giving of alms to the poor. The giver is made more holy by the action. We encountered surprisingly few opportunities in the streets for this kind of baksheesh. Either the government provides well for the potential beggars or the people are more industrious and thus embarrassed to spend their lives in this fashion.
The second type is baksheesh as “for services rendered.” This is the closest to the western tipping practices. Except it goes further. There are people at the airport whose only job appears to be opening doors. Of course, they require baksheesh. And every bathroom has an attendant, who expects a few piastres for keeping the place clean (supposedly). One is continuously passing out a few piastres here and a few there. Thank goodness the group had the central tipping kitty administered by the tour guide, who knew the proper amount to baksheesh.
The third kind of baksheesh is “for the granting of favors.” Want to see what’s in the tomb which is posted as closed? A few piastres will see a key miraculously produced. Want to see an excellent photo location? Just 25 piastres. How about having a light in that museum display case? Don’t forget me when you leave. Want to see a forbidden mummy? Only another 50 piastres The amazing thing is that you don’t even need to ask for the services. Upon identifying a mark, even the museum guards will follow you around and provide services and grant favors. Interestingly, after getting over the initial adverse reaction to the practice, it becomes expected and even pleasurable. In the Museum of Islamic Art, for instance, we really appreciated the guard who turned on lights and pointed out features in terribly broken English. Without him we never would have enjoyed some beautifully illuminated manuscripts. It was a pleasure to give him 2 pounds as we left. And the smile on his face was rewarding also.
Interestingly, from what I can tell at least, baksheesh has only once appeared in a New York Times crossword puzzle, and that was over a decade ago! The clue was [Payment to expedite service ]. A polite word for ‘bribe’.
For Scrabblers playing to Collins/CSW/SOWPODS, you can also take advantage of the following variants of today’s word: BACKSHEESH, BACKSHISH, BAKHSHISH, BUCKSHISH. This lexicon also allows all of these variants as verbs, while only BAKSHISH can be treated as a verb in the North American lexicon.