Ask Bee: 10 Essential Arabic phrases I learnt in my first month in Jeddah…and you should too!
Due to the sheer numbers of expatriates in Jeddah, it is common to see people coming here to settle all the time. It is quite true, that with the aid of rapid hand gestures and basic English, one can manage perfectly well on a day to day basis without any knowledge of the Arabic language. However, those who have been here a while will agree that understanding and usage of a few choice words makes one’s life that much easier.
In this month’s blog post, Bee addresses the concerns of a newly-settled resident who frets that she is unable to communicate in the local language and gives us 10 of the most commonly used Arabic words to get us going 🙂 If you think Bee has left out a word or phrase of vital importance, leave a comment and let us know !
Bee is a 30 something mother, wife, corporate consultant and a bona fide prodigy in the art of shelling out unnecessary, unsolicited and often useless advice. The kind people at her office actually pay her for doing this on an hourly daily basis and she returns the kindness by making them lose sleep over random pointless issues. She currently lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia with her very sane husband (he takes after his mother) and her two not very sane children (they too take after their mother). Her own personal hell would be to have nothing to do with no-one paying her for pretending to have nothing to do.
“Before I moved to Jeddah, I was a hip-swinging, fist-pumping hippy who liked to party all night and didn’t know a word of Arabic. The above is not really true except maybe the last bit; my knowledge of the language was rudimentary at best. I knew a few words here and there from the Quran but didn’t know the contextual use or even the Saudi pronunciation so even when I used those words, I got completely blank stares from the locals.”
Having dealt with this blank stare marathon at numerous occasions I decided to arm myself with the must-know-can’t-survive-without list of Arabic phrases. These phrases along with a clever mix of expressive sign language will make your life and transition much easier. I promise you that!
1. Kayf Haa-lak: Translated as “How are you?” is a great opening line. If you are in Lebanese company, you may use the more informal “Kee-fak”. If you are like me, feel free to switch to English after that first ice-breaker.
2. Af-wan: Translated “welcome, excuse me” is a standard phrase when someone is being nice or when you want to ask for something.
3. LO- Samat: This means “Please listen to me” and is mainly used to draw attention to yourself when in a shop or public place. This works like a charm in places where “hello” and “excuse me” are often ignored.
4. Maafi Mushkila: Translated as “does not matter” or “it is OK”. Get ready to hear it on an average 90 times a day. You can use it to put someone at ease signaling he doesn’t have to bother anymore; it’s taken care of or does not matter anymore. Works well to get rid of unwanted people!
5. Fayn Hammam: This means “Where is the toilet”. This was a life saver because when I came to Jeddah, I was toilet training my son and going to a mall armed with this phrase saved me and the mall floors a lot of mess! Fayn means “where” in Arabic so learn a lot of permutations according to your own needs.
6. Ya-meen/ Ee-sar/ A-la-tool/Wa-gaf he-na: Translated respectively “Right/ Left/ Go Straight/ Stop Here”. DO NOT I repeat DO NOT take a cab without these four, unless you want to end up at some random god-forsaken place with no clue how to get home. You hear the bitterness? I have lived through this!
7. Kamm Faloos: Translated “How much does it cost”. This can also be shortened simply to Kamm. A must-know when shopping!
8. The Arabic numerals from 1 to 10: (refer to this page for easy to follow tips)
9. Na’am/ay-wa: Translated “Yes”. If you understand the questions (lucky you!!) and want to answer in affirmative, these are the words!
10. La/ Maafi/ Mo: Means ‘no’ or ‘not’.
Ohhh and the last bonus one that I use most often Maa’rif Arabi meaning “I don’t know Arabic”. This is great to stop people from asking you long complicated questions in Arabic or worse asking for directions. Again, been there….many times.
I hope you find the above useful and save yourself some trouble when dealing with the locals. Shukran ‘Thank you’ for reading 🙂
If you have any questions for Bee, send us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org with the title Ask Bee.