If you venture to the Arab world and you’re not armed to the teeth (linguistically speaking), you’ll be taken as an easy mark by shopkeepers, touts and taxi drivers alike.
Stockpile these ten high-caliber phrases in your language arsenal, however, and you’ll be the one taking the shots. First – some pleasantries.
Salem maelekum is an Arabic mantra. Figuratively it means ‘hello’ but literally it means ‘Peace be upon thee.’ Learn it. Love it. Live it.
Malekum salam is the expected reply and translates to ‘Peace be upon thee also.’ Ironic that in the war torn Middle East, the word most often heard is peace, innit?
Nevertheless, any attempt at engaging in cultural routines will be rewarded with warm invitations for tea, dates and special ‘friend’ prices, insh’allah (God willing).
Kaffek is the simplest and most widely understood way to ask ‘how’s it going?’ Inevitably, the response is ilhumdelah meaning thanks be to Allah (the ‘fine’ and the ‘thank you’ is all implied in the ilhumdelah).
Sweet tea and pleasantries aside, the bottom line is even if they like you, they’re still gonna try to fleece ya (nothing personal, it’s just business) so here’s the nitty-gritty:
Hatha ghaliah ghidan
‘That is too expensive.’
Hatha laisa al mablagh al motad
This one means ‘that’s not the normal price’ (very handy when they see your western face coming and the price gets jacked up 200%). On your first shopping expedition, get the down low on how much the locals pay by hitting the souq with a resident.
Ati khasam min fadlak
‘Give me a discount, please.’ (But don’t bust this one out until the local price has been established.)
Hal tazon anani ghabi?
‘Do you think I’m stupid?’ Guaranteed to get a laugh and maybe the best price of the day before you act like you’re gonna walk away.
Meshy, halas means ‘OK finished.’ Once the cost has been set, fix it with this Arabic catchphrase.
Meshy, halas is also used to end phone conversations before a long series of ma’salema, ma’salema, ma’salema (Arabs have this thing about always wanting to be the last person to say goodbye).
So, good luck on your travels in the Middle East and ma’salema, ma’salema, ma’salema…