Learning a few key words and phrases of a language always helps your trip to go more smoothly. Unlike some countries where your best linguistic efforts go unappreciated – or worse you’re answered in perfect English – Egypt and other Arab countries smile on those who try a bit of Arabic.
A few words and a little bit of willing goes a long way to build rapport and can literally be the making of your trip. Here are ten essential Arabic phrases you’ll hear and use over and over again …
1. Salaam Alaikum – Meaning ‘peace be upon you’, this is like saying hello and is a standard greeting. The response is Alaikum Salaam – and ‘upon you be peace’.
2. Shukron – Thank you / Afwan –You’re welcome.
3. Ana iza (f) Ana Ayez (m) – I want / ana izine – We want (and just as importantly, don’t want = Mish Iza).
4. Meya meya – It literally means ‘100, 100’ but translates as ‘excellent’ or ‘really good’. Great to say at the end of a meal!
5. Bezupt! – Exactly!
6. Bukra – Means ‘Tomorrow’. But you know when the Spanish say mañana and the South Africans say just now and they’re referring not to actual tomorrow but to some undetermined time in the future – whenever someone gets round to it. Well Bukra is the Arabic equivalent.
7. Yani –The Arabic for ‘you know’, ‘so’, ‘like’ or in French alors. The word peppers Arabic conversation to such an extent that you’ll probably find it, yani, really hard to stop saying it when you get home.
8. Inshallah. Meaning God Willing. This isn’t so much a phrase as a way of life. This is added to every statement uttered, because no-one expects anything to happen, it can only come to pass if it is God’s Will – and to assume something is guaranteed and controlled by man is bordering on the heretic. You will hear on an EgyptAir flight the following announcement: ‘Today we will be flying to Cairo, Inshallah.’ I enjoy this.
9. Khalas – It’s finished, that’s enough, let that be an end to it. If someone is hassling you, you can use this word, but it is a little abrupt so be warned!
10. Yalla – Come on, let’s go, hurry up all rolled into one great word.
Note: I am using Egyptian Arabic here as this is what I know. If I’ve got something wrong or there’s another Arabic equivalent in different countries please say – and if you’ve found my top ten essential Arabic phrases useful I’d love to hear from you in the comments below too!
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