Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Arabic for dumb white people

Marhaba Habibi!

Before I moved to Doha, I decided I was going to learn Arabic. I was realistic, knowing there was no way I would become fluent, but that I’d could easily grasp conversational language. Sure, I’ve picked up words here and there, but as it turns out, almost everyone speaks English in Qatar.

It makes sense, I suppose. Ex-patriots outnumber Qatari nationals by a wide margin here. English is the dominant “business language.” Even so, this is a Muslim country and the locals speak Arabic. Shouldn't the rest of us at least try?

I went to my first business meeting the other day. I was in a conference room with about 12 Qatari men, four white dudes and three white women, myself included. The meeting was conducted in English. There was only *one* Qatari who didn’t speak English, and his buddy next to him translated the two hour meeting for his benefit.

It’s bizarre how a meeting hosting more Arabic speakers than English speakers was held in English. Westerners aren't expected to know the language, no one thinks less of us for it, but I feel like a total ass.

Anyways, sitting in an English meeting in an Arabic country made me want to learn the language even more. It is definitely tough, but beautiful too.

Here are the crucial Arabic words I’ve learned so far. Excuse any improper spelling:

Wasta – power, influence
Bizzarpt – exactly
Marhaba – welcome
Bukrah – tomorrow
Shokran – thank you
Halla- enough
Yella – go go go
La – no no no
Naam – yes
Min fadlik – please
Mabrouk – congratulations

I’m obsessed with Arabic numbers. License plates have arabic and english numbers, so it's much easier to pick them up than the alphabet. Peep this:
Alphabet here:
I know the easiest way to pick up a lanague is to immerse yourself in the culture, but how am I supposed to learn Arabic when I don't have to? It ain't right.


  1. Um,

    I'm no language or math expert, but I have a few bones to pick with this here number system and alphabet.

    How many times is an order of 222,222 barrels of oil confused with 333,333 barrels of oil? 17 times an hour?

    Second of all, their alphabet has 112 characters. And I still can't even write 'Gord'. Or even 'G'. However, they apparently have 'letters' for both the number 8 and 3. Which should come in handy, because no one can tell the fucking difference between the number symbols.


  2. That numbers chart is a little blurry. Number 3 actually looks very different from two. The greatest difficulty for me is remembering which is 2 and which is 6.

    But seriously. Arabic is hard. It doesn't help that they read from right to left. As if the language didn't look backwards already.


Ramble on...