Talk like an Egyptian…

While the official language is Arabic, the actual language of Egypt is a weird mix of colloquial Arabic, English, French, and words left over from Turkish rule.   Due to a variety of factors; high number of language centers, relatively low cost of living, easy entry, Egypt can be a good place to study standard or classical Arabic.  It is not however a good place to speak it.  Even educated people will have a hard time conversing with you in fusha, or classical Arabic.  Dh, who is fluent in Arabic, claims that the people understand English better than they understand fusha.  He does have a point. 

Once while ordering fish, I requested a little less than a kilo.  Or aqal min kilo.  A blank look from a man behind the counter.  I tried a few more times.  Finally someone translated it to Egyptian (ammeyah) for him.  “A’al min kilo.”  “Oh”, and he says to me exasperated, “Well speak Arabic!”  Excuse me, but I was! 

You do need to have some survival Arabic, as most people are far from fluent in English.  I tried to order bottled water last night, something I do weekly, in Arabic, with no problem.  For some reason, this time I was put on hold and given someone who supposedly spoke English.  “What is your order?”  I repeated to him, this time in English that I wanted 4 cartoons of Nestle.  “What?”  I tried again, 4 boxes of Nestle.  Silence.  Third try, I want 4 boxes of Nestle water.  “Oh, Nestla?”  Yeah, that. 

A lot of times you can just use the English word and add a slight accent to it.  I asked for Vaseline at a pharmacy and just got blank looks.  I tried a few more times, before inspiration struck.  I looked at how it was written in Arabic on the bottles behind the counter and pronounced it that way.  “Oh, Vazleen!”, exclaimed the pharmacist in recognition.   There are tons of English words used here in place of the proper Arabic words, delivery, baby, cash, and bye-bye just to name a few. 

The irony is, Egypt can claim a big part in actually preserving the Arabic language thanks to the scholars of language they graduate from Al-Azhar University.  Unfortunately that scholarship in no way extends to the streets and common language of the people.

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One Response

  1. as salaamu alaikum wa rahmatuAllahi wa barakaatuh,
    subhaanAllah this reminded me of so many times, the other day the kids afterschool Quraan teacher was asking me why dont my kids speak ameyyah with me (as we speak to them mostly in english, and then if we are speaking arabic its mostly in fusha, and ameyyah on the street), and i was telling her they are at rawdah fusha and then she was saying that she doesnt think its beneficial for us (foreighners) to come here and study fusha, subhaanAllah, she then dissed places that teach us fusha saying that even at azhar the sheikh teaches in ameyyah and speaks in ameyyah. I just said mashaAllah, we need to learn the fusha so that we can read at least, i dont know too many books written in ameyyah lol.Plus why would someone praise someone for knowing how to speak ameyyah yet the same person cant read the words of Allah subhaanAllah (ghareeb owee loll)U gotta talk about the fusha and ameyyah language we start developing over time lol (like mish eyes dhalik lol, or hakadha mish faahima loll iglis hoona, or ijlis hena LOLL)
    whats really funny is when they say u cant speak english lol esp the delivery one

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