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For those not familiar with Arabic

Here’s To The Day Of Onions

For those not familiar with Arabic

…it can at first sound like a hard language, a bit of a rough language, like everybody is shouting at one another. In fact, on my first foray into the Middle East I was transfixed by the way people would be apparently screaming at each other only to suddenly break into endless smiles, kisses and pats on the back seconds later.

The Arabic you’ll hear on the streets of Dahab isn’t the same as the Arabic I first heard taking eager steps over the Syrian border. You’ll hear Egyptian Colloquial Arabic and of course local Bedouin dialects. There are some key differences between the two which I won’t spend too much time going into here, but if you’re in Dahab for an extended holiday you may like to try your hand at both!

Having a shot at the local lingo is always appreciated by people around here. I’ve always found the locals very kind when I make a mistake. A few years back now it was pointed out to me by a bilingual friend that I’d informed my carpenter ‘I am a house 2 o’clock’…. meaning of course: ‘could you please come to my house at 2 o’clock’. More recently a friend of mine asked the waiter at the restaurant for a ‘power of attorney’ instead of the check. The waiter didn’t even blink.

I’m not an expert and my Arabic is at best conversational, however I’d like to share with you some of my favourite sayings. I think it’s a lovely language. I hope you’ll agree!

YA SALAAM سلام يا

Ya is an expression used like ‘hey’ to get someone’s attention. Salaam means peace. Ya salaam together is a versatile phrase that depending on your intonation can convey delight, humour, sadness, pride… you name it. For me, my favourite use would have to be when someone does or says something a bit stupid…or possibly falls over. Ya Salaam!


Youm means day, assl is honey and basl is onion. It’s a nice simple phrase that together reads, day of honey, day of onion. Some days will be good and some days will be bad. You can use it to comfort someone or in a more subtle way, to say that even though someone may be on top of it now, their day may soon come.


Literally meaning ‘God Willing’ but can be applied to a number of situations and uses. It can sometimes be hard to know if you’re hearing a real ‘Inshallah’ or an Arabic ‘no’.

FIL MISH MISH المشمش في

Never, impossible, when pigs fly, not going to happen. You can use this phrase to express scepticism about something happening. Literally it means ‘in the apricot season’ which in Egypt is just 2 weeks long.

ZAYY SAMN ALA ASSL عسل على سمن ي ز

Two people who get along really well together, like peas in a pod, the best of friends. Literally meaning ‘like clarified butter on honey’.


Literally means ‘Tomorrow’ but can be applied to a whole host of situations involving getting out of chores!

MEYA MEYA مية مية

100% Everything is great but can also be used as ‘definitely’.

And I’d like to end my far from exhaustive list with the morning greetings which are just a lot of fun!

SABAH EL KHEIR الخير صباح

Literally the morning of good used as ‘good morning’. This is said first. And then you can pick a response….
Sabah el Noor – Morning of light
Sabah el Ful – Morning of Jasmine (the little white flower that smells terrific)
Sabah el Eshta – Morning of cream
Sabah el Ward – Morning of rose

How cool is that!?

Till next blog,

If you’d like to add some classroom time to your beach time while you’re out here next, let us know. We can set up Arabic lessons starting from just 100LE per hour and you can take as many or as few lesson as you’d like. You can even have the tutor teach you poolside.
Please email any questions to me at:

Photo from wikimedia commons

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