Tuesday, October 11, 2011

language & culture..."still alive."

TYD Trivia: I’m pretty [usually, secretly] excited that I have a master’s degree. Not so much for things public, but rather internal—I have tools in my pocket with which I can organize and understand… my life and the world around me. My most favorite course in grad school was “Language and Culture.” Bottom line: Language and Culture must be approached in tandem: they are co-dependent while co-existing.

For example, here, when something great happens to you, your friend will tell you something like Congratulations--Mabrook!” or “With blessings!” And your required response is,Ahlayabarakfiki!” or “The same [or greater] blessings on YOU!” You don’t just say, “Thank you”—that’s rude! You wish the same goodness back on your well wisher! This is the culture being shown in the language.

You begin to see the hospitality and deep graciousness of the Arab people in the sweet dance that is the Arabic language. [You can also see their desire to constantly “one up” each other in goodness and well-wishes. It’s beautiful. Haha.] So here’s to reaching my dorkiness quota before my 200th word. Let’s keep going.

So, while I was in the ME, I bet you would guess that I grabbed this “Language and Culture” bull by both hands and fully engaged!!!


I was much too… somethin’ to actually study Arabic while I was there, ya know, totally immersed in it. [Oh, regrets… let’s line up.] What it really came down to was that I was too tired, too poor and…. kind of… too sick of Arabic by the end of the day that I didn’t want to hear another word, let alone study and practice it. [In my defense, I always gave my best efforts to memorize and understand what I could via auditory skills. But I definitely recommend a more disciplined and committed way of learning. Shame, Sarah, shame.] I can’t exactly form an accurate, functional sentence, but I got me some colloquial phrases and a little Arab accent that made people think I knew more Arabic than I do. Or they’re so nice and just flatter me beyond what is the truth… Hmmm…

Well, one day, I came home from work especially exhausted and a little down-trodden. My day had turned out to be more than I was prepared for and I just wanted some flowers, but was too pathetic in the heart to go get them for myself [see previous post].

One of my big ole’ protectors [pictured to the left] met me on the street, just smilin’ away, and greeted me more extravagantly than normal [sometimes he doesn’t greet me at all]. He suddenly became very concerned about my posture and countenance.

He gave his best impression of my usual self to communicate his disappointment in my weariness. [That makes two of us buddy—but how did you notice?!] So after the charades he again asked how I was, and I finally responded, “Good! … VERY good!!”

Immediately, I received a personalized, gift-wrapped 3-minute lecture [no lie], in Arabic, about how my Arabic is wrong and how I am not allowed to say this. [Who died and made him the Boss of Arabic?!] He said that I can’t say this because it’s like taking a glass that is already half full of water and pouring “too much” water in it—to the point where it overflows! [Yes, I understood this in Arabic. “Mabrook” to me.] And I interjected that, “Yessss!!!! Shukran!!! [Thank you!!!] This is EXACTLY what I wanted to say!!!”

No. According to him, this is exactly what I don’t want to say.


But in my mind and in my heart, it really IS what I want to communicate: My cup runneth over. This land, its culture, its language, its people—they’ve all exhausted me today, but I love it. Yes, sir, my cup runs over.

However, I’ll kid no one—I did not attempt to explain that in my dilapidated Arabic. Instead I let him finish up insisting that I can’t say this, that’s it’s not good to say, that it’s bad for your cup to spill over. [Probably some other thing in the culture I haven’t encountered and therefore don't understand yet.]

But it makes a little sense to me. In my mind, it’s as if you can never really be overly happy or just “really good” here. DAILY, I would ask people, in Arabic, how they were and the response I would get, always in English, with a dead-pan serious face was, “Still alive.”

And then I look at the person like this:

"What? Still alive?!”

And then they laugh, like it’s so funny. Haha, “Scared the Shagra” or something. But I guess we say it in English too. Not gonna complain, but I’m not gonna be happy, either. Ok, ya Eeyores!

But until I get yelled at by a considerable amount of Arabs, reprimanding my poor Arabic, I’m going to continue to sing that my cup runneth over.

For, indeed, it does.


  1. Still Alive??? That is funny. I wonder if they think jinn will get jealous and attack them if they say they're doing really well. (That would be the Turkish mentality...)

  2. I'm gonna start giving presents for my most faithful commenter. You're gonna win. So what do you want? I'll have it shipped to you. ;) Ya know, I encountered a lot of jinn and evil eye talk in North Africa, but haven't heard too much about it in the ME--but I wonder if you're exactly right! It really does "make sense" in this case... I'm going to keep exploring this. Thanks, sweet OT. :)


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