Egyptian Coke

Originally uploaded by Pat and Amy’s pics

As mentioned in an earlier post, we decided to take a few Arabic lessons while in Egypt. We knew we would pick up only a few words and phrases in our time there, but it seemed an interesting way to get to know the culture a bit better.

The two-week class we had hoped to take was not for beginners, so we settled on just having a tutor work with us for a week. The lessons were both more and less than we’d hoped for. We actually started writing Arabic on the first day, and were taking dictation by the end of the second 90 minute lesson. Okay, it was only one word at a time, but it was incredible to us that we could write out words in Arabic (sometimes even correctly!).

But because the lessons were based on learning each letter and how it looked and sounded in various situations (letters can be written four different ways, depending on if the letter is at the beginning, middle or end of a word, or unattached to other letters), we never learned phrases, just words, and not very useful ones at that. We can now say elephant, comb, nose, thigh, girl, building, book, and quite a few other nouns, but just one verb, to laugh.

The thing that makes reading Arabic challenging (okay, there are a few things) is that vowels are almost never written out. We learned to write the vowels, which are usually indicated by adding little symbols above or below the consonants, but unfortunately, most signs and labels don’t actually include those extra symbols. Still, we could make out the Arabic for Coca-Cola, Baraka water, or other names when we had both the English and the Arabic, and could read some words that were only added fairly recently to Arabic. Thus we could read vanilla, chocolate, and ice cream on restaurant menus, for example, because they were just phonetically spelled out in Arabic.

It was neat when after our first lesson we went in search of the restaurant Mish Mish (recommended by our guide book, but not by us) and I said to Amy, a bit jokingly, that she should find the restaurant name in Arabic. About two seconds later, that’s just what she did.