One of the best ways to experience the local culture is by learning a few words or phrases in the local language. Although English is nowadays the most spoken language in Dubai, Arabic is the official language in the UAE. When you visit Dubai, knowing a few Arabic words will help you feel more connected to the culture. You’ll especially want to know some of the key phrases when you experience the famous “Arab hospitality”.
From the minute you meet someone until the time you say goodbye, you’ll feel the hospitality in Dubai. And it’s not just about saying “hello”. It’s the Arabic coffee greeting and the offering of rose water. You always feel welcome! Bedouin culture is known for its hospitality and generosity, and when you visit the traditional areas or the Al Marmoom Bedouin Experience, the locals will definitely appreciate it if you know some of the Arabic terms.
So, if you want to be able to reciprocate the hospitality of the good people of Dubai, knowing a little Arabic doesn’t hurt. For instance, when men greet one another with a handshake, they often come face-to-face to let their noses touch. The right hand is always used, as the left is considered unclean.
If someone of the opposite gender refuses to shake your hand, don’t worry, you didn’t do anything wrong. Some people here just believe men and women should not greet each other with physical contact.
HOW TO SAY “HELLO”
It’s fine to address a group of people, but make sure you give everyone a personal greeting as well. This will go a long way in terms of politeness.
Common ways to greet someone include:
- As-salaam ‘alykum:
This is arguably the most common greeting. It means, “peace be upon you”. You’ll note that the greeting has the same ring as “Muslim”, “Islam”, and “salaam” all of which have their root in “sallima”––meaning, “to surrender (to the will of God)”. For Muslims, the greeting expresses their religious identity and is supposed to send the message that the other person is Muslim. For non-Muslims, I’d recommend using it with Arabs they know well.If you are greeted this way, the reply is “Wa ‘alaykum as-salaam” meaning, “peace be upon you too.”
- Ahlan (hello):
This can be used for anyone at any time of the day. Put your hands together as you approach them, and kiss them on the cheeks saying “Ahlan”. Traditionally, ladies will only kiss ladies and men kiss men. This also depends on the relationship between the people. “Ahlan Wa Sahlan” (welcome) is the more formal version of “Ahlan”.The most common reply is “Ahlan bik” to a male or “Ahlan biki” to a female. To reply to more than one person, say, “Ahlan bikum.
- Marhaba (Welcome):
It comes from the word “rahhaba” which means “to welcome”. The common reply is “Marhaban bik”, “Marhaban biki”, and “Marhaban bikum” to a male, female, and more than one person respectively.
ROSE WATER AND ARABIC COFFEE
There are other ways Arab hospitality is expressed, namely rose water and Arabic Coffee.
Rose water is an old Bedouin tradition, poured over your hands when you arrive at the camp. As the Bedouins were desert travellers, they did this to refresh their guests and wash away any unpleasant smells they had garnered through their travels.
Arabic Coffee is a bit more interesting, as there are two ways to greet someone with it. The first is with half a cup; this means you’re welcome to hang around for a while. But if you are poured a full cup, you’ll have to quaff it and be on your way. There are many traditions associated with Arabic coffee which still live on today.