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The Subtext Struggle

Arabic is a colourful language full of nuances, intimacy and subtext. It doesn’t always translate that well into English, which can cause some difficulties for non-Egyptians trying to communicate in this country.

To be completely honest, it causes difficulties for Egyptians too, which is why we’ve compiled this invaluable guide to understanding what Egyptians really mean when they’re speaking to you, in four accessible categories.

If only it was this easy...

Arabic Basics

Ma3lesh…
Actually means: I could not give even two shits about your problem, for the love of God get over it.

A7a!”
Actually means: I’m happy/I’m surprised/I’m angry/I’m sad/I’m constipated/I’m in love/I’m dying/I’ve just given birth/Someone just stepped on my foot and that upset me a bit.

7abiby!
Actually means: Bro!

Msh Moshkila.
Actually means: This is a very, very serious problem, and one that I am either very upset about, or have absolutely no idea how to solve.

“En 3eshna…”
Actually means: Only in your wildest and most inappropriate of dreams, you hopeless piece of crap.

“Kol sana w enta tayyeb…”
Actually means: Give me money.

Travel and Transportation

“I’ll be there in 20 minutes.”
Actually means: I’ll be there in an hour

“Just go down this way and you’ll find it on the right.”
Actually means: Drive straight then take your first left, then your second right, then make a U-turn and drive for 20 kilometers until you see the gas station on your left. Ask the man inside for the ‘map’ then follow its directions in reverse until you find the woman in a purple galabeyya walking a small dog behind the koshk. The destination will be on your right.

“Aiwa, I’m here.”
Actually means: I’m on the road that will eventually lead me to your house, eventually, inshallah.

“5aly 5aly.” (In a cab)
Actually means: You’re gonna need to pay me at least twice as much as that/I might be part of a secret gang of hash dealers and if you respond with the proper password phrase, I’ll consider selling you a few coins of the good stuff hidden underneath my fuzzy seat covers.

Food and Shopping

“La, la, I didn’t eat anything yet.”
Actually means: I had a sandwich and two cakes

“Veddy fresh, veddy fresh vegetables!”
Actually means: This arrived on a truck last week.

“Bacon.”
Actually means: Turkey bacon.

Vegetarian plate.”
Actually means: Chicken and rice

Love and relationships

“She’s my girlfriend.”
Actually means: We made eye contact yesterday.

“Special deal, just for you!”
Actually means: I have a box full of these that I haven’t been able to get rid of for at least a month, and you look gullible.

“Ssssssss ps ps ps ps ps psssss…”
Actually means: You’re beautiful/I love you/Dat ass!/Your make-up looks nice today/I think we should be together/Were you in that porno I watched last night?/Do you have a sister?/Is that a new hairstyle?/I’ll pick you up Thursday at 10 on my Vesba.