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39 Things Only Americans Who Study Arabic Will Understand

Ma3lish, habibi. Welcome.

Posted on December 16, 2013, at 10:16 a.m. ET

1. So you're one of those Americans who decided to study Arabic.


Maybe you wanted to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Or write the definitive book on cats in the Middle East?

2. At first it seemed easy. It was fun to draw all those loopy letters: ا ب ت ث

3. And everyone was jealous of the kids of Middle Eastern descent in class who already knew the basics.


And those Hebrew speakers too...

4. Then (sorry, ustaz), shit got real.

20th Century Fox Television

5. Na3m.

6. You probably practiced the ayn and ghayn for hours each day and still looked and sounded stupid.

Walt Disney / Via

Can we all just agree that the gurgling tip does not work?

7. You spent the whole weekend memorizing new grammar rules — only to spend the next three years learning all of the exceptions that native speakers don't even care about.

Walt Disney / Via

8. Google Translate became your friend for the homework that you could never quite complete.

Nickelodeon / Via

Ibn Battuta, please stop traveling.

9. You cringed every time the token know-it-all in class corrected someone mid-sentence for not emphasizing the shadda enough.

10. And you had some pretty weird daydreams about lonely Maha from the Al Kitaab textbook.


Oh, Khaled!

11. There were some low points in class when the awzan were introduced. And a rude awakening when there stopped being vowels in your reading homework.

12. And there was that first time you got your writing homework back, and your professor had changed all the periods to commas.

Not to mention the commas go the wrong way!

13. Then you probably went abroad and realized that there really are over 50 regional dialects and you would be in a permanent state of confusion for the next five months trying to use the fusha you learned back in America.

14. But at least Al Kitaab taught you how to say which university and state you were from.

Walt Disney / Via

أنا من جامعة ميدلبري

15. There were the expected awkward language moments, like the time the your friend asked the waiter for extra piss (تبول) instead of spice (توابل).

20th Century Fox / Via

Bonus: Your name is Paul or Jordan.

16. And the constant game of trying to figure out what kind of insha'allah to expect.

Carnival Films / Via

So... just so we're clear, in this context do you mean never, or likely?

17. Then there was that sinking feeling when you spoke to a Bedouin for the first time and understood absolutely nothing being said.

New Line Cinema / Via

18. But it's all OK because you fell in love with the language's context — the wonderful people, places, and traditions that are so much more than simple stereotypes. Except for the shisha smoking part.

19. So when Arabic class finished you felt sad because Arabic withdrawals.

Nickelodeon / Via

20. But, unlike Maha, you're not alone. Ahlan wa sahlan.

Lionsgate Entertainment / Via

21. Because when you see someone reading Arabic in public you can't help but do this:

22. Or when you hear a native Arabic speaker in America your head suddenly does this.

23. And with verging-on-creepy overexcitement you do this and try to interject yourself in their conversation.


Spongebob is, of course, always also there.

24. You can't stop smiling when people say "too much" and "by the way" where it doesn't make sense in English but would in Arabic.

25. Neither can you remove ma3lish from your everyday vocabulary.

Walt Disney / Via

No English word quite captures it.

26. On the other hand, you've also had to try to not react like this when someone earnestly asks if you study Arabia or Muslim.

27. Or not lose it when someone in your class gets this: "You study Arabic? But you're blonde. And aren't all Arabs, like, dangerous?"



28. Or this: "Do they make you, like, wear a veil in class?"

Paramount Pictures / Via

Wait, does this mean you have to convert?

29. Then there's that neverending conversation with your parents about your professional goals with Arabic.

HBO / Via

Or maybe try this: "Who needs a job? With my broken Arabic plurals I get free dessert at any Middle Eastern restaurant!... Anyway, all my Arabic class friends are now unpaid interns in D.C. think tanks."

30. But your Arabic-speaking friends understand why you have so many people named Mohammed and Ahmed in your phone.

Paramount Pictures / Via

31. And think it's baller, too, that you can realize the accents in Homeland are really off.

32. And when someone asks if you want what sounds like cock, you know they mean something more like this:

Instagram / Via

It's pronounced from the guttural.

33. And they share that sense of pride when you know trivia questions like what Al Jazeera, Al Shabaab, Qatar, and Latifa (of Queen Latifa) actually mean.


Spoiler: Latifa can mean kind or beautiful, which she is. And who knew they say bismillah in "Bohemian Rhapsody"?

34. Or why you are so, so obsessed with this guy.

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Bassem Youssef: He's so cute!!

35. Sometimes you still get a little diva-ish. Like when someone says they studied Arabic for a year and then switched to Chinese.

New Line Cinema / Via

36. Or, when after two years, your friends who study Spanish ask, "So are you fluent yet?"

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Fil mish mish.

37. And when someone tells you they studied at University of Texas and is all like, "I studied with the professors who wrote Al Kitaab." We get it. You win.

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38. But you know you made the right decision to study Arabic.

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39. Because when people tell you the region is too chaotic, you just click your tongue and say, "Mish mushkela."

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