Asmaa Al Hameli | September 17, 2013
Mishan Enta [because of you] is a phrase commonly used by Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis when Arabs ask for discounts. They use it to make you feel you are a special customer, even though, all customers to them are special. It suggests they would not normally give the discount, but “mishan enta”.
As I walked through Madinat Zayed shopping mall, irritated by the heavy smell of popcorn enveloping my abaya, suddenly, one of the shopkeepers – we call them all rafeeq, which means friend – at the kiosk called out to me.
“Eeeji Mama” [Come Mama], he said in broken Arabic, trying to introduce me to his latest accessories and colorful artistic items. I was dumbfounded that he would call a 20-something girl “mama”. But I didn’t react badly, because I knew he did not mean to insult me. After giving it some thought, I took a quick look at his newest items.
Rafeeq was trying to get me to buy anything. It was “Mama, shoof shoof, haza jadeed eeji, wajid jain” [Mama, look at this, this is a new collection, very nice]. When I finally decided to buy a gem-studded bracelets, I asked: Kam [how much]?
Rafeeq: Haza zab’een Mama [Dh70]
Me: Sab’een wayed [Dh70 is too much]
Rafeeq: Mishan enta, ana ya’ati Dh40 [Because you're special, you can have it for Dh40]
I wondered, upon hearing his broken Arabi, why does each nationality speak its own version of Arabic? I find that Arabic-speaking expatriates make the language their own, extracting certain Arabic words and making a new language out of it. Kind of like Arabish.
And the culprit is Arabs themselves, in my humble opinion.
When my family was in a restaurant in Switzerland, a Bangladeshi man served us. After taking our orders, he turned to the next table to check on customers as they ate their meals. We noticed something peculiar (at least to us) about this guy. He could hold a fluent conversation in Swiss. He did not stutter nor did he have any difficulty pronouncing words. I think the explanation is simple. Swiss people speak to all residents of Switzerland in the same way. They make no distinction or exception for immigrants.
Now, let’s turn look at Asians working in the UAE. How many can have an extended conversation in Arabic? It is not uncommon to hear Arabs speaking in broken Arabic to these people: Ana fak’kr [I thought], ana kalam [I said], enta khabr [ you said], and best of all, fi ma’loom [I do know]. These are not proper phrases. This is unfair to the Arabic language and to those who are trying to learn and speak it.
Recently, the mother of one of my friends had a huge fight with their helper, Sakkina. The day after the argument, the family fired her. When Sakkina, an Ethiopian, was asked why she did what she did, all she could say was: Mama, grr grr grr [Mama nags non-stop] and then she burst into tears. She couldn’t defend herself due to the language barrier and had no intermediary to clarify the situation.
Another problem is that young Arab children pick up on this broken Arabic and use it, thinking it is the right way to pronounce the words because that is what they hear from their nannies and drivers.
My family has started conversing with our house staff in the Emirati dialect. When they don’t get certain words or phrase, we explain to them how to pronounce them properly. This is the best way to improve communication and interaction.
Imagine, if we started speaking to non-Arabs in the same dialect we use with our fellow citizens, we might lessen the burden on their shoulders. If an Arab can speak and pronounce the English language with an accent understandable to someone from any English speaking country, then what would stop others from speaking and pronouncing our own Arabic language fluently.
Nonetheless, mishan enta is my favorite broken Arabic phrase.