Arabic Lessons & Taxi Rides

This morning I woke up at 9am. Shit. Late for class. Did the sniff test to see which of my clothes emitted the least detectable odor. Settled on jeans and a rumpled pink shirt. I need to do laundry…

Decided to be an extra five minutes late and stopped at my favorite roadside stand for a manaeesh zaatar wah khudra (hot bread sprinkled with zaatar and filled with fresh khudra – vegetables (tomato, cucumber, radish, pickles, fresh mint, olives, etc)) – basically an Arabic breakfast burrito. YUM. And don’t judge me on the extra five minutes – I don’t function well without breakfast and it’s only 750 Lebanese Lira – a whopping 50 cents. HEAVEN!

Crumbs decorating my already questionably clean shirt I rushed into class after making a mandatory stop in the bathroom to mop the sweat off my face. Walking into class, as you can imagine, I looked…lovely. Ear to ear grin, I gave a warm ‘sabah-hall khair!’ (good morning!) to my teacher, Nadia, who gave me that knowing grin that all my teachers throughout the history of my adult life have given me when I inevitably clumsily stumble into class, late as usual.

Standard Arabic Cell Phone Key Pad Two hours later, proud of the progress I’d made in class, I met Omar for a coffee at Costa where we he taught me how to text in Arabic. Despite the fact that all phones here have Arabic letters written alongside the English letters, everyone seems to text in the English, Latin-based alphabet, instead of using the Arabic alphabet – Arabic words written out phonetically with numbers substituting the sounds that don’t translate. For example, the ‘H’-ish sound in the word ‘rooH’ (to go), is texted as a ‘7’ – roo7. The guttural ‘aiyn’ sound, is texted as a ‘3,’ etc. It’s weird and complicated, but an essential thing to know in a world where texting is the standard way of communicating.

I left Omar around noon, and caught a taxi over to Dowra (area on the outskirts of Beirut)  to check on my beloved ‘kom-pew-tair’ as they call it over here in Libnan. My cab driver quickly picked up that I was foreign and proceeded to give me Arabic lessons all the way to Dowra.

Him: ‘Where are we now?’
Me: ‘In Lebanon.’
Him: ‘La! (No!) Be Libnan.’
Me: (Laughing) ‘Okay, be Libnan’
Him: ‘Maabrook habibti! Btheki Arabe!’ (Congratulations darling! You speak Arabic!)
Me: (Still laughing) ‘Shukrun!’ (Thanks!)
Him: ‘Inti Libnanieh?’ (Are you Lebanese?)
Me: ‘Eh, immi libnanieh.’ (Yeah, my Mom’s Lebanese)
Him: (switching over to French) Et t’a un fiancé? (And you have a fiancé?)

Oh brother….

I have discovered that inquiring minds in Lebanon always want to know if you’re engaged. In fact, the masculine and feminine forms of the word ‘engaged’ were two of the first I learned when I arrived in Beirut. He proceeded to tell me that he had a lovely Muslim son in his late 20s who loves girls who laugh. I declined, as politely as I could, the following generous offer of a blind date with said son just as we arrived in Dowra.  I claimed to be a devout Christian but if his son was willing to convert….The only proven way I have yet discovered to end such conversations. An, ‘aw, tant pis!’ ended that conversation dead in its tracks. Phew! Narrow escape. And I climbed out of the cab and hurried over to the computer shop where my computer has been living this past week.

Ah, good news! My computer is up and running again! So happy!! I’m well aware that it’s no exceptional breakthrough, but I hadn’t realized how completely dependent I am upon this stupid rectangular machine. A new hard-drive + $100 + 6 interesting taxi rides back and forth to Dowra proved to be the answer to all my problems and now I’m up and running again without a care in the world! Inshallah!  Now, time for a shower, and maybe I’ll do some of that laundry…


17 responses to “Arabic Lessons & Taxi Rides

  1. Found your blog via Lonely Plant as as a fellow student of Nadia’s (briefly) I’m loving hearing about Beirut while I can’t be there. Can’t wait to get back in late September although being older than you, after the taxi drivers ask if I’m married and get a negative in response, they usually offer themselves rather than their sons!

    • haha! love that you’re directly offered marriage proposals. So glad to hear that you’re enjoying my blog!! Can’t believe you were one of Nadia’s students – small word 🙂

  2. I love the description of you coming into class late…I’ve been there and done that sooo many times!

  3. Hey so I found your blog on the NYTimes website while looking for things to do in Beirut. I’m coming in Oct and never been there! Really enjoy reading it, I saw you are learning arabic, what program are you doing it through? Im Iraqi, but American born and raised and want to learn arabic as well! Thanks

    • Hi Aveen!

      I personally recommend 2 places to study Arabic in Beirut: Saifi Institute ( and ALPS (, then ‘jump to an area’ to find ALPS)

      Saifi no longer does private lessons which I why I now go to ALPS (I only visit Beirut on short R&Rs) but I found teachers at both locations to be fantastic!


    • I second what Helen wrote – I actually think that the Safi Institute is better than ALPS, but those two are the cheapest I’ve been able to find in Beirut. The class sizes are small and they teach classical Arabic as well as the Lebanese dialect. There are also more formal and intensive classes offered at both AUB (American University of Beirut) and LAU (Lebanese American University), but those are significantly more expensive. Good luck! Let me know if you have any other questions!

      • Thanks Helen and Colette!

        I’m actually leaving for Beirut on FRIDAY! woo!

        I’ll have to check out both programs and let you know if I have any other questions. Thanks again!

      • Happy to hear it! Enjoy Beirut and let me know if you have any other questions!

  4. Great site…keep up the good work.

  5. This blog rocks! I gotta say, that I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks,

    • Thank you for the compliments! So happy to hear that people are enjoying the blog – started out as just something fun for me so it’s amazing to know that others are getting something out of it as well!

  6. Im sure many of you are like me and one of the first things you do in the morning is head here and check out the new post. Along with seeing the new posts, I’m also always checking out the blog roll rss feed and watching them grow, or shrink sometimes. In one of my past …but all in all excellent site. Keep it up!

  7. Hi! I know this post has been inactive for a while but I am also looking for a place to study arabic in the summer and am having a hard time. Saifi is great but they do not offer MSA courses in the summer which is what I want to take. I cannot seem to figure out anything about the ALPS… no language courses listed on the site

    I am specifically looking to take beginner MSA lessons for about a month in Beirut this summer either June, July, or August. Thanks!

  8. Great Site and Blog.Intersting posts are coming up.

  9. Great blog! thanks for the interesting feedback!

  10. Great web site. A lot of useful information here. I’m sending it to a few friends ans additionally sharing in delicious. And naturally, thank you in your sweat!

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