The Pyramids of Giza in Cairo, Egypt

Expeditions blog

Seven Arabic words and phrases to enrich your trip to Egypt

October 28, 2022

Arabic can be an intimidating language to learn, with dozens of varieties that vary geographically. Egyptian Arabic has its own set of quirks, but travellers will find that learning a few key phrases packs benefits disproportionate to the effort — plus, it’s an excellent way to return the famous Egyptian hospitality you’ll experience on a trip with National Geographic Expeditions. Here are 7 phrases you can use to enrich your time in Egypt, whether you’re stepping into the ancient realms of the pharaohs or combing the streets of Cairo in search of the city’s best bowl of koshary (a delicious local meal).

The Mosques of Sultan Hassan and Al-Rifa in Cairo.

As-aalaam alaikum: peace be upon you (السلام عليكم)

Whether you’re browsing the colourful spice markets of Aswān or meeting your guide for an afternoon experiencing the Great Pyramids at Giza, this all-purpose greeting is near universally well received and can easily be shortened to simply “salaam” (peace). Starting your conversation with a local greeting is respectful and friendly, even if you do then need to switch to English. The appropriate response is “wa alaikum salaam” (peace be upon you as well).

The Great Sphinx of Giza nestled between the Pyramids of Giza

Sabah al-khair: good morning (صباح الخير)

Cairo crackles with energy well into the night: outdoor cafes seem to spring from the sidewalk the moment the sun sets, and Cairenes of all ages spend hours socialising over Turkish coffee, backgammon and selfies. After each busy night, the sun rises over the east bank of the Nile, and shortly thereafter the calming sounds of the call to prayer resonate through the streets. It’s morning in Cairo, and the city enjoys a moment of calm before the heat of the day sets in. You might tell your neighbour “sabah al-khair” (good morning) on your way to breakfast and hear a sleepy “sabah al-noor” (morning light) in response.

Woven baskets filled with various spices located in an Egyptian market

Shukran: thank you (ﺷﻜﺮﺍﹰ)

Experienced travellers know it’s essential to learn how to say “thank you” wherever they visit, and this small politeness goes a long way in Egypt. Luckily, the word is a relatively easy one, and perfectly appropriate to use whenever you wish to express gratitude, whether you’re ordering a fresh mango juice or getting your ticket stamped en route to a tomb or temple. You will almost certainly hear a happy afwan (you’re welcome) in return.

The crowded streets of a bazaar in Cairo

Lazeeza: delicious (لذيذ)

Be sure to keep this one handy, because there’s only one way to describe the fresh tahini that can be drizzled over anything and everything, the smoked eggplant and grilled tomatoes smothered in olive oil, and the crispy fava bean falafel: delicious. Be sure to sample koshary, a regional staple that is the ultimate comfort food — rice, pasta, lentils and chickpeas, covered with tomato sauce and crispy onions and drizzled with a dressing of vinegar and garlic. Lazeeza indeed.

A bowl of Kushari, Egypt’s national dish

Jameela: beautiful (جميل)

The famed Nile runs the length of Egypt, and sailing this serene, albeit populous river is still among the best ways to experience the daily rhythms of local life. Aboard a ship, you can appreciate the way lush wetlands transition into fertile farmlands and orderly rows of date palms. The scene is every shade of green, made all the more breathtaking by the stark backdrop of brown desert behind it. It’s easy to understand what draws people to the river valley — it is utterly jameela.

Insha Allah: God willing (إن شاء الله‎)

This phrase is widely used to answer all kinds of questions in Egypt in lieu of a straightforward yes or no. Will we have good weather tomorrow? Insha Allah. Will the ship depart on time? Insha Allah. Even a goodbye as innocuous as “see you tomorrow” is answered with “insha Allah.” On the surface, the phrase suggests that nothing happens that isn’t God’s will, but in practice it allows the user to express their hopes that something might happen. Once you learn the phrase, you’ll hear it everywhere.

Yalla: let’s go (يللا)

For many travellers, an Egyptologist guide is the highlight of a trip to Egypt. When exploring with one of these experts, each new monument is contextualised and interpreted with skill, sensitivity and critical thought around what these sites mean for Egyptians and for the world at large. When in the company of such guides, expect each morning to start with an overview of what you might see, ending with a wave and a quick “yalla” (let’s go). It’s a phrase that will quickly become associated with the giddy anticipation of new experiences and deepened knowledge. Yalla!

Embrace this rich language — and Egyptian culture — by using your newly learned phrases on a trip to Egypt with National Geographic Expeditions.


All images © Getty Images

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