Session Progress:

Cultural Notes

The Arab World

Session objectives

In this session you will learn about Arab culture, Arab traditions and Arab away of life. You will learn what to do and what not to do in certain situations. You will also learn some important phrases that you can use.

Take your time to read the information in this section.

Allocated time: 60 minutes

The Arab world

The Arab world covers a huge geographical area. The Mediterranean is over 2000 miles West to East. The Arabian Peninsula is over 1000 miles West to East. From the southern Turkish border to Central Africa is about 4000 miles. It covers several time zones. If it is 11 am in the Western Sahara, it is 3pm in Oman.

Rial, dinar, dirham

Banknotes have Arabic numbers on one side and English numbers on the other. Many countries use a currency called Dinar. If you know a bit of Spanish, you will know that ‘dinero’ means ‘money’ in Spanish.

Arab dress

In the Middle East, especially in the Gulf countries, men and women wear traditional Arab dress.  For example, in Oman men often wear a white dishdasha. Women wear an abaya, a thin black gown, over their everyday clothes.  As headdress men may wear a kind of turban, whereas women will wear a headscarf. In Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, men sometimes wear a black cord over the headdress. 

Visiting an Arab home

  • Always take a present when you visit an Arabic family at their home.
  • Before entering the house, remember to take off your shoes.
  • When you sit down, do not point the soles of your feet at anybody as this is regarded as an insult.
  • Be prepared for a warm greeting and ‘a full house’ if you are visiting Arab hosts.
  • Arab men shake hands with other men. If you are a woman, don’t be offended if a male host doesn’t shake hands.
  • Be prepared to stand up when new guests enter the room.

Useful phrases

ahlan wa sahlan. – Welcome.

furSa Sa3eeda. – Nice to meet you.

tafaDDal. – Here you are. (to a male)

tafaDDalee. – Here you are. (to a female)

min wayn anta? – Where are you from? (informal to a male)

min wayn anti? – Where are you from? (informal to a female)

ashlaH hidha’ee? – Shall I take off my shoes?

Did you know …

A bit of geography will help you to remember the Arabic words for ‘left’ and ‘right’.

in Arabic the words for ‘left’ and ‘right’ are related to the names of two countries. But first: Do you know where Syria is? Do you know where Yemen is? If not, have a quick look at a map. Whilst you are at it, see if you can locate the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

Looking east from Egypt and North Africa, you will notice that Yemen is to the right of Mecca. Right in Arabic is al-yameen. The Arabic name for Yemen is al-yamen.

Syria is to the left of Mecca. Left is al-yasaar. The Arabic name for Syria is as-suria.

East and west in Arabic

Many words in Arabic share similar roots. These roots often help us to remember important words.

Let’s look at ‘east’ and ‘west’.

Have a look at Morocco and the United Arab Emirates on the map and notice where they are.

In Arabic, the country Morocco is called maghreb – i.e. the place of sunset. The country shares its name with the word for ‘west’, gharb. As you know, the sun sets in the west.

The same is true for ‘east’, which is related to the word for sunrise (shuruuq).

The word for ‘east’ is ash-sharq.

There is a small country in the United Arab Emirates, called Sharjah – or in Arabic Al-Shariqah. Can you see how the root is similar?

These two countries will help you to remember the words for ‘east’ and ‘west’.


An Arabic Proverb

It is always useful to learn proverbs and sayings when you learn a foreign language. Here is one for Arabic.

الجنة تحت أقدام الأمهات

al-janna taHt aqdaam al-ummahaat.
Paradise is at your mother’s feet.