Dear Ali: I couldn't help but notice men here have a lot of the same names: Mohammed, Ahmed, Zayed, etc. Why is this? Doesn't it lead to confusion? BT, Abu Dhabi Dear BT: Hey, I resemble that remark! But you are right to note that the same names are used, especially for boys. This is because the holy Quran and the Prophet Mohammed's (PBUH) hadiths guided and recommended to Muslims what names to consider. Appropriate names are those of prophets as well as the 99 qualitative names for Allah, such as my father's name, Abdul Karim, which means "the servant of the most generous (God)". We consider these names as blessed names. A study made a year ago showed that more than 70 per cent of Emirati students have one of 10 names or a variation thereof: Mohammed, Khalifa, Abdullah, Ahmed, Ali, Saeed, Rashed, Sultan, Salem, Khaled. What surprised me was that four of the top five names would also have been the top names in the 10th century. Now that's longevity.
With all that duplication, we have tricks to keep us apart (made especially tough for expatriates, I'm sure, by the fact we all wear the same coloured clothing). For instance, if you came into my coffee shop, I would introduce you to my regulars, whom I would refer to by their eldest children's names. So if you had a son named John, you would become Abu John (or if you were female, Umm John, which means father or mother of John). You might also have noticed how we refer to almost everyone by their first names, in contrast to Western countries, such as Germany, where last names rule in polite company. In the Gulf, you might say your name is like your business card. You might not be comfortable with Arabic names, so make sure you have the speaker repeat their name slowly so you can get it. Repeat it for them as often as you can comfortably fit it in to conversation. We feel uncomfortable just saying, "Hey" to people we know, even if we have only met someone once. Watch this space next week for another question about Arabic names, this time about the meaning of common female names.
Dear Ali: If you had to give a visitor your No 1 hidden treasure of Abu Dhabi, a place no one knows about, what would it be? JC, New York City Dear JC: Well, if I tell you it wouldn't be a secret now, would it? But seriously, I'm not sure if you're talking about a place to visit or a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, so I'll give you one of each.
Sheikh Khalifa Park is on Salam Street, near the Ministry of Labour and right next to my flat. The park is a great place to take the family; it has a very royally designed fountain and a train you can ride around the park in. But the hidden gem is the Abu Dhabi Maritime Museum. An electric carriage takes visitors on a tour of Abu Dhabi's pearl diving past and the discovery of oil through to the present day and on to the future. The whole ride takes 10 minutes, but it is really well done. You can choose Arabic or English as the language you want to hear the tour in. Afterwards, take in one of the city's best aquariums. It's not exactly booming, probably because nobody knows of it - until now.
If you want to experience the art of eating with your hand Gulf-style, I recommend checking out Saudi Kitchen in the Gava Hotel (Mina area; 02 642 5667). Try the madfoon (lamb and rice dish cooked in the ground for hours), or the mandi, another lamb or chicken and rice dish. You will thank me.
Arabic: Ta faddal English: Here you go. Sit down, please. Helen: Hey, Ali, may I have your pen for a second please? Ali: Of course. Ta faddali. Here you go. Helen: Thank you, Ali. Ali: You're welcome. Ta faddal is also used while guiding or escorting someone to the chair they will sit on. For example, Helen might say, "Oh, Ali. Please come in, ta faddal." For a group of people, you say "ta faddaloo".