x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Cross the language barrier with sincerity, and a few key phrases

Out of the UAE's cities, it's worth knowing the customs and a few words in case you need help – or where to find the area's hidden off-road treasures.

As an avid off-roader, I find great pleasure not only in beauty of the outdoors or the camaraderie and good times with friends and family, but also in the interaction with the people who live and work in the areas we are exploring.

There is always a little farm, or a village, or a remote grocery shop, or weekend huts, somewhere nearby the areas we visit in the UAE and neighbouring countries. These people may be locals or expat workers, old or young, but they all have interesting stories to tell.

They also might know the area very well and be able to share with us fantastic locations that we would otherwise drive right past, oblivious to the treasures so close by: waterfalls, strange rock formations, old trails, ancient ruins, green valleys or small forests of ghaf trees.

The issue of personal safety has never come up on our trips in this region, although I suppose it might be fair to remain alert and in a group. Instead, I have experienced nothing but sincere hospitality and unguarded friendliness from people who live in remote locations. As long as they feel my respectful return of their good wishes, I feel very safe and even trusting towards them.

Language, however, is the problem; not many speak English, and I do not speak Arabic, Urdu or other lingua francas of the region (Bengali, Pashtu, Farsi, etc) - but somehow, with good will and a few key phrases, a lot of communication can occur in the spirit of a good pantomime.

Here are a few phrases you might find useful, but please accept the fact I do not speak any of these languages with any level of skill above "buffoon", so kindly do not expect correct grammar and enunciation - though, if I am making a complete fool out of myself, or want to share phrases you have found useful, I would appreciate you sending in your pointers:

Asalamm Alaykum (greeting - all linguistic groups in the region understand this)

Shoo Akhbarak? (Emirati dialect - what's up? How's it going?) or Keh Saheh? (in Urdu, same meaning)

If you're a man, shake hands with all males; then turn towards any women present without looking at them or facing them directly and acknowledge with a nod and a quiet greeting. Women in the group do the opposite and will immediately be taken to the women's areas.

Hada baytak? Is this your home?

Fee mai hinak? Is there water nearby? (mime swimming, so they know you don't intend to drink, fill up water tankers or water a herd of camels)

Wayn tareek Abu Dhabi? Where is the road to Abu Dhabi?

Fee bawabeh? Fee bab? Is there a gate/door? (to cross the fence - most fences are to keep camels from straying).

Mumkin adkhol? Can I go in / pass through?


If there are children present:

Inta trouh lal madrasah? You go to school?

Shawitnee al kitab. Show me your books. (Children, and their parents, are very proud of their schoolwork, so I often ask to see their books - besides, I don't know to strike up a conversation about anything else. Another plus is that often it turns out the child speaks English and so can play interpreter).

Sayarati leeha mushkilah. I have a problem with my car, come with me. (Just in case you need some assistance getting out of a ditch or similar - almost everyone has a mobile phone nowadays, so for other issues, perhaps of a medical nature, I would call the authorities rather than ask locally).

Shukran wa assalama. Thanks and bye.