x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Sweet celebrations ...

They handed out sweets in Tahrir Square after Hosni Mubarak announced he was stepping down as the president of Egypt.

They handed out sweets in Tahrir Square after Hosni Mubarak announced he was stepping down as the president of Egypt.

How typically Arab, I thought: celebrate with sweets.

It seems any celebration is an occasion to bring out a tray of chocolates, baklava, dates and other sugary concoctions.

At work, colleagues have come out with chocolates for their graduations from university or their birthdays. Once, while waiting in a queue to get my car registration, a woman came around offering colleagues chocolates and turned her tray towards me. What luck! (I wish there had been celebrations at Etisalat every time I was there.)

What's special about the sweets-giving is that it is not done in honour of the birthday boy or the college graduate, but that person herself doing the giving. It says, I am celebrating this occasion and I wish you to celebrate with me.

So, with many reasons to celebrate, the youth of Egypt handed out sweets in Tahrir Square last Friday evening.

Thursday morning, it had been my turn. I came into the office with a tray of chocolates from Karaz, the chocolatier on Defence Road, about five dozen bonbons wrapped in baby blue, cream and gold metallic paper. "What's the occasion?" several people asked.

"Ana ahoon jed," I replied, using a phrase I figured out based on what I've learnt in a short yet intensive conversational Arabic class.

There were some curious glances from the non-Arabic speakers. "I'm a grandfather," I said. "My first grandson was born yesterday."

After words of congratulations (for what? I had nothing to do with it!), my friends graciously accepted a chocolate.

The Arabic speakers, however, looked at me curiously.


"Ana akoon jed," I replied.

"Ah! Mahbrouk!" And then they grabbed their chocolates. One colleague, however, pointed out why I was getting funny looks: I was mispronouncing the first-person singular form of the verb "to be". I was in fact telling people I had betrayed my grandfather.

Later, my language instructor explained that in Arabic such verbs are often unnecessary. "Ana jed" would have been enough to explain I'd become a grandfather.

An honest enough mistake, considering I've only been speaking the language for 24 hours in total.

I can't imagine the Egyptian youths handing out sweets in Tahrir Square making the same mistake. In fact, given the almost 30 years Mubarak had been in power, and the corruption and abuse and repression tens of millions had lived with for all that time, I would think the non-violent act of removing him from power was not a betrayal of their grandfathers, but a vindication.

Chocolate, anyone?