Moroccans get very excited when westerners try to speak Arabic. Seriously, if you can muster even the smallest effort to learn a few words or phrases you’ll be met with great enthusiasm.
During a recent trip to Marrakech Mustapha taught me how to say the Arabic equivalent of “how’s it going?”. Whenever we were approaching one of Mustapha’s acquaintances or friends (which amounts to basically everyone in the medina) during our narrated strolls, he’d give me a a little nudge and say “Tell them, tell them. Say ‘labes*?’.” My sparse repertoire soon became a source of entertainment for Mustapha’s buddies, though I’m not sure why they found it so surprising**.
The salesmen in the souks can size up a tourist in a heartbeat – they’ve got powerful peripheral vision and they’re very focused on making the sale (the kind of focus that comes with having never been hung over…ever.). So you’ve gotta bring your A-game.
Mustapha would suggest the following strategy to those in need of a calmer stroll through the souks:
‘Labes?’ -you, the tourist-looking anglophone
the surprised argan oil saleman smiles and nods encouragingly
‘Berhair! Labes?’ -an argan oil salesman
‘Berhair!’ -you, the tourist-looking anglophone
‘Hamdelila!’ –you, the tourist-looking anglophone
And then you should hurry along to the silver teapot vendor because let’s face it, you don’t have the vocabulary for chit chat.
Saying ‘labes’ and either ‘berhair’ or ‘hamdelila’ implies a respect for local culture – you’ll be viewed as a member of some exclusive club as opposed to a mere tourist who’s fair game. Berhair means something like ‘I’m doing well,’ and hamdelila means something like ‘I’m doing well as long as that’s alright with Allah’.
Bonus vocab: If you want to be extra impressive, throw out a ‘hayatte zouina’ as you’re leaving. Hayatte zouina means ‘life is beautiful’. Moroccans are a very present, very grateful culture, so they say things like this often.
* The 28 artfully complicated letters of the Arabic language are beyond the scope of this blogpost, hence the phonetic spelling.
** Well, that’s a lie. I’m fairly certain it was because I’m blonde – blonde blonde. Swedish blonde. I have Swedishly blonde hair that’s practically natural and blondes don’t speak Arabic.