Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Bless your hands!

(Magnificent, Solly)
Matt Rees, who has written four crime novels featuring a Palestinian teacher named Omar Yussef, once explained why he translated certain  greetings rather than giving transliterated versions of the original Arabic:
"I translated them, rather than just putting the original Arabic phrase in italics, because I wanted readers to get the poetry of everyday speech. ... When someone gives them a cup of coffee, they tell them `May Allah bless your hands.' Isn't that beautiful?"
Struck by that everyday poetry, I decided to try it myself this morning, and I wished the waiter who served me breakfast يسلم يدك ("Yislamu eedayk."). From the smile and the profusion of words that followed, I suspected I had said the right thing, but who knows? The man could have had a sense of humor and been calling me a dog and the son of unworthy parents.

But he also placed his right palm on his chest, which was the clincher, because
"Placing the palm of the right hand on the chest immediately after shaking hands with another man shows respect or thanks. A very slight bow of the head may also be added."
"Placing the palm of the right hand on the chest, bowing the head a little and closing one’s eyes connotes `Thank You' (in the name of Allah)."
This was the greatest and most gratifying effusion of good feeling I had received since I wished the locals "Eid Mubarak" in Tunisia.  So who says crime fiction can't be educational? Thanks, Matt.

(Learn about Arabic gestures including the ones described here at a Web site that bears the evocative name www.bellydanceuk.co.uk.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Blogger seana said...


March 13, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. I had a feeling you might like this one. It's one of those events that makes travel worth doing, even in the bite-size chunks in which most of we North Americans do our traveling.

March 13, 2012  
Anonymous Matt Rees said...

You're welcome, Peter. Or 'afwan, as they'd say in this part of the world. I'm enjoying your Mideast posts, and I'm glad you didn't have to go in the back of the truck with the donkey... ;)

March 22, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I used the lessons well in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, though I did not chat with locals in Hebron. My greetings even led to a friendly lesson from a hotel maid about the differences in pronunciation between Palestinian Arabic and the variety spoken in Syria.

Oh, and I surprised my driver by calling him Abu Mike after he told me his eldest son's name.

March 22, 2012  

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