The Very First Thing to Say

from Shane's Muslim Connect

“Are you all right?”

When our family moved to England some years ago we were surprised to be greeted with the phrase, “Are you all right?” Initially it sparked significant self-doubt: Do I not look all right? Do I have bed head? Have I put on so much weight I look bloated? Come to find out, our friends were not saying, “You look terrible? What was the diagnosis? How long do you have?” They were simply saying hey.

Knowing insider phrases like that can be helpful to opening conversation doors. 

A particularly embarrassing item on a long list of big misses in my life is never having learned a second language. It’s sad and rather American. But I have picked up, over the years and miles, a handful of smile-inducing ways to say hey. These words and phrases won’t instantly make you life long buds with someone, but they might open the way for an initial conversation. They will at least, move you into the category of someone who cares a little. 

Here are phonetic approximations of some of my favs. Of course learning them from a local is better. Also, don’t worry about what the actual words are or how they’re spelled. Focus on parroting the speaker.

Leh bez? This is a great “how’s it going” particularly for Tunisians, but also Arabs from Libya around to Morocco.

Kamen ahcho? If you run that together so it sounds like “common nacho” and say it to someone from Bangladesh, you’re almost guaranteed a smile. 

Ahpa kabar? This is good for Malay people and many Indonesians. 

Eben yahdi? This works for West Africans who speak Mandinka, people from Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, Niger and Mauritania

Do you know these sorts of phrases for other peoples and places? Please list them here so we all can learn from you.