Yesterday I began lessons with my Arabic tutor, Iman.
She’s Egyptian, so she pronounces her j’s like g’s (lol I know, I know, it’s funny because my name is Georgia) and she has only been in Oman for about two months, so we commiserated and discussed a bit about what it’s like being a foreigner here – for nearly two hours – in Arabic! It was awesome. I don’t use Arabic at all here (basically) because all the Omanis with whom I interact (and I think this applies to at least the majority of Omanis, anyway) speak excellent English, and about 2/3 of the population are immigrant laborers from India, Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh, so they typically speak only Hindi/Bengali and (often) English, but very rarely any Arabic, which admittedly, is très hard.
Iman said she’d encountered this same linguistic confusion upon arrival, but comforted me that in Egypt people actually speak Arabic – although she warned me that I wouldn’t understand the dialect (luhjah) at all – but perhaps I should have just gone there to study Arabic? Ma barif (I don’t know, in Lebanese at least). Egyptian Revolution notwithstanding, she’s kind of right. Few people in the Gulf actually use Arabic, at least in any context that I, as a white, foreign woman, have access to. Sometimes I speak in Arabic to the Indian cashiers at the grocery store, for instance, just to see what they’ll say. Occasionally they know how to respond, but most commonly they just ask “What is your nationality?” which is the phrase everyone here uses instead of “Where are you from?” (In Oman intersections are also called “t-stops” or “junctions,” and highway overpasses are “flyovers.”)
I’ve seen Omanis do this same thing (that is, deliberately use Arabic in any one of the vast array of contexts here where doing so is tacitly unacceptable) often at restaurants, supermarkets, convenient stores etc, knowing that the cashier will not be able to understand them or to reply, and will probably be ashamed and try instead to address the Omani in English. It strikes me as a gesture of (rightful!) indignation/exasperation on the part of Omanis, because honestly, how infuriated would you be if you could not even speak/use your own language 75% of the time…in your OWN country! I daresay, hard for most Americans to even imagine.
I did finally locate an Arabic-language newspaper here (although I must say the English-language Times of Oman is high-caliber journalism, a real pleasure to read) called Al-Shabiba. After a failed visit to the US Embassy today (they’re preparing to close because of the fiscal crisis (brought to you by your very own United States Congress!!!/inability to raise the budget ceiling so all foreign missions may not operate for the next week [hopefully nothing will happen *cough benghazi cough* -____-]) I sat down and read Al-Shabiba, which had a great article in Arabic on current US political disfunction…
From which I learned some great new Arabic vocab, such as tataaw-waj (to culminate), tenfeez (enforcement/implementation), ichteelal (meaning imbalance, not to be confused with ihhteelal, meaning occupation *!oh hey there Israel!*), thirthaar (talkative), and last but not least, my personal favorite, muSaa-derah, meaning sequestration!
Enjoy trying to pepper your daily conversation with those!