The Landlady overcomes the language barrier

Two of my friends are off to Cuba tomorrow and I can’t help feeling envious. They are staying with my friends Yusi and Marta in Havana, then going down to Trinidad, where I have other friends. I’ve given them an envelope with a bit of money in it to deliver to both families and put a sarcastic note in the envelope for Yusi telling her to have a drink on me in my absence, because I’ll be thinking of her dancing around with all the lovely young men that Havana provides in such abundance. Without me!

In the meantime, I’ve flown off for seven hours in the opposite direction and am currently sitting in a hotel room in Dubai, ready to go out. I arrived at 1.30am this morning and, although I’ve not yet been here for 24 hours, I’ve made various attempts at speaking Arabic to a selection of – mainly fairly nonplussed, it has to be said – people. I should mention at this point that although Dubai is indeed situated in the very middle of the Middle East, not many people here speak much more Arabic than I do, as the majority of the population are either immigrant workers or ex-pats. The first person upon whom I launched my Arabic attack was the man who checked my passport at Dubai Airport. You can always be pretty certain that civil servants, in whichever country you happen to be, are native speakers and indeed he was. Furthermore, he was delighted to chat to me in Arabic and appeared (possibly being over-polite) overwhelmed by my command of the language. I very rapidly ran out of vocabulary, so bade him an evening full of light and shuffled off in the direction of Duty Free to purchase some very un-Muslim beer. I almost expected an alarm to go off as I got into
my taxi with it concealed under my arm in a very opaque bag.

“My attempt to order a takeaway in a Lebanese restaurant across the road invited a surprisingly hostile response”

This morning in the swimming pool, I sidled over to a man whom I’d decided was Lebanese and said something about the pool being too warm to him in Arabic, which caused great confusion and embarrassment as he was actually Russian. Later, my attempts at ordering a takeaway lunch in the Lebanese restaurant across the road invited a surprisingly hostile response and so I resorted to pointing to things on the menu and left carrying a meal that I didn’t want, with my tail between my legs.

There won’t be much Arabic-speaking going on tonight, as I’m off to somewhere that’s apparently called the (again very un-Muslim) Belgian Beer Café with my old London pals, who now reside here in Dubai. My friend M has already sent me a text to warn me that a friend of theirs from London who is ‘a bit of a ladies man’ will be joining us. I’m beginning to see the hijab in a whole new light…

Illustration: Jake McDonald

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