Tales from an Arab-American’s childhood…
Published: January 30, 2018
- People just can’t seem to pronounce your name right! There are several letters in Arabic that just do not exist in the English alphabet: a version of the letter ‘h’ that is similar to the sound of saying “ah” and blowing air through your throat onto a mirror, a hard ‘th’ as in the word ‘the’, a hard ‘d’, a ‘kh’ that you would make if you snored softly, and so on... Non-Arabic speakers can totally mispronounce your name, even to the point where it sounds like a completely different word. However, native Arabic speakers also struggle to get certain English sounds right. In fact, whatever language you know will have a set of letters, sounds, and way of saying things that doesn’t entirely translate over to new languages that you learn. So no one should feel discouraged while trying to master new sounds and ways of speaking!
- You’re craving ma7shi, but they’re serving pizza for lunch at school. When they try to serve falafel or shawarma (gyro) at school, it tastes way different! This is not so much a problem when you live with your family and your parents can cook traditional Arab foods for you, but it becomes very obvious when you are away at college and don’t have ready access to the foods that you ate growing up or they just don’t taste the same. Luckily, in the United States, people are always looking to try new foods and explore new cuisines, especially in more populous cities, and so if the place where you live doesn’t have an Arabic cuisine restaurant yet, it’ll likely crop up soon!
- Your parents, depending on who they are, might be worried about letting you go to other kids’ houses, because they don’t know everyone in the neighborhood. Back in their home country, when they were young, everyone knew everyone, brothers lived next door to brothers, and your closest friends were often your cousins. But living in a new country is a great opportunity for cultural exchange and making new friends. Although your community as an Arab or Arab-American may no longer be full of your family members, strangers can become friends that you see as family!
- You have a secret language that no one understands. As long as you can control your facial expressions and tone of voice, you can have whole arguments in Arabic in the middle of Walmart! Sadly, your mom will know exactly what you are saying, even if no one else does, and you will likely get an earful from her once you come home!
- You know all the international food shops in town. Can’t find grape leaves for your ma7shi or ful mudammas for breakfast at your local grocery store? Just head over to an international food store, and you’ll find two or three kinds. If you have friends who love to try new foods and snacks, take them to the international food shops you know, so you can explore and eat delicious foods together!
- You get to watch TV dramas in two different languages, and in multiple dialects of one language. You have a really diverse sense of humor and a truly over-the-top, buckets of tears inducing sense of drama! Watching TV in a different language exposes you to a different culture, but also allows you to see the connections between different cultures!
- You get your news from an Arab as well as an American source! Media is inevitably biased and focuses largely on news from the country that you live in. If you compare headlines from CNN with headlines from Al Jazeera, for example, you will notice a difference! Getting your news from different sources will give you a different and more complete perspective on what is happening in the world.