You Look Marvelous: A Guide to Giving a Compliment to an Arab
A lot of lecturers who specialize in improving your conversation skills or those who tout how you, too, can win over friends and influence people often give the same advice to those looking for those things: The best way to get a person to start talking or to win them over is by first complimenting that person.
Arabic culture rules are no different, with the exception that sometimes a compliment can be seen as a sign of envy, especially among the more superstitious of Arabs. Indeed, you have to be careful in complimenting an Arab man’s tie, lest you go home with the tie in hand upon leaving your new friend.
Furthermore, complimenting an Arab’s car right before he gets into a small fender bender at Amman’s Dachlea Circle and you could get blamed for the accident, so be careful when handing out compliments in the Arab world. Here are some other tips when handing out compliments in the Arab world:
1. Start your complimentary sentence with “mashallah”…
Be sure to utter “mashallah” (“God has willed it”) at the beginning of each compliment to ward off any bad intentions, perceived or otherwise. And is actually part of the Arabic religion. Otherwise, anything that can go wrong and will go wrong will be blamed on you.
2. …And end it with “smallah”
Smallah, meaning “hold the envy” and “save the evil eye” is generally used to praise a baby or something pretty else that’s pretty darn cute. Where “mashallah” is to ward off the evil eye, “smallah” is a direct poke in the eye to chase it away altogether.
3. Knock on Wood
This tradition of either Celtic or German origin to invoke the help and protection of the fairies living in trees, somehow also found its way into Arabic tradition as well. Find something of wood to knock on immediately upon uttering “smallah” above and you’ll be good to go. Don’t, however, try to fake it by pretending you’re a woodenhead and knocking on your noggin. It’s not the same thing and not funny to the believers of the tradition, either.
4. Sneak both “yekhze el ein” and “Allah yehmeek” (“yahmeeki” for the females) into the compliment
This former (“yekhze el ein” ) is for when you’re really fed up with those envious eyes showing up all around your compliment and “Allah yemeek” meaning “May God protect you” keeps them coming back for good.
5. Commenting on someone’s weight (even weight loss) is not a compliment
Another piece of advice that the lecturers mentioned above say should never ever be talked about is weight – even if you’re trying to compliment somebody on their weight loss. There are many other Arab traits and characteristics that you can compliment someone on, so pick one of those. Even if you say, “My goodness, Muna, you look beautiful now that you’ve lost all that weight,” Muna will take it to mean, “My goodness, Muna, you don’t look as big as a house anymore,” no matter your intentions.
So to revise, a proper compliment in Arabic would go something like:
“Excuse me, Omar, but, mashallah, I just have to say, yekhze el ein, that is the most beautiful tie that I have seen in quite awhile. Allah yemeek, the colors are gorgeous, smallah!”*Knock! Knock!*
Mashallah, what a great article today, smallah! *Knock! Knock!* If you’d like to learn more about Arabic culture or would like to learn Arabic or any of its dialects, why not download the Kaleela Arabic learning app and start learning Arabic today.
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