Bukra Fi Mishmish – “Tomorrow, in apricot season” – This is the equivalent of westerners saying ‘when hell freezes over,’ in other words, ‘never’. Apricots ripen in summer but their season lasts only about a week. So when you want to put something off to an unlikely time, you can say, ‘in apricot season.’
Ibn al-Batt `Awaam – “The son of a duck is a floater” This one, from the Gulf country of Bahrain is akin to ‘the acorn never falls far from the tree.” A British resident in Bahrain wrote a book of Bahraini sayings using this one as its title.
Al-Jaar Qabl ad-Daar – “Choose your neighbor before your house.” The Arabic version of ‘location, location, location,’ it’s a wise view of how any dwelling place is enhanced by good neighbors.
Misr Umm ad-Dunya – “Egypt is the Mother of the World.” Yes, Egyptians really do think that, and they say it too.
‘Ala khashmi - “On My Nose” You say this in the United Arab Emirates when someone has asked you to do something, and you want to say, ‘With pleasure, I’ll do what you ask.’
Laa shukr ila waajib – “There is no thanks for doing one’s duty” You hear this across the Arab world from merchants, from friends and in the workplace.
Fawg in-Nakhl – “Above the Palms”. A way of saying, ‘I feel great’. There’s a famous song of that title, popular in the Eastern part of the Arab world. I’ve heard that it’s originally from Iraq.
In Morocco, you say Waakha for ‘OK’. Baghdadi’s say Aku Maku for ‘How ya doin’. (I confess I’ve never been to Baghdad, but an acquaintance from there told me this.) Literally, it means, ‘there was, there wasn’t’. it reminds me of the Lebanese greeting Shoo Fee Maa Fee, or ‘what’s up, nothing much’. In Morocco they greet each other saying, La ba’as, or ‘not bad.’ You can say this both to greet someone and to respond to their greeting. Kuwaiti’s and others from the Gulf say hello with Ya halaa. All over the Arab world, the expression ya’ani means ‘means’. Confused? OK, it also means, ‘in other words’, and ‘um…ahhh.’, as well as ‘like’ (Valley Girl style). You often hear it stretched out in a sentence while the speaker is stranded mid-thought. It also has another meaning ---- ‘sort of’ or ‘not exactly’.
My friend Addi Ouadderrou, who owns Moroccan Caravan in Somerville, (http://www.moroccancaravan.com/) taught me a great one last year. Here it is in English. “You’ll find different things when you search in the river than when you search in the ocean.” (The words for river and ocean rhyme in Arabic). Do we have an equivalent of this? I don’t think so.
And last but not least, Abla, a Palestinian friend, told me, “Time is like a sword. If you don’t cut with it, it will cut you.”