My first contact with the Arab speaking world came as I stepped into an Italian restaurant actually known as Benevento in 2013. Looking for my first waitressing job at age sixteen, I was greeted by some wonderful Lebanese owners who took me under their wing not only professionally but culturally. As they conversed in Arabic, I found myself, once again, in an entirely different world.
Late work shifts were rewarded with sit down „family“ dinners with the Habibis. - Tabouleh, Za’atar on bread, Meghli and Wara' Enab. Soon enough I learned not only the names of delicious dishes, but basic conversational phrases, how to introduce myself and some random words for the variety of ingredients around the shop. I learned basics of the alphabet but as I left and started my next job, so did the Arabic unfortunately.
Very few Westerners learning Arabic, probably due to the fact of the backwards writing style and complex alphabet. Though with over 420 million speakers worldwide and a heavily increasing importance within global and economic affairs, there is a huge demand of Arab speakers within the English speaking world. So if you’re career goals have ever been directed at large global companies or the UN, definitely take up Arabic.
Arabic speaking nations present an entirely different world to the one most Westerners are accustomed to. It wasn’t until I spent time with my Lebanese co-workers that I realized how unique and profound the Arab culture really is and that’s what has sparked my interest to take it further. Everywhere I have been, I have met Arabic native speakers and there has always been that little element missing of truly understanding their walks of life, background and cultural heritage — my lack of knowing the language.
Of course you have probably come across snippets of the culture found in your neighbourhood Falafel take-away store but learning even the basics of the culture and befriending native Arab speakers, you experience hospitality, liveliness and cultural practices on a whole other level.