For lunch today I had a falafel sandwich and a chicken shawarma sandwich (total bill: LE 7.50, or about US$1.30). The guy working the register spoke English, like many Egyptians, but the guy making the sandwiches spoke only Arabic. The sandwich guy had a question for me, which a younger customer in a suit helped to answer. The conversation went like this.

Sandwich guy: [Arabic arabic arabic]?

Suit guy: [Arabic arabic]?

Sandwich guy: [Arabic].

Suit guy: He wants to know what you call that.

Me: Call what?

Suit guy: These. (pointing at bowl) What do you call these in America?

Me: Falafel? (hoping that what I had ordered was, in fact, falafel)

Suit guy: [Arabic arabic].

Sandwich guy: [Arabic arabic].

Suit guy: Yes, what do you call falafel?

Me: Falafel? (still worried I somehow got the question wrong)

Suit guy: Yes. What do you call it in America?

Me: Oh. In American we call it falafel. (pause) What do you call it?

Suit guy: Falafel. [Arabic falafel arabic].

Sandwich guy: Ah. [Arabic arabic]. (hands me sandwich)

Me: Shokran. (exit, stage right)


I was reminded of the following classic bit:

  1. Priceless. I’m a longtime blog reader and a American journalist here in Cairo. If you’re interested in meeting up some time, shoot me an email.


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