Learning how to speak the local language is always a good thing to do when you move to a new country. Personally, I’d recommend learning the basics first. Learn how to greet people and say please and thank you, and really work on your pronunciation, especially when learning people’s names.
Many languages have sounds which are unfamiliar to English speakers and learning how to pronounce your colleague’s name correctly will show that you respect them as a person and a colleague. Have fun with it and encourage everyone to take part in your learning!
Use words in the proper context
The first word I became familiar with was ‘inshallah’, which literally means God willing. When making plans, confirming a meeting or deciding on a deadline, you will hear this added to the sentence most of the time.
In its truest form, ‘inshallah’ means that the action being discussed will take place unless some twist of fate prevents it.There are some people that use the phrase ‘inshallah’ knowing that they are unable to deliver on the promise. Rather than disappoint and/or lose face they will say ‘inshallah’, meaning that it was fate that prevented them from delivering. Learning when this word is being used correctly can take a bit of time.
Cultural values reflected in lingo
‘Shway shway’ means slowly. Time has its own pace in the Middle East. Why rush when the job will be there tomorrow, as will the person requesting it? However, it is important to note that this is not an invitation for you to do the same. ‘When in Rome’ does not apply to this situation!
Western expats have a reputation for delivering and performing in a timely fashion and this is to be expected. Hearing ‘shway shway’ can be extremely frustrating, especially when dealing with government authorities like immigration. When things start moving, however, be prepared to act fast. In one situation, I waited 6 weeks for news about my work visa to allow me into Qatar, then on a Wednesday morning I received an email and flight details for that Saturday.
Be aware of subtleties in language
‘Wasta’ is another commonly misunderstood word. Initially, I took this to mean: “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” The meaning is similar to what I thought, but it’s worth knowing its subtleties. Wasta is all about your personal recommendations. When someone uses their ‘wasta’ to do you a favour, they are using their personal connections to help you out. If someone who is very well connected is not pulling strings to help you, then chances are they are not wholly committed to whatever it is that you’re selling.