Whenever the travel bug sends me to a place where I don’t speak the language, I make it a point to learn how to say No – Thank you. In my experience, a nod accompanied by a smile will do for Hello, a wave equals Good-bye, and hands lined up in a prayer position accompanied by a slight nod or lightly patting the place over my heart with one hand will likely be understood as thank you.
It’s the No, thanks that can be tough.
I suppose a simple or vehement shake of the head will get the point across. Adding loud expletives with fist shaking would surely do the trick, too. My only problem with this is that my grandmother would leave her grave, wag her invisible finger in my face, and keep me up all night droning on about what she might have done wrong that would have created such an impolite human being.
Therefore, to keep my grandmother happy in the great here-after and me well rested in the here-and-now, the first phrase I learned in arabic for a visit to Egypt was la shukran.*
I wielded my politeness like the goody-two-shoes I was brought up to be – especially when the souvenir hawker at the pyramids asked if I’d like to buy his wares.
“Miss. Miss. Look here – ” shouted a man not much taller than I.
“La shukran.” I smiled, wishing Mr. Man would hurry up with those tickets for the Khufu Ship exhibit he went off to buy.
“Ahhhh, you speak our language!” The man stepped closer. A cascading bundle of keffiyeh draped over his thin arm flapped in the warm breeze.
“No, no. Only a word or two.” I smiled again. DANG! Staring past him, I willed Mr. Man to return.
“So, do you have children?” Two more steps and I would have known exactly what he’d eaten for lunch. At this distance it was safe to say that garlic was a main ingredient. Now I wished my grandmother had taught me how to be rude.
“Yes. Four.” Oh why, oh why did I answer him. I thought. At least I didn’t smile this time.
Instead, I remembered how earlier in the day, I had first, smirked as a tourist bus squeaked to a halt, flung open its doors, and a herd of sneakered sightseers tumbled onto the pavement – then chortled when the vendors scattered like mosquitoes drawn to sweet, fresh meat, combing the area for new prey – and finally outright laughed when, faster than a tipped glass slips off the edge of a table and crashes to the floor, one peddler had a young couple peeling colorful bills from their dull fanny packs and sporting headgear only Omar Sharif could proudly wear in an epic movie.
“Madame?” The man inched closer. “May I?”
“La! La! La!” I waved a hand in front of his face. “La shukran!”
Finally, Mr. Man showed up, fanning himself with a deck of postcards he did not set out to purchase – and faster than a drove of hare might tumble from a magician’s top hat, we were ready for some serious sight-seeing.
Travel Tip # 1 and moral of this story :
NEVER, EVER laugh AT the tourists sucked in by the street salesman.
Laugh WITH them.
Shukran for stopping by today!
*it has since been brought to my attention that the use of la is unnecessary. A simple emphatic SHUKRAN will suffice.