How to improve Khaleeji Arabic and the rules for summer fasting in the Arctic
Dear Ali: I am an Emirati living in Dubai, yet I can't speak fluent Arabic. My mother was Indian so I grew up in India, and I went to university in the US. I try my best to converse in Arabic with other Emiratis at work and in public, but unfortunately I end up being laughed at. Any advice? AA, Dubai
Dear AA: Please don't feel bad. We all have our own stories and unique personalities, and from these differences should come strength. Your experiences growing up in India and studying abroad are invaluable. You have experienced other beautiful cultures, something many locals have not. So keep your chin up.
Besides, being Emirati is not just about speaking fluent Khaleeji Arabic. It is about being proud of our Arab traditions and respecting our culture. We should be laughing at those who turn their backs on their heritage, not on those who try to embrace it. You have already hit on the best way to improve your Arabic - keep speaking it. I understand how you might feel, but in a city the size of Dubai there must be someone who would love to talk to you. You don't even have to talk right away. Even if you just listen, you will begin to develop an ear for the dialect, and you will discover how important body language is for communication.
Cafes are great places to start new friendships. People are bound to be watching football or talking about the news, which gives you an easy way to start. In your spare time, watch Emirati TV shows. Don't laugh: television helped the mermaid learn English in the film Splash. If you like cartoons, check out Freej!, which is about four grandmothers who live in old Dubai. Make it your mission to figure out our rich but difficult language, in which the Holy Quran was written. Buy Arabic books or CDs to master the basics, if you are at that stage.
Be proud that you are trying; unfortunately, plenty of young Emiratis don't even speak Arabic at home. I'm afraid our first language could soon be English - or Hindi. Bollywood films are favourites among Emiratis. If you need further motivation, look no further than my colleague, Nabil. He speaks perfect Emirati Arabic, and he isn't even a UAE citizen - he's from Kerala.
Dear Ali: My wife asked an interesting question about the Islamic holy month: how do Muslims in the far North (the Arctic, for example) know when to break their fast, when the sun does not set in summer?
CL, Abu Dhabi
Dear CL: I have to give your wife credit for coming up with one of the most unusual questions I've received. I'm sure iftar in the Arctic would feature some interesting dishes: seal biryani, perhaps. I'm not sure how many Muslims live in the Arctic, but they might get special dispensation when Ramadan falls during midsummer, similar to the faithful who are old, sick, pregnant, travelling or at war. For 2010, the sun should set, although briefly, as Ramadan begins in August, about seven weeks after the summer solstice in June.
The Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) advised us to estimate and observe the prayers of the nearest city. I also came across this interesting titbit while researching this question; did you know at the South Pole you can cross all the time zones in the world in seconds? That is because all the boundaries of the time zones meet at the poles. Here in the Gulf, we go by the time in Mecca if we are unsure.
Arabic: Testahel kul khayr English: You deserve all good (the best)
Helen says: Congratulations Ali on winning the Khalifa Fund Award, "testahel kul khayr".
Ali says: Thank you. I'm sad to see you leave but I really enjoyed working with you and I'm happy to see you growing in your field, "testaheli kul khayr" (and you deserve all the best).