New to UAE? Knowing these different ways to greet people will avoid embarrassments


UAE is one of the largest homes to immigrants. Knowing Arabic language will be a great relief for these people for their jobs and interactions. Arabic is a vast language and has a multitude of ways to greet people. Some of these are context based – which means greeting using some words will be inappropriate at some contexts.

Whether it’s a catch-up over dinner or a breakfast meeting, terms of endearment are frequently exchanged between friends and colleagues in a way that wouldn’t perhaps be appropriate in western countries.

Here are ten ways of addressing people in Arabic that can be used to gain the appreciation from your peers.

Aamu and Ammati (Aa-mu and Am-ma-ti:) These mean uncle or auntie, and are to be used with people you’re familiar with. Those roughly 20 years above your age qualify for a’amu or a’mati status. Anyone more advanced in age should be referred to as jaddu or jaddati, which mean grandfather and grandmother respectively.

Bash Muhandis (Bash mu-han-dis): An old and charming handle from Egypt which dates back to the country’s previous Ottoman rule. Bash is short for “basha”, a term used by the Turks for those of a high rank, while muhandis is an Arabic word which means engineer. Bash muhandis was initially used to address qualified engineers and architects – now it is used for anyone that’s handy with a screwdriver.

Boss: A term of respect used to those often performing a service, whether labour-intensive or in the hospitality industry. For example, you would perhaps call the attendant filling your gas tank or the waiter ‘boss.’

Duktoor and duktoora: You don’t have to be a medical professional to be a doctor in the Arab world. With a high regard for education instilled in the culture, this designator is also used to honour those who have completed a PhD. The title immediately bestows a level of respect reserved to society’s intelligentsia.

Hajji (male) and hajja (female): A term of respect used for those who have completed the Islamic pilgrimage of Hajj. Once they return from their journey, it is customary to call them hajji or hajja followed by their first name – for example, Hajji Ahmed or Hajja Fatima. You can eventually resort to normal first-name basis, but for the first few weeks stick to the term. The person just completed one of the most important and gruelling tasks of their faith, they deserved to be respected.

Habibi (male) and habibti (female): Both mean darling, and can be used with friends and good colleagues. It is one of the most widely used terms of endearments in the region, and chances are they are first Arabic words learned by a new arrival. But don’t drop it too casually. Familiarity doesn’t necessarily mean intimacy and there is still a code of respect to adhere to. Don’t call your manager or professional acquaintance habibi or habibti, unless you are certain of the quality of your relationship.

My dear: The title sounds rather archaic and too heavy for a chilled conversation. Hence, it is a good idea to be conservative in its usage. It is to be deployed on a case-by-case basis and only to those who address you using that term first.

Ustadhi (male) and Ustadhati (female) [Uss-tad-thi (male) and Uss-ta-dha-ti (female)]: Translated as ‘my teacher’, ustadhi or ustadhati is a Gulf honorific widely used to address senior citizens. You can either use it singularly, or add on to the person’s first name. E.g. ‘Shukran ustadhi/ustadhati,’ or ‘ustadi Ahmed/ustadhati Fatima”

Ya albi or ya roohi: While habibi/habibti is a typically Pan-Arab term, ya albi or ya roohi are mostly used by those hailing from the Levant. But once again, with ya albi meaning ‘my heart’ and ya roohi ‘my soul’, they should only be used with close friends and associates.

Ya rayal (ya ray-yal): An Emirati term frequently used in male conversations. Translating to ‘oh man’, it is often heard in friendly banter or as term of exasperation during arguments.