Dubai, with its breathtaking skyscrapers, luxury retail malls, and cultural diversity, is now known as a global tourist attraction. However, while marveling at the architectural wonders and soaking in the cultural experiences, it's important to connect with the locals by understanding their unique lingo. The local slang, a blend of Arabic and English, adds a charming layer to the city's identity. Navigating the city's linguistic landscape may be both fascinating and useful. From ordering your favorite "karak" to navigating public transport, we've compiled a comprehensive guide to essential Dubai lingo that every tourist needs to know.
Here's a rundown of essential Dubai lingo that every tourist should know to make the most of their visit, what each word or phrase means, why it is popular and how it is used in an example.
1. Karak: Dubai's street culture would be incomplete without the mention of "Karak." Derived from the Hindi word 'kadak,' which means ‘strong’, “Karak” is a strong, spiced tea brewed with black tea leaves, sweetened condensed milk, and a dash of cardamom. This sweet and spicy tea is a popular beverage that is a vital part of Dubai's social fabric. Enjoy a cup of karak at a local café to completely immerse yourself in the Dubai experience.
Example: "Let's stop by that roadside stall for some karak and samosas."
2. Al Abwab Toghlaq: This is a common Arabic phrase heard while travelling using the public transport. "Abwab" means "doors," and " Toghlaq" refers to the "closing” hence, “Al Abwab-Toghlaq” means ‘Doors are closing. You can usually hear it in all public transport modes like metro, bus, and tram when the station is near, and the doors are going to open. This is announced loudly to alert the passengers to keep their distance from the door.
3. Salaam Waaliqum: In Dubai's diverse environment, this phrase resonates with the multicultural fabric of the city. “Salaam Waaliqum” is a traditional Arabic greeting that translates to ‘Peace be upon you’. It's a courteous way to say hello and is often met with a smile which is followed by the response, "Wa Alaikum Salaam," which means ‘and peace be upon you’.
Example: "Salaam Waaliqum! May your day be filled with joy and blessings as you explore Dubai's wonders."
4. Boss: While "Boss" normally refers to someone in a position of authority or in charge, in Dubai, it is used informally to address people in a friendly and respectful manner, regardless of their actual position. It reflects the city's casual yet respectful social atmosphere, promoting a sense of friendship. It's frequently used as a casual greeting, similar to "Hey", "Dude", or "mate". So, don’t be startled if you're greeted with a warm "Hey, boss!"
Example: “Hey, boss, could you help me with directions to the nearest souk?"
5. Habibi: You’ve heard of the popular internet phrase ‘Habibi, come to Dubai!’’ But what does Habibi actually mean? It is an affectionate word which means "my dear" or "my love" and is often used among friends and relatives. It is used to show friendliness and warmth. This term of endearment is a lovely way to express affection.
Example: "Habibi, can you believe the view from the top of Burj Khalifa?"
6. Waasta: Waasta refers to someone's influence or connections to get things done. It's a vital part of local culture, influencing everything from business to personal affairs. Having "waasta" can open doors and make duties easier in Dubai's social and business situations. Understanding the concept of "waasta" is essential for understanding Dubai's social dynamics.
Example: "His waasta got us VIP tickets to the concert!"
7. Marhaba: This simple yet powerful phrase means "hello" or "welcome." It's a common way to welcome guests and make them feel at home. It's an excellent approach to strike up a conversation and mingle with the locals. If you are new to Dubai or are a visitor, you are sure to hear this word at least once in your entire trip. It is popularly used as it embodies Dubai's warm embrace of visitors.
Example: "Marhaba! We're thrilled to explore the wonders of Dubai."
8. Nol: The word “Nol” means ‘fare’ in Arabic. The Nol card is a smart contactless card that can be used for Dubai’s extensive transport modes with a single tap. It's your key to seamless travel on the metro, buses, and even water taxis. Just tap your Nol card and you're good to go! It is a very easy to use, affordable and makes travelling around the city easy. Besides using the nol card for public transport, you can also use it to pay for quite a few things including Etihad Museum and public parks.
Example: "I need to recharge my Nol Card before we hop on the metro."
9. Shurta: The word “Shurta” is Arabic for ‘police’. It's essential to be aware of local regulations and to respect the authorities. It's always a good idea to know how to identify law enforcement personnel in a foreign country. Dubai’s police are known for their wide collection of luxury supercars and is known to be friendly and welcoming. Their cars are distinguished by a white and dark green design and features blue emergency lights.
Example: "We should always follow traffic rules to avoid any fines given by the shurta."
10. Maafi Mushkil: Translating to "No problem," this phrase embodies Dubai's easygoing and accommodating attitude. Language barriers can be frustrating but knowing how to say "No problem" in Arabic can help ease communication hiccups and show your willingness to adapt. This phrase captures the city’s casual attitude and fosters a positive and relaxed environment in interactions.
Example: “While walking on the road, I accidently bumped into someone, and he said 'Maafi mushkil.”
11. Baqaala: This term refers to a small convenience store or grocery shop, often found around neighborhoods. You can everyday items such as snacks, drinks, and essentials. Baqaala translates to "grocery store" in Arabic. If you're looking to grab a quick snack or some essentials, knowing this term will come in handy. Baqaalas cater to immediate local needs, making them a common sight in neighborhoods across Dubai. Baqaala not only refers to a grocery store, but Dubai also has a grocery store brand name of the same name too!
Example: "Before our beach outing, I'm just going to grab a quick snack from the baqaala."
12. Arbab: A term for "boss" or "owner," often used in businesses to refer to someone in charge. It reflects a respectful acknowledgment of authority and decision-makers. Using "arbab" in business interactions demonstrates a recognition of hierarchy and authority. At times, the term “arbab” can also be used casually in an informal way to refer to someone who is elder to you or in a place of authority.
Example: "I spoke to the arbab of the shop, and he gave me a discount."
13. Wallah: This term means ‘I swear by God’ in Arabic and is used to prove you are telling the truth or as an affirmation or emphasis. Similar to the English expression "I swear," "Wallah" is used to emphasize the truthfulness of a statement. While exploring Dubai, you will hear this term many times as it is used by locals and expats alike frequently and at times it is also used in a causal and informal way.
For example, "It's really the best shawarma in town, wallah!"
14. Khalas: Indicating that something is ‘finished’ or ‘done,’ "khallas" is a straightforward term often used in daily conversations. It's often used to wrap up conversations or negotiations and also used in a casual way among friends or family when you want to be done with the topic of a conversation. It's a versatile term for concluding discussions or expressing satisfaction.
Example: “Come on! Khalas that’s end of this discussion!”
15. Souk: The word “Souk” refers to an Arabic market or bazaar, where you can find traditional goods, spices, textiles, and more. Dubai's souks are a treasure trove of authentic goods and experiences. From the vibrant colors of the spice souk to the glimmering gold of the gold souk, a "souk" is where you can immerse yourself in local culture and find unique items. At most souks in Dubai, you can find quality items at affordable prices and the best part is you can even bargain to get a good deal!
Example: "Let's explore the gold souk and discover exquisite jewelry designs."
Also Read: A Guide to the Best Dubai Souks and Markets
16. Burj: In a city known for its iconic skyline, "Burj" means "tower" in Arabic. You'll often hear this term used in reference to the towering structures that define Dubai's modern architecture. It's commonly also associated with the iconic Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building. In Dubai, most building names start with “burj” so its better to know what the word means. You’ll even find this word at most cafeteria menus too.
Example: "We can't miss visiting the Burj Khalifa – the tallest burj in the world!"
17. Yallah: A word that encapsulates Dubai's fast-paced energy, "yallah" means ‘Let’s go’ and is used to urge someone to speed up or join in. It is a popular catch-all phrase that means everything from ‘let’s go’ to ‘hurry up’. It's a friendly way to nudge someone into action. Whether you're heading to the bustling souks or exciting attractions, this word will be a regular part of your vocabulary.
Example: “Yallah! Let’s go we are going to miss the start of the movie”
As a tourist in Dubai, embracing the local lingo will not only enhance your experience but also open doors to meaningful interactions with the people who call this city home. Whether you're sipping on karak, navigating the metro with your Nol card, or using waasta to your advantage, you'll navigate Dubai's linguistic landscape with confidence and appreciation. But, remember, each phrase holds a key to unlocking a new facet of this enchanting city. Wallah, your Dubai adventure awaits!