To Kurdi nazani? You don't speak Kurdish?!
So, what to do if you're not a Kurdish speaker? Well, an obvious second language is Arabic, and if you know even a little, it will be a huge advantage here. There is some reluctance among Kurds to speaking the language of their oppressors, but anyone over 30 will have been taught in Arabic only, and those under 30 who have been to school may well have studied it as a foreign language. I found the best thing to do was to ask in Kurdish "To Arabi dazani?" ("do you speak Arabic?") and then apologize for not being able to speak Kurdish yet. Once people worked out that I was not Arab (which admittedly doesn't take long...), then they had no problems using that language to communicate with me. The Iraqi dialect is a little unusual in that the letter "k" is often pronounced "ch", a sound not found in other dialects, but on the whole, knowing Arabic helped me enormously.
Don't speak Arabic? Not a problem...Turkish is understood in many places around Dohuk (especially by taxi drivers in Zaxo), and even in Erbil where a lot of Turkish migrants have set up business. There are also the Turcomans, Turkish-speaking communities in Erbil and Kirkuk.
In and around Slemani, which is closer to Iran, Farsi/Persian will get you a long way...actually a lot of Kurdish is similar to Farsi, especially greetings, question words, numbers and some word order.
English is taught in a lot of schools, and I was regularly approached by young Kurds seeking to practice their English. One group of advanced students who cornered me in Erbil's citadel had just watched the British election television debates, and wanted to know my opinion on the policies of Clegg, Cameron and Brown! I also met several people who had lived abroad, or who still live abroad and who were back visiting family...English, German and Swedish were the common languages spoken.
Smiling and sign language go a long way too.
If you happen to have a Kurdish community near where you live, have a chat with them and see where they are from. A lot of Kurds in Newcastle are from Slemani, and I met a lot in Slemani who had relatives there (even one guy who really shocked me by speaking in a thick Geordie accent!), whereas many in Erbil had relatives in the Swedish city of Goteborg.
To Kurdi dazani?
Kurdish is the official language of Iraqi Kurdistan, so it is well worth trying to learn a few phrases before you go. A lot of fuss is made of the various dialects (Kurmanji, Badinani, Sorani etc..) which are not mutually intelligible, and two dialects are spoken in Iraqi Kurdistan: Badinani in Dohuk, and Sorani in Erbil and Slemani. In practice, it's not going to worry you too much if you just want to learn some basics...what I learnt was understood all over the Kurdish regions.
Kurds in Turkey use a version of the Latin alphabet, whereas in Iraq, they use Arabic scripts with some extra letters. If you can read Arabic, it will be an advantage, Farsi even more so...but it took me a while to adjust to reading Kurdish, as the letters join up slightly differently to Arabic and vowels are letters rather than dashes. Worth learning though, as not all hotels have signs in other languages.
rozh bash - hello/good day
as-salaam 'aleykum - peace be upon you (a common greeting all over the Islamic world)
speyda bash - good morning
shav bash - good evening
choni? chawani? - how are you?
bashi? - are you fine?
bashum - I'm fine
nave ta chi ye? - what's your name?
nave min Maykal e - my name's Maykal
sipas/supas - thanks
tkaya/bo zahmet - please
baleh - yes
na - no
...le kwe ye? - where is ....?
ew chand e? ew chand denar e? - how much is it? how many dinars is it?
daveyt bichin Slemani - I want to go to Slemani
ez - I min - my
to - you ta - your
ew - he/she/it
em - we
yek - 1
do - 2
se - 3
char - 4
penj - 5
shesh - 6
heft - 7
hesht - 8
na - 9
da - 10
It's useful to know how to say the numbers on the notes:
250 dinars - do sad penzhe
500 dinars - penj sad
750 dinars - heft sad penzhe
1000 dinars - hazar
2000 dinars - do hazar
20,000 dinars - bist hazar
8750 dinars - hesht hazar heft sad penzhe
to kurdi dazani? - do you speak Kurdish?
to arabi dazani? - do you speak Arabic?
to inglizi dazani? - do you speak English?
ez .... dazanum - I speak .....
ez .... nazanum - I don't speak ....
Would you like tea....or tea...or tea?
A chaixane is a teahouse, and these are found on practically every street in every city, town or village. They can range from the simple (a roadside stall with an urn of tea, customers leaning on the wall as they sip) to the sublime (Slemani's Sha'ab Chaixane where poets, artists and writers gather to smoke nargile, play backgammon or dominoes, sketch each other, peruse the huge collection of dusty books, discuss politics and the arts...and yes, sip sugary tea). Tea is the usual offering, always served black and often with sugar already stirred in...check before you add any more! Bottled water is also available, and in a few places you can get coffee...but not everywhere. Those with caffeine addictions will have to get their highs from tea.
The chaixane is very much a male environment. Local women won't go into these places, unless they happen to be at the bus station, so female tourists might not feel all that comfortable...get ready for stares, and go with a local if you can.
"Smile...you're in my wedding photo!"
An unusual "custom" in Iraqi Kurdistan is for locals to take photos of and with foreigners. Every time I went to a park or sat near a fountain, I was approached by groups of friends to ask if they could have their photo taken with me, and the few other tourists I met all had the same experiences. Wandering near a wedding hall in Erbil one night, I was even asked to be in a couple's wedding photos...they were all dressed up in their finest, and there was me in my dusty jeans and scruffy top! Also look out for those too shy to ask, who sneakily snap away at you from hip-level.
Many people don't have cameras, but no problem...that's where the masses of official photographers come in. They lurk in parks and by fountains with polaroid cameras to snap you and your friends with a picturesque backdrop...or for something a little more exotic, a Swiss Alp perhaps, or an African jungle, head to one of the many photo studios which stay open late into the evening.
Inshallah, and Never Saying No
Inshallah means God Willing. You will hear this a lot around Iraq. While it sounds pretty innocent, it basically means Whenever The Hell I Get Around To It! Like alot of places in the world, Iraq time is slower than what you may be used to in Europe or the States. It's a more relaxed time frame to getting things done; this can be a real pain when it comes to public works projects we're working on. Also, remember, if an Iraqi asks you for a favor, never just come out and say "no". That's essentially telling them to freck off, that you don't respect them. Instead, say something along the lines of "maybe later". Saving face is extraordinarily important in this country; it's important never to directly criticize people. There is no such thing as constructive criticism in this country. Always tell them that they did a good job, but maybe they should try it this way instead. You just have to adapt the way you train people. You get used to it pretty quickly.
In the Arab ME the soles of shoes should not point at someone. It is disrespectful. So if you cross your legs and the bottom of your shoe is pointing at someone they might be upset.
Don't ask me, I don't make up the rules.
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