Local traditions and culture in Iraq

  • Local Customs
    by jorgejuansanchez
  • Local Customs
    by jorgejuansanchez
  • Local Customs
    by jorgejuansanchez

Most Viewed Local Customs in Iraq

  • maykal's Profile Photo

    To Kurdi nazani? You don't speak Kurdish?!

    by maykal Written May 12, 2010

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    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.

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    To Kurdi dazani?

    by maykal Written Apr 30, 2010

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    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 ....

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  • maykal's Profile Photo

    Would you like tea....or tea...or tea?

    by maykal Written Apr 30, 2010

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    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.

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  • maykal's Profile Photo

    "Smile...you're in my wedding photo!"

    by maykal Updated Apr 30, 2010

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    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.

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  • EGerard's Profile Photo

    Inshallah, and Never Saying No

    by EGerard Written Jul 12, 2009

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    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.

    Giving Some Locals A Ride

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  • hen263's Profile Photo


    by hen263 Written Aug 22, 2007

    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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  • fullofstock's Profile Photo

    hand shake

    by fullofstock Updated Jun 29, 2006

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    when greeting men from/in the middle east...you would extend your hand and then lightly touch the mans' hand and then touch your chest....this is a standard greeting...this is not to say you cannot or could not do a 'standard' hand shake....

    Iraqi workers Speeding cars will be fired upon Hump'en to work Camel Spider Temple of the Moon - City of Ur..5000 years old
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  • Alcoholic beverages

    by jkseddon Written Sep 25, 2004

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    Both of Iraqi Kurdistan's two main factions, the PUK and KDP, have Marxist roots and as a result many people in the city aren't too religious. Alcohol is fairly readily available from shops and you can also drink at some cafes in Suli. Most people seem to enjoy their drinks at home though.

    A fairly wide range of liquor is available but it seems to be possible to get only really bad wine and Efes beer (which is an average quality beer from Turkey).

    Related to:
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