Anyone who has experienced the confusion, dislocation and affirmation that is learning a new language as an adult will tell you that practice makes proficient. Practice practice practice. They will also tell you that practice is a million times more practice-y when you do it with someone fluent in the language. This is true if you’re learning Arabic, English, French, or Klingon.
So it should come at no surprise that people in Egypt who want to improve their English will often go out of their way to speak English with English-speaking foreigners, like me. It should also come at no surprise that I want to improve my Arabic, so I go out of my way to speak Arabic with Arabic-speaking Egyptians.
These two conflicting goals clashed yesterday at the fruit stand.
Fruit stand man: Hello how are you?
Me: Kwayes, hamdulliah.
FSM: What would you like? Mangos? Kiwis? Apples?
Me: *frowns* Ana iz moz.
FSM: *smiles* Bananas? How many?
FSM: Okay six. Anything else?
Me: Yimkin, tofaya ahmar?
FSM: Yes, how about these apples? They are fresh.
Me: Taza meshi. Min fudluck arba.
And so we went, back and forth, each too stubborn to give in, for the entire exchange. When I left with my fruit, I gave him the proper Egyptian salutations: “Ma salam.” He turned and said, “Bye bye, have a nice day.”