A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

“I’m glad you’re clean”: adventures in expression

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 24, 2006

This isn’t really my story, but it has become part of my everyday life. I think of it whenever I shower.

My friend M. lived and worked in Damascus for several years.
Because M. dated the very nice Mouhammed for some time, she was deeply integrated into the milieu of Shami expressions – far more so than I was, since my primary exposure to Arabic came through coursework and research.

One of the expressions we did both know, however, was “na3iman” – blessings, which is said to someone who has just bathed, had a haircut, or shaved. The newly shorn and/or clean responds with: yna3m 3aleik/i, may God bless you (too).

One could speculate endlessly about the origins of this – whether from an orientalist view that the original, desert-dwelling Arabic speakers must have considered the opportunity to bathe in water a great blessing, or a more practical expression of relief at seeing one’s loved ones survive another experience with a sharp, non-safety razor, blade.

What is clear, however, is that we English-speakers have no equivalent expression – no blessings for the clean! (Perhaps this is an inheritance from our medieval, Renaissance, and early modern European ancestors, who preferred flea scratchers and heavy perfume to bathing …)

One of M.’s closest friends and co-workers was a Damascene woman named Y.

One day, Y. asked: what do you say in English to someone who has just showered?

M., startled, responded with the only words that came to mind:

“Gosh, I’m glad that you’re clean.”

Every time I jump into the shower after a workout, I think of M.’s answer and it makes me smile.

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