A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

turning right

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 2, 2008

I’ve been having trouble expressing myself in Arabic recently. Its a very specific problem, and I’m not sure how its happened, but whenever I ask a taxi driver “take a right”, he takes a left.


The two words aren’t easily confusable in Arabic, either. “Right” is “yameen”, and “left” is “shmel”. They both have an “m”, but that’s about all they have in common. I’m trying to enunciate more carefully, but … I think I’m cursed.

My right/left troubles come just when I thought I was getting past my red wine / white wine woes (I’ve successfully ordered glasses of red wine twice now, although one was at my sister’s house, which I suppose doesn’t really count).

Pride goeth before a fall, I guess – or at least before a “right – no, the other right!” turn.


3 Responses to “turning right”

  1. intlxpatr said

    I thought “shmael” was north, and yassar was left? Is it colloquial in Lebanese-Arabic?

  2. Hi khalti,

    You’re right – shmel is “north”, literally, and yassar is “left”. But shmel is used for left. I’ve tried yassar, too – and have had a less than zero percent success rate with it! Its not used here at all – or at least not with my taxi drivers 🙂

  3. servuzmaxguat said

    hi, adiamondinsunlight,

    are you in cairo? A (pseudo-)etymology of shimaal (north) and shimaal (left): if you look to mekka e.g. in cairo the north is on the left. maybe a memory hook.

    i don’t know how you pronounce “shmel”, but I remember a short “e” and a long “aa”, so shemaaal.

    yissaar was only barely understood in Cairo.

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