Arabic in public
Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 26, 2008
Thanks to a last-minute email and blog check before I headed off to work this morning, I was that person on the subway who makes everyone nervous. You know: the one who keeps bursting out every so often with a few chuckles.
Ordinarily, this happens because I am reading something funny. But today I had no reading material – I was kept busy enough by the task of balancing over-stuffed handbag and rolling luggage. So you can imagine that the sight of one solo traveler – with two bags full of who-knows-what – might cause alarm.
When you are traveling by plane, she wrote, are you ever compelled to write something in Arabic in the margins of the in-flight magazines? I am. But I haven’t done it yet.
Loooooooooool. I have never thought of this, but imagining it now makes me laugh out loud. Of all the totally mechant (yet ultimately harmless) ways for the country’s Arabic-speakers to carve out a bit of retaliatory space for the racial profiling they face in airports and on planes, this is the best I have heard. I can definitely see writing city names on the “where we fly” maps towards the back, or a “to-do” list on a full-page ad. Too, too funny.
Snarla’s comment also made me think about an issue I do face more frequently: that of reading, writing, or translating Arabic in public places.
For the first two-three years after 2001, I never took Arabic texts with me on a plane – and if I did, I certainly didn’t pull them out.
When I did start working with Arabic in public, it was on public transportation: the subway. A friend had told me that he used his subway rides to review Arabic words using flashcards, so I decided to do the same. At the time, I was taking a medieval Arabic class – far exceeding the boundaries of my professional interests, but it was the only one available at my level – so the words and their usages were fairly esoteric.
But pulling out hand-made flashcards with Arabic words on them made me an instant hit with my fellow subway riders. On every ride I took, someone began asking me questions about Arabic: what I did with it, how long I had studied it, where I had traveled, it. It was great public outreach, but it wasn’t particularly conducive to learning.
More recently, I have become a bit blase about working with Arabic in public places. I am currently working toward a professional certificate in Arabic-English translation (news that may frighten Houssam and others who disagree with my translation in yesterday’s post 🙂 ), and this past weekend was sufficiently pressed for time that I completed my entire translation assignment on the plane back to New York.
And … no one looked at me funny. No one looked at me with interest. In fact, no one paid the slightest bit of attention to me. And while I didn’t mind the lack of scrutiny, I did miss the celebrity status of my 2004 subway flashcard days. So snarla’s suggestion may have come at the perfect time 🙂 .