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Funny Arab American Immigrant Stories

posted on: Nov 21, 2018

By: Mike Enayeh/Arab America Ambassador Blogger

Arab American newcomers to the US get to the U.S. now by airplanes, not anymore by boats. As it is common in the Detroit area to refer to newcomers as “boaters”, indicating that they lack a full assimilation and/or characterized by pronounced accent. In the case of many Arabic speakers, in addition to dealing with new culture and language, they face a great challenge with the letter “P”; they pronounce it as “B” for a good reason: there’s no letter “P” in the Arabic language.

Before getting a handle over the situation, many of the new immigrants have amazed others with these funny stories about early encounters with the English language.

One of the funniest words that is mispronounced by new Arab American arrivals is “park”, as it is used in phrases like “the car barking” or “the dog is barking in the bark” sometimes it gets a little confusing, but some of the newcomers go through overcorrection phase as they hard to pronounce all the pees and bees as “P”;  it is a phase that some go through until things settle down or not.


Funny Arab American Immigrant Stories

The next story takes the mix up to a whole new level. This was a firsthand encounter as I was invited to an American co-worker’s house for dinner, and the person who accompanied me was going through the overcorrection phase. One of the dishes that they served was crab cake, and as soon as the dish was revealed I knew that we were in trouble. Before I had the chance to intervene, I hear “I like crap, I am sure your crap is good, I can’t wait to eat crap”. As I started to notice the horror of insult on the hostess’s face, I jumped in with a 5-minute explanation of what just happened. After the explanation, I could see that the hostess’s dignity was restored and we all had a great time.

Funny Arab American Immigrant Stories

This story is about a new student I met when I was at college. We lived at the college dorm and ate all our meals in the cafeteria. This guy discovered the American pie and totally fell in love. The cafeteria was set up as for the student to pick the meal from the server, then slide the tray to the cashier (80-year-old Martha with a hairnet) then Martha would ask you if you like a drink or dessert, this guy would say I want “bie” and sweet old Martha would ring him out without giving him the “bie” thinking that he said I want to buy, then he would say loudly and madly,“bleeze, I want to buy a bie”, Martha would smile and reply “bye-bye hun”.

The guy would look at me and say, “I think she is too old because she did not hear me”, he would eat his meal and go through the line again. This routine continued for a while until the student and Martha developed a sign language where he would point to the pie without saying anything, Martha would hand him the pie from the display. But little old Martha would get a little hurt because he doesn’t say bye-bye to her anymore. One thing he never figured out is why I was always standing behind him in the cafeteria, unbeknownst to him I had a front row seat to a great comedy routine.


Funny Arab American Immigrant StoriesThis story is also about another student I met on when I first came to the US. This poor guy was a very picky eater and had a cultural shock with the American cuisine. He survived on candy from the vending machine at the dorm. A bunch of Arab students decided to do an intervention. We understood his dilemma as most of us did not eat pork but were able to navigate our way through; we would ask the waitress: “is this big” after a few tries they figure out that big is pig and it was our word for pork products. So, to execute our intervention we took him to the nearest mall to give him a choice of restaurants, he selected one with a simple menu, most of us ordered hamburgers and fries, and we ordered the same for our starving comrade, he took a couple of bites of his sandwich ate some fries and did not like the taste.

In our 18 years old wisdom we told him he should have some dairy products to supplement his protein intake. He confessed his love for ice cream, and he let us know that while walking to the restaurant we passed a handmade ice cream shop, and he craved those ice cream bars on a stick. We rushed to the shop before he changes his mind; we watched him in anticipation as he walked up to the display pointed to the bar and said “Blease this” the sales lady wrapped it up with attractive aluminum foil, he grabbed the stick. We felt like a mother watching her baby take his first bite; he took one bite and almost went into a convulsion. It turned out that he took a bite of a breaded corn dog. This was the setback of setbacks as he threw it toward us “you made me eat big” repeating it over and over.

Most of us have what seemed at the time a cringe-worthy moment or two, but later they become fond memories. Please share your stories with me ( as I would like to create a series of monthly articles under the same heading.