Today, I had an odd encounter in Fishtown. Sam and I were walking down Frankford. I was wearing a shirt with the Arabic phrase, يلا حبيبي.
In Arabic, it is pronounced yalla habibi, and it loosely translates to “come on, my love”. As Arabic is one of the official languages of our house, I often hear Sam’s family use this phrase. It always makes me laugh because sometimes it’s sweet and sometimes it means “get the lead out, we need to go” or “really sweetheart?”
While we were walking, a woman on Frankford Ave. called to me and asks “What does that say on your shirt?”
I respond with “yalla” and she quickly tells me “no.”
I look to Sam for some confirmation, and she says “let me read it.” I make a mention that “he’s the Arabic speaker between us.”
She then says, “oh it reads yalla hibibi. It means ‘come on, my love.’ That’s sweet.”
I smiled and walked away. I did not say “I know, mind your business.” It did not feel like she wanted to know what it said (as she could obviously read Arabic), it felt like she wanted to make a fool out of a complete stranger. Arabic is not my language and any attempt I’ve made to learn it has failed. However, if wearing a shirt with the language of my husband, that says something nice, and is a joke between the 2 of us is cultural appropriation than please let me know. <—- I am being serious.