Whenever you watch an old TV series or spend time with your grandma, you probably will hear some odd proverbs that don’t make any sense to you. Haven’t you ever wondered what these proverbs can mean and how they came about? Well, today we’ll break down 5 of the most used colloquial proverbs in Egypt.
Those Who Feared Shame, Died
How Egyptians say it: “Elli ekhtasho mato”
English equivalent: no morals
Meaning: You’re expected to hear this proverb often when someone is complaining about another for having no shame.
The story: Back in the Ottoman era, women used to bathe in public bathrooms that were heated by firewood, sawdust, timber, and wood. One day, one of the women’s bathrooms started a fire. They were only left with two options; either to run naked and save their lives or stay and die rather than run without any clothes on. Obviously, those who feared shame…died!
We Buried It Together
How Egyptians say it: “Ehna dafneeno sawa”
English equivalent: you can’t have your cake and eat it too / OR read the riot act
Meaning: People use this proverb when someone tries to deceive or trick his accomplice.
The story: Once upon a time, two merchants had a donkey. The donkey used to carry a huge load every day, so they named it Abo el Sabr “Father of Patience,” until it died. The merchants were too sad, they kept crying, and decided to bury the donkey properly. Every day, they sat next to its grave and cried until people noticed their grief. So, they asked the merchants, “why are you crying?” The merchants replied, “Abo el Sabr died. He was a symbol of goodness, helpfulness, bliss, and mercy.” Everyone thought that Abo el Sabr is a Sheikh or holy person.
After that, the merchants built a mausoleum over their donkey’s grave, so people started collecting gifts, presents, and offerings for “Sheikh Abo el Sabr.” A few years later, one of the merchants decided to take all the presents and gifts for himself. The other one naively threatened him to complain to Sheikh Abo el Sabr. The first merchant laughed and said, “who is Sheikh Abo el Sabr? We buried it together; don’t you remember?”
How Egyptians say it: “Heya kosa?!!”
English equivalent: on the clout list
Meaning: People usually use this when a certain rule doesn’t apply to all or when they witness favoritism or corruption.
The story: Back in the Mamluk era, all the gates in Cairo were closed at night and no one was allowed to enter. That’s why traders had to wait outside all night to enter in the morning, except zucchini merchants because their product goes bad quickly. This exception made all the other traders angry as they were not treated equally. Every day, whenever there’s a zucchini merchant, the guard invites him to enter, so one day, one of the angry merchants shouted “of course he enters; it’s zucchini!”
He, Who Doesn’t Know, Says Lentil
How Egyptians say it: “Elli maye’rafsh ye’oul adss”
English equivalent: can’t see the forest for the trees
Meaning: People use this proverb when they try to explain the truth of an idea to others who don’t believe it or see it from a different perspective.
The story: There once was a legume merchant minding his own business on the streets. One day, a thief stole his money pocket and ran. While the thief was running, he stumbled over a sack of lentils and scattered some on the ground. Everyone thought that he stole some lentils to eat, so they started blaming the merchant for chasing him and being so cruel. The merchant then said, “he, who doesn’t know, says lentil.”
Entering a Bathroom Isn’t Like Leaving It
How Egyptians say it: “Dukhul el hammam msh zai khrugu”
English equivalent: to be in deep water
Meaning: People use this proverb when someone gets involved in a dilemma and cannot get out of it as easily.
The story: Once upon a time, a man decided to build a new Turkish bathhouse during the Ottoman era. As a means of attracting visitors, the man wrote a sign on the door that said, “entering is for free.” So, a huge number of people rushed into the bathhouse. However, after they were done bathing, the owner refused to give them their clothes back until they paid him the fee for using the bathhouse.
People started complaining and arguing that the sign at the door said that it was free to enter. The owner replied, “entering the bath isn’t like leaving it.”