I’m absolutely certain that you, dear non-native Arabic speaker currently located in Cairo, want no part in anything that could jeopardize the delicate, spotless reputation that foreigners living in Egypt have worked so hard to maintain over the years. In the spirit of this sentiment, TeamMaha has compiled the following brief guide to commonly used titles in Egypt to help smooth out your day-to-day interactions with the population of om al-dunya.
Note that this list is by no means exhaustive; feel free to leave additions or suggestions in the comments section and I’ll adjust the post accordingly.
باشا basha – Originally a Turkish term used in reference to high-ranking political officials under the Ottoman empire, the word is now usually used by people working in the service industry and/or serving you in some way as a means to address you respectfully. This is most often used when speaking with men, but I’ve been called basha once or twice, and each time it was fantastic.
بي bey (bae?) – Similar to basha, above. Not much of a difference in usage as far as I can tell, although this was distinct from a basha back in the Ottoman days.
فندم fendem – This one usually appears when you’re speaking to someone and didn’t hear something they said, but want to appear respectful: يا فندم؟ means something like ‘Sorry, come again?’ Also–you guessed it!–Turkish.
باشامهندس bashamohandes A term of respect for engineers, which is a highly regarded career path in Egypt. Combination of basha + the word for ‘engineer’–a two-for-one title, if you will.
اوسطى osta – This is usually used when speaking to taxi/bus drivers, but an amiya teacher once told me its for anyone who works with their hands. When you want to get out of a taxi, you can say على جمب يا اوسطى (ala gemb yaosta – note that the ‘ya’ and ‘osta’ tend to kind of meld together).
برنس brins – aka, ‘prince’ in a super Egyptian accent. Usually comes out when someone has done something of note and the speaker wants to express his approval, or when greeting a good friend.
حاج\حاجة hag\haga – Title of respect used for the elderly, associated with the expectation that a Muslim who has gotten on in their years will have made the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca at least once. Use copiously and #respectyourelders.
أستاذ ustaz – Literally means ‘teacher’ and is similar to basha, but can be used as a title before someone’s name; for example, if I’m ordering food on the phone and the company has my name recorded in their database, they may ask if ‘ustaza Caitlyn’ is calling, to be polite. This is also used more often for women in place of basha.
آنسة anisa – Used for young women, and implies that they’re unmarried, if I’m not mistaken. The shami equivalent is صبايا.
حضرتك hadrtak/hadrtek – Not as much a title, but if you speak Spanish, it operates a bit like ‘Usted’–its a polite form of ‘you.’ So if you’re talking to your friend’s mom or a teacher, for example, you might say ازاي حضرتك instead of the more informal ازايك. When addressing a police officer–most often a situation in which you most likely want to be the politest of polite–you can call him/her حضرت الضابط.