Egyptian & MSA Arabic Phrases You Need For Public Transport
You’re finally here and it turns out that the rumors were wrong, New York was not the city that never sleeps, it was Cairo after all!
You can get a full meal at 2:00 am, take a felucca with friends to watch the sunset or the sunrise on the Nile, or take a day trip to Alexandria when it’s a hot summer day and the Mediterranean sea is calling your name.
Now, here is where it gets interesting.
In big cities such as Cairo, as you’d already assume, you’ll be hopping from one form of transportation to the other.
You’ll be taking the subway (the metro), buses, mini buses (microbuses), taxis, trains, even Tuktuks and ferries.
You’ll be Ubering, Careeming (an Egyptian ride-hailing company), & SWVLing (an Egyptian ride-sharing company for private buses) and you’ll need to know your way around what to say to the driver and sometimes to the other passengers.
First, however, let me introduce the different modes of transportation and the different vehicles in Arabic.
|taxi||سيارة أجرة||sayarat Ogra||تاكسى||taksi|
|bus||خافلة \ أتوبيس||haafila \ outobees||أتوبيس||outobees|
|microbus||ميكروباص||microbaaṣ||ميكروباص \ مشروع||microbaaṣ \ mashrou’|
|ferry||عبارة||‘abbarah||عبارة \ معدية||‘abbarah \ me’adiyah|
Mode(s) of Transportation - وسيلة مواصلات \ وسائل المواصلات
Now, let’s move on to what to say in each mode of transportation.
Useful Phrases For Taking a Taxi
Telling the taxi driver where you want to go
As you motion to the driver and he stops or slows down, you begin by asking if he’s willing to take you to a certain neighbourhood.
Drivers would either agree or disagree depending on traffic, money or simply the fact that they do not want to go to a different part of town.
The shortest way to say would be:
|اسم المكان لو سمحت؟||[Ism Al-Makan] law samaht?||[Name of Place] please?|
|وسط البلد لو سمحت؟||west albalad law samaht?||Downtown please?|
You can also take it up a notch in Modern Standard Arabic and use اذا سمحت instead of لو سمحت which would translate to “if you please” (see our guide on how to say please in Arabic as well).
If the driver asks you about your destination or where you’re going, you can rephrase the earlier question into a statement.
In Modern Standard Arabic:
|I want to go to Downtown please.||ana oreed a-thehab ila wasat al balad itha samaht||أنا أريد الذهاب إلى وسط البلد اذا سمحت|
While in Egyptian Arabic, you would say:
|I want to go Downtown please.||ana ‘ayez/ ʻayza arouh west elbalad law samaht||أنا عايز(ة) أروح وسط البلد لو سمحت|
Or you could choose to be brief and simple and just say وسط البلد لو سمحت.
When you’re in the taxi
As you get into the taxi, it’s important to ask the driver to turn on the meter so neither of you would estimate the fee, an action that would most likely end in an argument at the end of the trip.
If the meter is broken or the driver says it’s inaccurate, you can either agree with him on a fee beforehand or get a new taxi.
In MSA, you can ask:
|Is the meter on/working?||hal yaʻmal ‘addad sayarat al-ogra?||هل يعمل عداد سيارة الأجرة؟|
|Can you turn on the meter?||hal yomken an taqom bi-tashgheel ‘addad al-sayarah?||هل يمكن أن تقوم بتشغيل عداد السيارة؟|
While in Egyptian Arabic, it will be shorter and to the point:
|Is the meter on/working?||el- ʻaddad shaghaal?||العداد شغال؟|
|Can you turn on the meter?||momken teshaghal el ʻaddad?||ممكن تشغل العداد؟|
As you continue with Egyptian Arabic, you’ll find yourself needing to help the taxi driver navigate or provide more specific directions as you go from point A to point B.
|Turn right/left on the next street||el-shareʻ ely gay yemeen/shemaal||الشارع اللى جاى يمين - شمال|
|Not yet, a bit more to go||lessa odam showaya||لسه قدام شوية|
|Straight ahead please||kamil ‘ala tool law samaht||كمل على طول لو سمحت|
|Go Back||ergaʻ wara - ergaʻ tany||ارجع ورا - ارجع تانى|
|Take the next U-turn||khod el u-turn ely gaya||خد ال U-turn اللى جاية|
If you take the private ride-sharing option, the driver will ask you whether to follow the GPS or if you know the way and would like to follow a shortcut.
This of course is up to you, while in public taxis, it’s highly unlikely that the driver will have a GPS to follow, so that will give you a better chance to practice navigation in Arabic!
Getting dropped off
As your trip ends, you can ask your driver to drop you off in any of the following ways:
|I’ll get off on the side of the street please||hanzel ʻala ganb||حنزل على جنب لو سمحت|
|At the turn of the next street please||‘ala awel elshareʻ ely gay law samaht||على أول الشارع اللى جاى لو سمحت|
|Drop me off here please||nazilni hena law samaht||نزلنى هنا لو سمحت|
To the side of the street (على جنب)
The term على جنب which translates to “the side of the street” is very important in Egyptian Arabic.
You’ll hear it riding in every mode of transportation: at the back of microbuses, in the middle of crowded buses, and in taxis and Ubers. This is the official and most common way to say “drop me off please” in Egypt.
Ya Usta / Yasta (يا أسطى)
Now, we need to talk about the secret to fluency while in transportation.
The word Usta (أسطى) is borrowed from Ottoman Turkish meaning an expert handyman and in Egypt, we use Usta for handymen, drivers, etc and recently, the meaning of the word has even expanded to slang to include friends.
This interesting term is so common now, you’ll even find it in memes such as these ones:
Yes, Gen-Z call their girlfriends “Yasta”
So, if you want to take your fluency up a notch, when you ask your driver to drop you off, you can add “Yasta” to the sentence.
Check out the first minute of the famous Youtube show Al-Daheeh titled على جنب ياسطى. The first minute is a bit from the twentieth century.
It’s a bit advanced but you’ll find some of the questions and words that we have already covered.
Paying the Egyptian taxi driver
As the trip ends, you’ll find yourself needing to ask the driver how much you owe or if he has a change of a twenty or fifty.
The word “change” in regards to money in Egyptian Arabic is usually either Fakka فكة or Ba’ii باقى.
The difference between both terms is usually insignificant, but fakka فكة could also means coins while Ba’ii باقى actually means “rest.”
So, in the following table, you’ll find:
Meaning: Do you have a change of a hundred.
But that could also mean: I need you to divide this 100 bill into smaller ones, into twenties or fifties.
|How much (is that trip) please?||kam keda law samaht?||كام كده لو سمحت؟|
|Do you have a change of fifty please?||ma ʻak ba’i khamseen law samaht?||معاك باقى خمسين لو سمحت؟|
|Do you have a change of a hundred?||ma ʻak fakkit meyya?||معاك فكة مية؟|
Useful phrases for taking the bus & the microbus
Finding a bus stop in Egypt
The first thing you need to do when you’re a tourist moving to a new neighborhood and on a strict budget is to find the nearest bus stop or subway station and then know which buses go to your desired routes.
In the following table, you’ll find the questions in MSA followed by Egyptian Arabic:
|Where is the nearest bus stop?||ayn aqrab mehatat hafilaat? \ ayn aqrab mawqaf hafilaat?||أين أقرب محطة حافلات؟ \ أين أقرب موقف حافلات؟|
|Does this bus go to Maadi [Neighbourhood]?||hal hathehi al-hafila tatageh ila al-ma ʻadi?||هل هذه الحافلة تتجه إلى المعادى ؟|
|When is the next bus?||fi ay waqt sta’ti al-hafila al-qademma?||فى أى وقت ستأتى الحافلة القادمة؟|
|Where is the nearest bus stop?||feen a’rab maw’af outobisaat? \ feen a’rab maw’af ?||فين أقرب موقف أتوبيسات؟ \ فين أقرب موقف؟|
|Does this bus go to Maadi [Neighbourhood]?||el-outobis da biyrouh el ma’adi?||الأتوبيس ده بيروح المعادى؟|
|When is the next bus?||el-outobis ely gay hayeegy emta?||الأنوبيس اللى جاى حيجى امتى؟|
While you’re on the bus
Once you reach the bus stop and on your desired bus route, you’ll find yourself using more or less the same vocabulary as earlier indicated in taxis especially when asking to be dropped off.
The only difference is that there will be a fixed price for the bus/microbus ticket depending on the destination.
|How much is the ticket? (MSA)||kam si ʻr al-tathkara?||كم سعر التذكرة؟|
|How much is the ticket? (Egyptian)||el-ougra b kam yasta?||الأجرة بكام يا أسطى؟|
In Egypt, if you’re seated at the back of a bus or a microbus and you do not have any change, you would usually give the money to the person seated in front of you and they’ll give it to the person in front of them, and so on, until it reaches the driver.
You would say something along the same lines as:
|A change of ten at the back please.||ba’i ‘ashara wara law samaht||باقى (عشرة) ورا لو سمحت|
Sometimes you would not be seated next to a window and so you would have to ask someone to open/close it.
|Can you open the window?||momken teftah el shebaak?||ممكن تفتح الشباك؟|
|Can you close the window?||momken te’fil el shebaak?||ممكن تقفل الشباك؟|
Useful phrases for taking the subway / metro in Egypt
Finding the nearest Metro station
In addition to finding the nearest metro station, you need to make sure you’re standing in the right direction to catch the correct subway line.
|Where is the nearest metro station? (MSA)||ayn aqrab mehatat metro?||أين أقرب محطة مترو الأنفاق؟|
|Where is the nearest metro station?||a’rab mehatit metro feen?||أقرب محطة مترو فين؟|
|I’d like to go to Sadat metro stop please.||‘ayez / ʻayza arouh mehatit el sadat law samht||عايز(ة) أروح محطة (السادات) لو سمحت|
|Which direction is (Helwan) line please?||itigaah helwan any nahya law samaht?||اتجاه (حلوان) انهى ناحية لو سمحت؟|
|Where do I change lines so I can go to (Ramsees)?||bahawwel feen ‘ashan arouh ramsees?||بحول فين عشان أروح (رمسيس)؟|
Buying a metro ticket
You can choose to be brief and ask simply where to get a ticket, but when asking the employee at the ticket booth about the cost, you need to be specific about your destination, as the subway fees in Egypt are determined according to how many station stops you pass by & so, the price varies accordingly.
If you miscount or say the wrong destination, the ticket will not work getting out of the target subway stop and you’ll be locked in.
Meaning that: Do not throw away your ticket once you’re in the subway, because you’ll have to use it again on the machine on your way out of the target stop.
|Where is the ticket booth please?||shebak el-tazaker feen law samaht?||شباك التذاكر فين لو سمحت؟|
|Where can I buy a ticket?||ashtery tazkara menin?||اشترى تذكرة منين؟|
|How much is the ticket for (Ain Shams)?||b kam el-tazkara l ʻain shams?||بكام التذكرة ل(عين شمس)؟|
Useful phrases for taking the train
Reaching the train Station
In this section, you’ll find two ways of asking how to reach the train station.
The first is simple & brief using the “Wh” question- where which echoes what we have previously discussed in “Useful Phrases for Taking the Bus”. The second is a new and perhaps a longer way of asking: “How do I reach ___?”
You can use that method with destinations in general of course.
In the next table you’ll find the two questions in both MSA and in Egyptian Arabic:
|Where is the train station? (MSA)||ayn mehatat al-qitaar?||أين محطة القطار؟|
|Where is the train station? (Egyptian Dialect)||feen mehatit el-’atr?||فين محطة القطر؟|
|How do I reach the train Station? (MSA)||kayfa asil ila mehatati al-qitaar?||كيف أصل إلى محطة القطار؟|
|How do I reach the train Station? (Egyptian Dialect)||awsl mehatit el-’atr ezay?||أوصل محطة القطر ازاى؟ \ ازاى أوصل محطة القطر؟|
Booking & Finding the Right Train
Similar to what we have already showed in “Useful Phrases for Taking the Metro”, the ticket booth is: شباك التذاكر
|How much is the ticket to Alexandria? (MSA)||bi kam al tathkara ila al-askandariya?||بكم التذكرة إلى الإسكندرية؟|
|I want a return ticket from and to Alexandria. (MSA)||orid tathkara thehab wa ʻawda min wa ila al-askandariya.||أريد تذكرة ذهاب وعودة من والى الإسكندرية|
|A first class- second class ticket please||tathkara daraga ola- daraga thaniya law samaht.||تذكرة درجة أولى - درجة ثانية لو سمحت|
|How much is the ticket to Alexandria? (Egyptian)||el tazkara li iskinderiya bi kam? \ bi kam el tazkara li iskinderiya?||التذكرة لأسكندرية بكام؟ \ بكام التذكرة لأسكندرية؟|
|I want a return ticket from and to Alexandria. (Egyptian)||ʻayez/ ʻayza tazkara rayeh gay li iskinderiya.||عايز(ة) تذ كرة رايح- جاى لأسكندرية|
Here is also a few other additional and more specific questions in Egyptian:
|Is the train late or is it on time?||el atr met’akhr wala fi maʻado?||القطر متأخر ولا فى معاده؟|
|From which platform is the Alexandria train departing from?||atr iskinderiya raseef rakam kam?||قطر اسكندرية رصيف رقم كام؟|
|At what time the train departs?||el-atr hayetlaʻ el saʻa kam?||القطر حيطلع الساعة كام؟|
While on the train
|This seat is mine please||el korsi da betaʻi law samaht||الكرسى ده بتاعى لو سمحت(ى)|
|Keep your ticket until the conductor arrives||khali maʻak tazkartak leghayit ma el komsary yeegy||خلى معاك تذكرتك لغاية ما الكمسرى ييجى|
Now that you have learned all these expressions and questions to use for all modes of transportations, you’re now ready to embark on a new adventure in Arabic and don’t forget to use “Yasta” for all your drivers.
They’ll be impressed and you might even strike up a new exciting conversation and make a new friend.