As a foreigner travelling in Pakistan, you will often be in the limelight, and people will come up to talk to you. This encounter gives you a chance to win the hearts of the locals and possibly make strong bonds of friendship, especially if you respond to them in some simple Urdu sentences like the ones mentioned below.
Greetings and Introductions
Asalaam-walaikum or Salam – May peace be with you/Hello
This phrase is the most common way to say hello in Pakistan, as the population is predominantly Muslim. Non-Muslims use the word as well, but the regular hello also works in most urban areas. Urdu is a combination of Persian from Iran, Sanskrit from India and Arabic; therefore, Urdu has many words in common with these languages. Salam is, however, a word related to the word Islam, and most Muslims from the farthest corners of the world will recognise it. If you meet Hindus, you can be more appropriate by greeting them with Namaste.
Aapka naam kia hai? – What is your name?
A simple way to get acquainted with a new person in Pakistan is to say this phrase. You can also just say ‘Apka naam?’, which means ‘Your name is?’ In return, they will ask for your name in the very same manner.
Mera naam ____ hai. – My name is ____.
When someone asks you your name, this phrase would be the proper reply.
Aap kaise (for male)/ kaisi (for female) hou? – How are you?
In order to know how someone is doing, you can ask this question. It is a ubiquitous phrase in Pakistan, and everyone poses this question to each other when they meet, whether it’s the next day or years later. The word Aap here is a formal way to say you, but if you know the person well, you can replace it with the more casual Tum. In an informal setting amongst friends, one may simply say ‘Kaise (male)/Kaisi (female) hou’.
Mai Bilqul Theek. – I am fine.
This phrase is a non-gendered term where Mai means I; bilqul means totally or completely, and theek means alright or fine.
Main ___ se ayi hu. – I am from _____ (country).
When you’re in Pakistan, people are going to be very curious about you and will want to know where you are from. You should know how to respond to the very common question of ‘Ap kahan se hu?’, meaning ‘where are you from?’ In reply, you will use this phrase. People will be delighted to know that you are from a different country and will be very hospitable towards you. You can also use this phrase while introducing yourself to someone new.
Shukeriya – Thank you
Simple and precise, this word can be used in all social interactions in all parts of the country’s diverse cultural landscape. Even locals from villages where only a folk or regional language is spoken will know this term.
Jee Han/Jee Nahin – Yes/No
As simple as it can get.
Theek Hai – Okay
Pakistanis use this word all the time, slipping it in at the end of the majority of their sentences. For example, ‘Hmmm Theek hai. Han theek hai’, or just simply ‘Theek’.
Muje _____ jana hai. – I want to go to______ (place).
You can use this phrase to tell someone where you want to go, and they will in return help you with the directions.
Aapko English ati hai? – Do you know English?
Before you sweat your wits trying to communicate in difficult situations with locals in Urdu, you can inquire if they speak English. Many urbanites and white-collar workers are quite fluent in English thanks to the country’s colonial past. Additionally, even in far-off towns and villages, there will be some people, such as guest house owners, who will be able to communicate with you in English because of tourism in that area.
Maaf kijeah – Pardon me/Excuse me/Sorry
You can use this term if you want to be excused from a formal meeting or apologise in a situation where your phone shouldn’t have rung, such as during prayers, or when you want to ask someone to repeat what they said.
Khuda Hafiz – Goodbye
This phrase literally translates to ‘May God be your protector,’ but it’s commonly used in Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Bangladesh and India as a parting greeting, which is what makes it similar in use to goodbye. The phrase ‘Khuda Hafiz’ is a combination of the Persian word Khoda, meaning God, and the Arabic word Hifz, meaning protection.
Shabba Khair – May the night pass well/Good Night
Shab in Urdu means night, whereas khair translates to well. People in Pakistan typically use this phrase when saying bye to someone at night, along with ‘Khuda Hafiz’, but mostly in formal settings.
Ap se mil ker khushi huwi. – I am pleased to meet you.
This phrase can be used to express that it was lovely to meet someone who may be a new friend, a colleague or a stranger.
Meri madad Karien. – Help me.
Madad itself means help, but unlike in English where one can simply shout ‘Help’, in Urdu, you can’t use the word Madad on its own. So, it is used as the word ‘assist’ in English.
Eating and Shopping
Iss ki Keemat kitni hai? – How much is this?
Many local shops don’t have prices written on their merchandise, be it fabric, jewellery or general items. This question will surely come in handy.
Isskey Akhri kitney hoongey? – What’s the last price for this?
You may want to take luxurious Pashmina shawls, healthy dry fruits, precious stone jewellery and other local specialities back with you. Know that bargaining in Pakistan is quite common, and you can always ‘ask’ for a discount. These things are a part of the everyday local life, but their prices may be brought further down by asking this question. It implies that you know that the prices aren’t fixed, that the seller has kept a good profit margin and there is wiggle room for him to let a few bucks go.
Bhot mazaydar – Very tasty
When you eat or drink something that is delicious, you say that it’s mazaydar, which means tasty, or you can add bhot for emphasis. When dining in someone’s house, the person who cooked the food may ask you ‘Khana kesa laga?’ or ‘How did you find the food?’ So, you can reply with ‘Bhot mazaydar.’
Ek karak Chai hojaey. – Let’s have a cup of strong Chai (Milk Tea).
No one in Pakistan is ever going to say no to a cup of chai. Pakistanis love chai, and if you take an interest in this national beverage, they are going to love you for it. Chai is something that the locals drink at any and all times of the day, sometimes for a good reason or none at all.
Zaberdast – Excellent!
Zaberdast is a strong complimentary word that you can use for anything – whether it’s food, service, your health, an event or time spent in the country. It’s one of the longer words, but it’s full of zeal and zest.