Arabic is a wonderfully expressive, visual language. Many terms used throughout the Arab world would not make much sense out of context, or if translated into another language. Oftentimes, colloquialisms or even idioms are the hardest part of a language for a foreigner to understand, as they are so deeply rooted in the culture.
“A3la rasse,” literally translates to on my head, meaning I will gladly do it. It is commonly used when someone asks you for something. I absolutely love hearing it. Somehow it carries the weight of a respect that belongs to an older generation.
As I call the Dekeneh (grocery store) next to my house and ask him to send me a kilo (kilogram) of tomatoes “a3la zaw2ak” (to your liking, meaning send me the best you have), his reply would always be “wallow ya Madame a3la rasse.”
This expression is symbolic of showing respect, consent, obedience, compliance, and full approval by the speaker. It is a prompt response to a point of view, a word of advice, a request, and an instruction of some kind. Although it is an expression of consent, it does not always imply a wholehearted agreement; a contrastive statement, usually beginning with “bass” (but) might follow it to oppose what has been said.
“Ma3 ano mish m3ajebne bass a3la rasse” (although I don’t like it but on my head)
I find those two words to be wonderfully expressive of this interaction we have with each other. The choice of eye and head is socio-cultural, connoting a high regard for them both, maybe because they are the two highest, most important and sensitive parts of the human body; hence the popular, colloquial phrases:
A3la rasse wo 3youne (on my head and my eyes)
Min hal 3ein la hal 3ein (from this eye to this eye)
a3la raasi min fo2 (on the top of my head)
amrak ‘a3la raasi (your order on my head)
Thus, even with only one of the two, the eye or the head, the expression implies approval and modesty; so when both are used in one and the same phrase as connotatively homogeneous, they become stylistically more resounding.
From one person to the other, true kindness lies within the act of giving without the expectation of something in return. In our culture there is genuine care to please the other.
People sometimes misunderstand the meaning of kindness. Kindness is not a weakness. It’s strength, the strength to continue to give and help the other. In our culture the head is a very important figure. When someone wants to really cause harm to a person or demean him he says “bidde kassirlo rasso,” meaning I want to break his head. Thus the head becomes a symbol of the person’s honor, strength, and pride, hence the beauty and significance of saying to someone those two beautiful words; a3la rasse.
In Lebanon when someone asks us for a favor, we put our right hand on our head and we simply say a3la rasse. In between those two words lies a wealth of kindness that is embedded in our culture, simply put they mean:
Anything for you, upon my head, because your wish is my command, I would gladly and humbly do it.
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