To be thankful is to be grateful. To utter the gratitude with inherent emotions and praise is showing your appreciation for a job well done. At the end of day aren’t we all looking for excellence in labor combined with good work ethics?
A tailor: “ bit’tla3 el fattoura 50,000 L.L, a3l fosstan wel tannoura.” (The bill will be 50,000 L.L for the dress and the skirt)
Customer: “wallah shou hal shighil l’ndif, hayde 50,000 wo habet misk.” (In the name of God what a neat job, here you go 50,000 and a grain of mastic.”
There is a beguiling Lebanese saying used to accentuate such appreciation; wo habet misk (and a grain of mastic). It is usually employed when you are about to pay the person who has given you his quotation, after commissioning him with a certain job. If you are happy with his work, you’ll pay him and say “wo habet misk,” to show appreciation. In other scenarios, if someone is asking you for a certain thing and you are gladly giving it to them or doing it for them, you would hand it to them and say wo habeit misk, meaning you are giving them the object and adding to it a grain of mastic to complete the deal.
The origin of this saying is stapled in history. Pistacia lentiscus is a dioecious evergreen shrub or small tree of the pistachio genus growing up to 4 m tall, cultivated for its aromatic resin, mainly on the Greek island of Chios.
Mastic, in Arabic misk, is a resin obtained from its tree. In pharmacies and nature shops, it is called “Arabic gum.” In Greece, it is known as the “tears of Chios,” being traditionally produced on that Greek island, and, like other natural resins, is produced in “tears” or droplets.
The resin is collected by bleeding the trees from small cuts made in the bark of the main branches, and allowing the sap to drip onto the specially prepared ground below. The harvesting is done during the summer between June and September. After the mastic is collected, it is washed manually and is set aside to dry, away from the sun, as it will start melting again.
Originally a sap, mastic is sun-dried into pieces of brittle becoming a translucent resin. When chewed, the resin softens and becomes a bright white and opaque gum. The flavor is bitter at first, but after some chewing, it releases a refreshing, slightly pine or cedar-like flavor.
The word mastic is derived from the Greek verb, mastichein, “to gnash the teeth”, which is the source of the English word masticate. The word mastic is a synonym for gum in many languages, having been used principally as a chewing gum for at least 2,400 years. Mastic-flavored chewing gum is still produced in Lebanon. Mastic is used in ice cream, sauces, deserts, and seasoning too.
The rarity of mastic and the difficulty of its production make it very expensive. During the Ottoman rule of Chios, mastic was worth its weight in gold. The penalty for stealing mastic was execution by order of the sultan. In the Chios Massacre of 1822, the sultan in order to provide mastic to him and his harem spared the people of the Mastichochoria region. Sakız Adası, the Turkish name for the island of Chios, means “island of gum”.
Like most of our food, mastic was introduced to Lebanon under the Ottoman Empire, with its caché of luxury and high-priced privileged product. It has inspired the saying and actually originated the concept of tipping for a job well done.
Knowing the history and importance of mastic brings to light the beauty of the saying “wo habit misk”. It means not only am I going to give you what you asked for, but I am so happy giving it to you that I am willing to add a “habet misk” (a grain of mastic), insinuating to a piece of gold.
So next time you have been handed something well done, don’t forget to also tip with your heart, the old Lebanese way “wo habet misk.” There is nothing more rewarding then uttering kind and appreciative words for a person who has given it his best.