Go-To Words for Politeness in Hebrew

3 min read
Noa Lara Meir, Citizen Café Hebrew teacher
Noa Lara Meir, Citizen Café Hebrew teacher

Let’s kick off this blog post with something unexpected: “Polite” and “Israelis” in the same sentence. I know, I know, it’s not the most obvious connection, but bear with me. You see, Israelis are known for many incredible qualities—warmth, boundless love, and our unbeatable mastery of the art of Shakshooka (seriously, if you haven’t tried this tomatoey slice of heaven, you’re missing out big time!).

Tell me more…

But here’s the thing—we’re not exactly famous for being polite. Nope, not our strong suit. Israelis prefer to get straight to the point when starting a conversation. Your Israeli friend might casually say, תגיד (tah-geed), which quite literally means Tell, with a hint of command-eesh vibes. Instead of going for the gentler version of “I’m going to the toilet,” they might unabashedly announce, “I’m going to pee״ or לעשות פיפי (lah-ah-soht pee-pee) which literally means, to “do a pee”. Oh, and brace yourself for the rather peculiar habit of stuffing used tissue paper inside the toilet paper roll. Yeah, I admit it might come off as a tad abrupt.

But fear not, my friend, for we do have our fine selection of polite words in Hebrew. They’re definitely in our vocabulary (well, sometimes, at least… wink!). I bet you’re familiar with the first one: thank you תודה(toh-dah). We’ve talked about it quite a bit in a previous blog post, so why not hop over there and give it a read?

A touch of politeness

When someone kindly says תודה (toh-dah) to you, it’s always nice to respond with an equally heartfelt reply. We have a few options to choose from in Hebrew. One classic choice is בבקשה (beh-vah-kah-shah), which means you’re welcome (and also please, i’ll get there in a moment).

If you’re in the mood for something a bit more laid-back, you can roll with בכיף (beh-kehf), which literally translates to “with fun”. It’s like saying, “Glad I could help, and I had a blast doing it!” For an extra dose of good vibes, there’s always בשמחה (beh-seem-chah), which means “with happiness.” It’s like telling them, “It was my pleasure, and it put a big smile on my face!”

Now, here’s a phrase that doesn’t have a direct English translation but works like a charm: אין על מה (ehn ahl mah). It’s like saying, “No biggie” or “Don’t mention it.” It’s the casual way to let them know it was no sweat off your back.

Of course, you can also use בבקשה (beh-vah-kah-shah) in its other meaning— please. So, if you really want someone to do something, just sprinkle in that magic word that instantly adds a touch of politeness and charm to your request. Trust me, it works wonders!

Versatility of Hebrew words

Ah, yes, let’s not forget about another versatile and polite word in Hebrew— סליחה (slee-chah). This little gem carries not one, but two meanings: sorry and excuse me. The trick here is all about the context!
When you find yourself in a situation where you’ve made a mistake or unintentionally caused any inconvenience, סליחה (slee-chah) is your go-to word for saying sorry. Think of it as a genuine apology that can smooth over any small slip-up.

(slee-chah) also comes to the rescue when you need to politely grab someone’s attention or navigate through a crowded space. It’s like a magical phrase that effortlessly allows you to smoothly maneuver your way through without any fuss. So, whether you’re looking to apologize for a little oopsie or politely navigate your way through a crowd, סליחה (slee-chah) is your versatile yet casual word of choice!

But hold on a sec! We can’t wrap up this blog post without mentioning another key word in Hebrew related to politeness. Drumroll, please! Introducing…The adjective Polite itself! We say מנומס (meh-noo-mahs) when we’re talking about someone who identifies as male, and מנומסת (meh-noo-meh-seht) when we’re talking about a someone who identifies as female. (Yes… Gender in Hebrew. That’s a big topic to discuss in another post).

I hope this read gave you some cool insights into the art of being polite in Hebrew. If you’re curious to explore more Israeli cultural quirks and want to learn Hebrew on the fly, don’t hesitate to reach out and grab a free intro session with one of our amazing teachers!

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