For the latest instalment of our Lost in Translation series, we’re tackling a word that fuses eating and well-being: Sahtein.

There are always warm jokes about Middle Eastern hospitality, especially if you’re visiting someone’s home. Our hospitality is also evident in our daily language with words like sahtein. While it’s often translated as “enjoy your meal” or “bon appétit” the word offers both a wish for culinary satisfaction and abundant health.

In linguistic terms, “Sahtein” is composed of the words “saht” (health) and the dual form “ain” (representing the number two). In literal translation, it means “two healths.” However, it can also be broken down into its singular form, “saha,” which means to wish someone health, no matter what. While such a nuanced term isn’t common in many languages; the Spanish and German languages both have words that directly translate to health. In Spanish, “salud” is said when someone coughs and in German, “gesundheit” is only said when someone sneezes.

It’s worth noting, however that “sahtein” is particularly common in the Levant. Other countries, such as the Khaleej, North Africa, and even Iraq, use the word “bel afia” which translates to “with good health” meaning “I wish this meal benefits your body.”

In spite of these slight differences, the usual response to both “sahtein” and “saha” is “a’ala albak(ek),” literally “on your heart too,” meaning to wish the other person good health as well.

Arab cultures revere meals as an opportunity for connection, fostering strong familial bonds and creating spaces for meaningful conversations and shared laughter. Sahtein manages to capture this sentiment, signifying a genuine regard for others’ well-being.

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