Stranger or not, you’re still my habibi

Habibi is a typical Lebanese word. Yes, it is an Arabic word. But, the Lebanese have used it (and even abused it) to the extent that it can be safely referred to as Lebanese. The literal translation of ‘habibi’ is “my love” or “my darling”.

Knowing this fact, you would hear the word habibi all throughout your day in Beirut. Don’t be fooled, though, the Lebanese population is not a group of reincarnated Shakespeare’s. This word has almost become a reflex or an automated add-on in conversations. Whenever a man wants to ask a stranger for a favor, he’d say, “habibi could you please pass me the…?”  Maybe it’s a polite way of addressing a stranger. That could be it. But, habibi has infiltrated all levels of dialogue. Even between friends, habibi is used. It is used when sarcastic, when being polite, when being nice, etc. It has become a passepartout or an all-purpose term. You can insert it and it literally means nothing, but kind of adds something. Sometimes, you just feel the need to say it or type it in a conversation. Why? You sometimes don’t know.

What does this imply, though? Are we Lebanese that affectionate that we feel the need to bridge the gap between people? Or, have we simply distorted the value of the word? The easy answer is: habibi is part of the Lebanese culture. Even comedians make fun of this aspect. I attended Maz Jobrani’s last comedy show in Beirut, and he impersonated us Lebanese (and Arabs in general) by saying habibi repeatedly. That is how obvious and clear our habibi situation is.

A man can call another man “habibi” and not be questioned, just as a woman can call another woman “habibi” and not be questioned. A man can call a woman “habibi”, and vice versa, and they could just be friends… or even strangers. This overuse of the word has rendered it blank and obsolete, relative to its original definition.

Just like Walter Benjamin discussed how the aura of works of art is being hindered by mechanical reproduction, the feeling of authenticity of “habibi” is being hindered by its overuse. The original word, habibi, has its literal meaning. However, after being overused (reproduced), the sound image “habibi” is no longer unique. It no longer has an aura. It no longer means anything.

But, still, we use it. And, we will still use it. As a Lebanese woman, I admit that “habibi” can get pretty annoying sometimes because of its lack of meaning. But, at the same time, I cannot imagine not hearing it or saying it.


19 thoughts on “Stranger or not, you’re still my habibi

  1. very nice piece.
    i agree with you, habibi is a very used word in our lebanese society, we use it in every sentence,

  2. This topic was refreshing about reading so many articles about death, politics and destruction the Middle East. It is interesting when a word losses any kind of meaning and becomes an aimless part of conversation. Words used to have such great meaning. They way we speak, the words chosen used to be carefully chosen but now words like habibi do not show any compassion just another word you throw onto the end of a sentence. Like the use of the word “love” or love you they have become to be dis-contextualized and aimless.

    1. Exactly. Words carry meaning, they carry part of an intended message to be sent out through communication. However, there are words that have become useless and insignificant. If habibi is taken out of a conversation, the conversation would still carry on without changing its context. But at the same time, without habibi, we cannot know sometimes what’s the tone of the speaker (in an informal conversation). So, it’s a two-way thing. These words have ended up generic for a reason.

  3. Thank you for writing this. My boyfriend is Lebanese but lives in Australia. He always call me habibi and I’ve been told that he’s supposed to call me habibti by some of his friends from other Arabic countries. I’ve always wondered about that word but this finally cleared it up. 🙂 although in his world that carries some meaning since he only calls me and his son habibi and especially when he wants to be loving.

    1. I am terribly sorry for the late reply; I just re-opened my WordPress account. I am glad to know my post cleared up your confusion on what “habibi” meant. Grammatically-speaking, he should be calling you habibti, they are right. However, in slang Lebanese Arabic, habibi has a unisex aura as it is used for both genders.

  4. I got here after hearing Russell Peters joking (youtube) about the copious use of the word habibi in Lebanon. My, so it is completely true!! Then his comment that Lebanon knows how to party must have a grain of truth too 😛

  5. I am an american and my boyfriend (Lebanese) calls me habibi all the time. I think its the most romantic thing and its way better than him saying “i love you” or “baby”.

  6. Love this! While it may be overused in your everyday life, I find it most delightful. Just this weekend I heard it for the first time between two Khaldean men at the liquor store. To me, it’s akin to how a kind waitress might use it address a younger customer as “hon”. Or when you wish to convey affection without being able to bring someone’s name to your lips. A dear habibi girlfriend was an accomplished belly dancer and singer… she even went to Beirut to study Arabic. It came up in almost every song and I was so happy to learn from her what it meant.

    To some, it might get annoying, as with “baby baby baby” in pop music. Shukraan, habibi.

  7. I have a Lebanese friend and he often calls me habibi I love you…
    It’s kind of cute better than when he calls me honey or darling… ❤
    Cute habibi…

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