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  • One need not travel at all, to be seen as an "Ugly American". Misunderstanding the languages encountered can be a problem, even at home.

    أجرة, Arabic; transl: taxi (interjection)
    Some very common signs can get one in serious trouble.

    This; (taxi) is a simple term we all understand in the US, but here, in it's interjection form in Arabic, there's a connotation of prostitution when the term is used alone. I learned about this while driving a friends classic 1955 Hillman Minx automobile in Spokane, Washington, while motoring about the downtown area. The year was 1972? (I'm only guessing here)

    A group of Arab exchange students took offense at the characters, displayed on the doors of the car, and a diatribe in Arabic angrily ensued. The anger was evident, and I feared the situation could easily have come to blows.

    Once they had realized I had no clue as to the meaning of the signs painted on the doors of the car, they calmly explained it to me as best they could, and apologized for their equally offensive remarks in their own language, which I also was unable to translate or understand at the time.

    My friend had gotten the vehicle as a gift from an uncle, who had worked in the oilfields of several Arab countries as a geologic surveyor. When we asked him about the reference on the doors, he told us that the car had been employed as a “rolling brothel” for Americans working in Palistine. A 'pimp' would shuttle the girls, and boys to be escorts for oil executives.

    The practice is not well accepted by Islam, mostly because they served infidels. The world's oldest profession exists in all cultures, and though seen as negative in Palistine, it's only thought obscene where it applies to infidels there. In any other situation, it's just part of life, though one not discussed in polite company.

    The logo was kept as part of the history of a classic car, but needless to say, the signs were covered up thereafter, whenever we drove the car in public.

    Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia creative commons.
    The car my friend had was a hardtop of this same year and model.
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