10 assorted additions to Pakistani culture

Published: August 23, 2011

Some quintessential elements of Pakistani culture that may be annoying, but endearing when you’re away. PHOTO: AFP

Whether they prompt you to scratch your head in puzzlement, raise your eyebrows in disbelief, or crack a spontaneous smile, life’s little idiosyncrasies break the monotony of one’s daily routine. Expats in particular have a fondness for quintessential elements of Pakistani culture that may be annoying when you live here, but are endearing when you’re away.

Here are a few, chosen at random:

10. Go-Gos:

Chanting “go” is a universal cheer, (like ‘Go team! Woohoo’) but to feisty Pakistanis, it literally means LEAVE. Example: “Go (head-of-state) Go!”

9. Outdated expressions:

Verbal relics from the Colonial era include: “Can I have your “good name?” (er…no, but you can have my bad one), and “You’re looking ‘smart’ today” (Really, I look intelligent?).

8. The Rights are the Lefts:

Getting scalded, by accident, because the hot water tap is on the left and cold water’s on the right. Or am I seeing the world wrong?

7. Urd-lish taking over:

Urdu alphabet books that read “Alif for Ischool, Bey for Baall, Tay for Trayctor.” Huh?

6. Logo-riffic:

No matter how squeezed-in the pose, ladies-who-lunch still manage to get photographed displaying the logos of their bags outwards so that everyone gets to see the flashy initials. *Yawn*

5. Designer Morphs:

Designer duos morphed into one entity without an “&” in between, who refer to themselves as one person. Anyone else find that bizarre?

4. Lady-ified:

A doctor who happens to be female isn’t a doctor, she’s a Lady Daktar,” a whole other breed.

3. Serfdom:

Slavery was abolished worldwide years ago, but not the mentality of slave owners, it seems; in Pakistan, ‘domestic workers’ are still called servants.”

2. Self-serving service:

At a Pakistani McDonalds, ‘self-service’ still implies that you don’t have to pick up after yourselves, throw your trash or deposit your tray. Just leave your mess on the table like everyone else.

And numero uno is:

1. Architectural irony:

It’s an unwritten rule—the ‘fuglier’ the house, the bigger the “Mash Allah that graces it’s exterior. Honestly, the only ‘nazar’ most of these hideously over-decorated houses will get is the kind that involves rolling eyes.


Laaleen Khan

An international columnist and media consultant who Tweets @laaleen

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Best

    hahhahhahh! love the last one..Recommend

  • http://laaleen.blogspot.com Laaleen

    Feel free to add to this list in your comments :P
    And remember, humour is not the antithesis of patriotism.Recommend

  • Fahad Raza

    I suggest you stick to the “glam” blogging.Recommend

  • https://twitter.com/#!/fahadk1985 Fah

    Keep the jainamaz(prayer rug) folded after your prayer.. or the devil (shaitaan) may pray!

    only seen in Pakistanis, or so I know of… :)Recommend

  • tanoli

    URDLISH _ TURKISH wow nice and very close too.Recommend

  • http://twitter.com/#!/Pugnate Noman Ansari

    Laleen, you are a very good writer, and I enjoy your work. I enjoyed the Cloony… err.. Clooney article too, even though I have absolutely no interest in him. :)

    I liked this piece too, and I think the observations are spot on. I especially agree with “Go-Go”, “Self-Serving”, “Architectural irony”, and “Lady-ified”, because at some point, I’ve had similar thoughts. Especially, go go. When I first heard lawyers chant “Go Musharraf Go”, I thought they were encouraging him — I was new in Pak at the time.

    Having said that, your piece comes off just a little mean spirited. I mean this in the nicest way possible because I am a fan of your writing, and have read most of your other pieces. And as I said, I agree with your observations, but you are mocking every-day Pakistanis in a tone that is more… umm… insulting, than mocking. You don’t seem amused, as much as you seem offended.

    I feel that you could have modified the piece slightly to be a bit more funny. That said, it is just my opinion, and I could be completely off base. Keep up the good work! Recommend

  • http://twitter.com/#!/Pugnate Noman Ansari

    OK, I have one:

    How we call running shoes, joggers. Tum nay jogger nahee painay? Never heard of anyone outside of Pakistan say this.Recommend

  • http://www.pakistani-revival.blogspot.com Ovais

    and whats the use of this article Recommend

  • Mastishhk

    @ Author..Excellent work..Keen observations and nicely written article….Your anguish at certain things which haven’t changed in the society is clearly visible….I don’t think shwoing mirror to the society is “insulting” at all…..Some diseases require bitter remedies !!!Recommend

  • kamran

    smart has multiple meanings…. you look smart today means that you look well-dressed….

    loved the last oneRecommend

  • http://twitter.com/#!/Pugnate Noman Ansari


    Yes, that’s a fair point actually. But please note, I was speaking of tone rather than content. At the same time, I may be in the minority. Yes, show the mirror!!!! :) Recommend

  • Mastishhk

    @ Noman Ansari….My comment wasn’t a counter to ur well-intended comments. Also I don’t think the author wanted this blog to sound funny hence she deliberately seemed to have toned down the funny content……

    BTW im waiting for ur next blog…Don’t make us wait too long :))

    @ Author…..Keep up the good work !!!Recommend

  • mango

    Good one!
    Tension is another one…like “man im having so much tension right now”
    “boht tension may hu”…never heard it outside Pakistan!
    i mean for heavens sake who says that?
    it could be “im having so much stress/anxiety” “im stressed out/anxious” ….but not TENSION…what is that?are you a frigging string or something??Recommend

  • http://laaleen.blogspot.com Laaleen

    @Noman Ansari: Thanks for the feedback; I was hoping it wouldn’t come across as too cynical but I suppose it has. I deliberately left out items like:

    The ‘anti-queuing mentality’ (as in getting elbowed and jostled by people cutting ahead of you in ‘line’—the same people who queue automatically once their plane reaches Heathrow);
    ‘Throwing trash out of car windows’ and a general disrespect for the environment.
    And, last but not least, a general discourtesy towards women, from men eating before women in many households/at weddings, to bystanders rushing ahead of pregnant women in shops instead of politely waiting for them to pass (yes, this is all true). It’s an interesting cultural phenomena in our society where women are considered weaker than men, yet are generally denied basic etiquette by men as well as by fellow women.

    I hadn’t mentioned these as they’d be outright criticism, but, well, here they are anyway.Recommend

  • Hmmm

    And you wrote it why?Recommend

  • MysticSoul

    @ the author
    How about Capris, sleeveles, dating, telling parents that you have got a boy friend ???Recommend

  • http://twitter.com/#!/Pugnate Noman Ansari


    haha yes I have submitted a few blogs recently. Waiting patiently for a response. :)

    I also contribute to the Tribune magazine. You can check out some of my articles if you are interested:



    haha yup, I found the whole men eating before women thing odd too. I always likened it to the lion on animal planet having his fill before the lionesses get their turn. But often I’ve been surprised by how courteous men here get when they see “ladies”.

    Actually, this reminds me of another one. This is something my sister and I observed. Any woman, alone, or in a group of women, is always refereed to as “ladies”. For example, my sister was standing in line alone somewhere, and one of the men in front of her said, “aray jaga do, ladies karee hoee hein.”

    OK, hope that doesn’t sound mean, but the word “ladies” has taken up residence in Urdu, and it doesn’t have a singular. :)

    And yes, throwing trash out of car windows is terrible. At the same time, we should have garbage cans at every street corner. But that’s no excuse. Take a plastic bag with you in your car!

    Yup, the anti-queuing mentality is annoying. It is the same when you are in traffic waiting for a U-Turn, and everyone else just starts forming more queues. :PRecommend

  • saleem

    @Noman Ansari: An Boolywood movie was called joggers park Recommend

  • http://laaleen.blogspot.com Laaleen

    Joggers, Tension and Ladies, all great suggestions to be added to a future cultural vocabulary list :D

    Speaking of Bollywood, the movie titles alone are painful. For example, “House Full” (instead of ‘full house’). More on point #4 at:

  • http://laaleen.blogspot.com Laaleen

    Oh and TUTION instead of TUITIONRecommend

  • http://twitter.com/#!/Pugnate Noman Ansari


    You made me laugh. Bohot tension thee. :)


    hahahaha yea tution instead of tuition. What is up with that?

    OK I have another one and it isn’t a huge deal, but anyway… It is related to computers again. There is a company that makes Photoshop amongst other software, and they are called Adobe, but it is pronounced “Ado-bee”. People here call it “A dobe”.

    I don’t blame people for not knowing though.

    I read that other blog of yours. Yes, I used to say ‘Nor’ instead of ‘Ka Nor’, until I learned how it was pronounced in an advert. I also used to call Chen One, “Shen One”. Guess I was wrong? Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/379/vaqas-asghar/ Vaqas Asghar

    @ Noman, I’m sure the guy actually said “Laddies” “Leadis”Recommend

  • mango

    how can we miss the most hideous of all?!!
    its usually heard in the low educated laymen/retail circles which is understandable but i have heard it from some well learnt peeps too…
    its “genuine” which is proudly pronounced as “JENY-UN” and often comes with a reassuring jerk of the head !!Recommend

  • Grace

    What’s funny is that these same Pakistanis behave just as bad if not worse when in the West. I dispute the comment that says that these anti queing types suddenly follow the law and fall in line at Heathrow. Have you ever seen how many Muslim migrants are involved in employment fraud, insurance fraud, health fraud and abuse the social welfare system or the “dole” in the UK. Many of them don’t work but live on welfare which is state khayrat. Then these same people who live on welfare abroad like to show off and talk about big businesses they own when they go back to Pakistan to fool gullible relatives!Recommend

  • Arif

    There you go with another few ones: PENCHAR (puncture) BAALING (bowling) SAIKAL (cycle) SANOKAR (snooker) TEKAN 3 (tekken 3) PALAIR (player) WHEELING (one wheeling) MANEJAR (manager) BISKOOT/BISKAT (biscuit) SARKAT (circuit) SAINMA (cinema) PERMOTION (promotion) CHAINA (china) AADAR (order) VILUN (villain) HEERWUN (heroine) I can come up with hundreds moreRecommend

  • Hmmm

    @Noman Ansari:

    Ok so here you go yourself – standing in a line – wow!!! don’t we call is queue?Recommend

  • http://twitter.com/#!/Pugnate Noman Ansari


    Nope, most people call it standing in a line. :) But you can call it queue as well. :)

    This could be the most elitist discussion I’ve ever been involved in, btw. :PRecommend

  • Hectic

    ‘Ammi/Mama/Mummy’ has now been replaced with ‘Mom’ pronounced: mOhm. The ‘O’ is really rolled out, I don’t know why they butcher it like that.Recommend

  • atts

    what about the shop keeper terming every female within range as ‘auntie’ irrespective of the age and of course there is the term used in most offices ‘maidam’ Recommend

  • MK

    how about isskoool for school; ooovun for oven in terms of pronunciation. also, note when parents/aunty uncles speak to other aunty uncle’s who’s kids are all married, they say’ fullana toh bachon se farigh ho gaee hai’…errr farigh ho gaee hai? does that mean all the kids have conked off? nope – it just means the kids are all married, and hence the parents are ‘free’ of the burden/pressure :P Recommend

  • Faheem

    Nice article! To be fair with my fellow Pakistani, I’m sure if Urdu was a global language we would be making fun of Gora saying 14 in Urdu. Almost all languages get lost in translation (not that kinda ‘get lost’).Recommend

  • Saud

    ‘Career’ is a widely mispronounced word in Pakistan, even by the upper class of the county. We pronounce it as ‘Carrier’. Recommend

  • http://laaleen.blogspot.com Laaleen

    The vocabulary list that’s being created by these comments is taking on a life of it’s own!
    I’d like to clarify that Point #9 (“Outdated expressions”) refers to the social context of terminology rather than the incorrect pronunciation of words, but go ahead and continue providing them if you like…I can compile them into a cohesive list at some point.Recommend

  • http://twitter.com/#!/Pugnate Noman Ansari

    Just remembered another one, that is just rampant in Pakistan. Everyone here, says CV (Curriculum Vitae), when they should be saying resume. A CV is detailed, several pages, and normally used when applying as an academic or as a researcher.

    A resume is more to the point. Every Pakistani calls a resume a CV, and I don’t know why. At least this is what I’ve seen from people making resumes here.

    OK, now I am really going off base, but I also noticed little kids here wearing Eric Cartman t-shirts. It always makes me smile. Pakistani parents should be ware that South Park is not for kids. :) Recommend

  • http://twitter.com/#!/Pugnate Noman Ansari


    What I like about the French is how proud they are about their language. I wish modern Urdu was purer. Recommend

  • Faheem

    ‘He is so proud’…instead of saying ‘he is so arrogant’. I’ve also heard ‘proudy’ which is not even a word in English vocabulary.
    ‘He is mad’. Mad used here as crazy and not as angry.

    @Noman Ansari: Even some who says résumé (rez-ew-may) pronounce it as resume (re-sume)Recommend

  • Mehrunisa

    “8. The Rights are the Lefts:

    Getting scalded, by accident, because the hot water tap is on the left and cold water’s on the right. Or am I seeing the world wrong?”

    I think you’re seeing the world wrong!! The hot water tap is always on the left…and cold on the right. In Pakistan and elsewhere!Recommend