Why You Suck At Sewab (صواب)

Throughout Heaven and Earth, I alone am the inarticulate one. If I’m not lisping when talking English, I’m pausing mid-conversation and starting an entire new sentence before finishing the previo…

I swear it’s not on purpose. Besides, most conversations that I have are low stakes in which the consequences of fumbling words never matter. And when I am put in high-stakes situations, say for example a public speaking contest, my brain delivers and performs its best.

So me and the big chunk of meat that resides on top of my head, benefit from a mutual symbiotic relationship. It helps me speak in front of people and I nurture it by doomscrolling on TikTok.

And we all live in peace and harmony until it is time for the hardest social interaction, Sewab (صواب). An intricate dance of words exchanged at a lightning-fast pace that reflects your mastery of social dynamics – and whether your extended family will respect you.

Across multiple countries and languages, pleasantries and etiquette is a fine art that few master. In Morocco, we call it Sewab (صواب), in Lebanon it’s Wejbet, and in Japan it’s 相槌 (Aizuchi) and to some extent 敬語 (Keigo). 

So I wanted to know why we struggle with it and more importantly, what I can do to get better.

What is Sewab (صواب) Anyways?

As a kid –and even as an adult– any time a person would congratulate me or wish me safe travels, I would freeze up, my native tongue would fail me, and all I could muster was a “Shoukran” (That’s thank you in Arabic).

There’s a good chance that you, the person reading this, are Moroccan and know exactly just how relatable this situation is. It’s a canon event. However, each person’s experience with Sewab (صواب) is different. As such, we need a clear definition so that non-Moroccans and non-MENA folks can understand.

We know that getting Sewab (صواب) wrong is rude and is considered a faux pas. Which means that we need to brush up on our etiquette.


It all began with language. We started by grunting unga boonga and painting cave drawings and progressed to establishing languages with rules and symbolism. Language has always adapted to our needs and from this need rose etiquette.

Since humans became settlers in the 1st century, societal classes were enacted on their people. From town elders to royalty to company bosses, the addition of superiority in communities and circles necessitated demonstratable respect and in turn etiquette – which includes the linguistic kind.

As such, Sewab (صواب) and pleasantries rose in a class-based society as a form of communication etiquette. Etiquette can be used for both good and bad. 

In its brightest form, etiquette can be like Taarof which is a complex set of etiquette rules practiced by Persians and now mostly Iranians, Afghanis, and Turkish that promotes respect and equality between others regardless of occupation or status.

On a more somber note, etiquette can also be used to exclude others and enact entitlement. Like Western nobility’s difficult and privileged etiquette codes that aimed to drive clear differences between them and the common class.

Etiquette and Sewab (صواب) go hand in hand, as the latter is a core part of the prior. If one wanted to showcase their grasp on a culture’s etiquette, exchanging pleasantries would be one of the first actions executed.

But if etiquette means having conversations with meaningless words that both parties don’t care about, doesn’t that qualify as small talk instead?

Phatic Expression

I’m not the first person to analyze pleasantries (Shocking right?), Bronisław Malinowski, a 19th century Polish-British anthropologist and ethologist, was a considerable figure in the research of social theory.

When he was studying ethnology (that’s the science of people, culture, and their dynamics) of the Trobriand Islands (a group of islands located in the east of New Guinea), he struggled to decipher the language of Kiriwina.

He theorized his own language model which iterated on previous studies and research in order to help solve his problem. From this model rose Phatic (Latin for spoken language) Expressions, which are expressions whose usage in conversation matters more than their meaning. 

Simply put, think of these sentences as small talk, linguistic signs of nativity, or conversational starters. “How are you?” “I’m good” are some examples of phatic expressions as both parties know that they don’t expect a sincere answer after asking it, and it is simply part of recognizing one’s presence.

Considering Sewab’s (صواب) use case in day-to-day life in MENA culture, it qualifies as a phatic expression in MENA languages. Both sides of the conversation should be aware of Sewab (صواب), how to use it, and what follows afterward.

So mixing both the etiquette and phatic expression definitions leaves us with a clearer picture of what Sewab (صواب) is. It encompasses various sentences and words whose usage matters more than their meaning in conversation. It can demonstrate cultural knowledge and linguistic mastery.  

Fun fact: Phatic Expressions are often used by marketers in advertisements to appear more casual and relatable. Indomie, a non-MENA instant noodles brand, utilized relatableness to take over these markets.

Why Sewab (صواب) is Difficult

Unsurprisingly, Sewab (صواب) is a very broad and flexible umbrella term that fits any social interaction. 

Saying hello, wishing someone safe travels, congratulating a wedding, expressing condolences for a loss, or simple physical gestures all count as some form of Sewab (صواب). 

And within this endless list of gestures and expressions lies infinite possibilities to mess it up. But in order to decrease those odds, we must first understand why we struggle with Sewab (صواب) altogether.

Under Fight or Flight Mode

Generally speaking, most situations in which Sewab (صواب) is used are stressful and emotional; That put your mind in fight or flight mode which affects your thinking and behavior.

To clarify, I’m not saying that attending a wedding is stressful in the literal sense, but being put on the spot when interacting with someone (like the bride or the groom or the in-laws) can make you tense up and become uncomfortable which hinders your thought process and induces negative emotions.

Perhaps you don’t want to disappoint yourself or there’s someone you want to impress or you simply don’t want to stick out negatively. In any case, the situations leading to the usage of Sewab (صواب) can put your brain into fight or flight mode.

Your senses sharpen, your heart rate increases, your thoughts rush, and suddenly you forget what you need to say and your words become a mumbled mess that might accidentally summon an ancient demon.

Exclusively Learned Through Observation

Despite being a crucial skill for an adult’s full development and integration into society, Sewab (صواب) is never taught or passed on from teachers or family members.

Speaking for myself, I was never educated on how to properly do Sewab (صواب) by my parents, siblings, or friends. Instead, every time I committed a faux pas they would point out my mistake. 

It was useful but this type of teaching is reactive rather than proactive. Consequently, I became hesitant to socialize with older folk or even use Sewab (صواب) so I don’t get scolded. 

Yet despite this, honestly shocking, lack of education on this social skill, the average person is expected to know how to dance tango with Sewab (صواب).

Unless this person is constantly exposed to social events like weddings or funerals –which most people do not– there is no reliable way to learn or acquire Sewab (صواب) as a skill unless it is self-taught.

Admittedly, the younger the person is, the more lenient others are. When it comes to Sewab (صواب), it’s not the end of the world if you mix “Allah y3awn” (May Allah aid you) with “Allah ysahel” (May Allah Ease your problems) so long as you are respectful.

Suffering From A Disorder

The final –and the least probable– reason, why you suck at Sewab (صواب), is because you suffer from a mental or emotional disorder that affects your communication skills like anxiety, depression, or ADHD.

If you believe this is the case, I advise you to visit or consult with a licensed therapist or psychiatrist who can accurately describe your situation and provide solutions.

How to Get Better at Sewab (صواب)

The good news is that there are some genuine factors outside our control that cause us to be bad at Sewab (صواب). The bad news is that we still bear the weight of being horrendous at it and it is our responsibility to fix it.

Ask For Help

There is no shame in asking others for help or advice. Not only will you receive a personalized lesson on Sewab (صواب), you will also develop a deeper connection with the person you’re seeking advice from. So talk to your grandparents and elders!

Even big creators and figures suffer from shyness and hyper-independence, like Milfaya, a Moroccan singer and internet personality.

Socialize More

They say that practice makes perfect, and Sewab (صواب) is no stranger to this saying. Frequently socializing with friends, family members, or strangers can help sharpen your tongue and social etiquette.

Actually, becoming a social butterfly is a great attribute to possess if you plan to obtain a scholarship.

Don’t Sweat It

And if you do make a mistake while practicing Sewab (صواب), remember that it is not the end of the world. To be fully honest, this article partly exaggerates just how important Sewab (صواب) is.

When in reality, most people you’ll talk to, do not care. Sewab’s (صواب) usage matters more than its meaning, according to its phatic expression definition  You can brush it off, apologize, laugh it off, or don’t even address it. If you don’t make a big deal about it then the other person will most likely ignore it as well.

Ultimately, we worry too much about our mistakes and how we are perceived, that we tend to forget that others are equally as self-concerned. So don’t preoccupy yourself with a single leaf or you will miss out on the tree.

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About Me

Abdo spends most of his time either binging Youtube or writing what is on his mind. Hailing from Morocco, this trilingual writer is passionate about video games, entrepreunership, and interesting stories

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