Lebanese (well, Arabs in general) are famed for their hospitality. And while all ex-pats like to rave about the treatment they receive at someone’s house, it’s equally important to show at least a level of that hospitality back when any Lebanese come to visit your house/office/etc. Here are some observations that I’ve noticed, though admittedly my experiences are mostly limited to Southern Lebanese.
First thing’s first, when someone walks into a room you should always stand up and (if appropriate) shake their hand. I realize this might go without saying, but it’s a huge matter of manners—even if you know the person well. If you feel comfortable enough, then go ahead in with the typical cheek kissing-two is standard, but three if you really like the person. On the offhand chance you happen to be meeting any religious clerics or very religious individuals, be smart about the hand shaking as some individuals do not shake hands with the opposite sex. If you are a female and the man opposite you is wearing a turban, place your hand on your heart and say hello. Sometimes you might also run into individuals—male or female—who happen to be fairly conservative. I like to test whether or not the hand shaking is go but not directly sticking my hand straight out, but lifting it up so that I could either be going for my heart or an outstretched hand and see their response.
After the hand shaking and hellos, whether you’re at the office or home, immediately ask what they’d like to drink. Water, coffee, and tea are standard. If it’s early in the morning, through the Nescafe option out too (Lebanese as a society love Nescafe). If it’s summertime and warm, juice is also a good option. Along with the drinks you should serve some sort of snacks/food. In my experiences, the Lebanese looove to try and force food on you and the people that come to my house seem to enjoy that while I give them food, I don’t force them to eat it (though they could be lying to me). Most of the time setting out nuts or cookies is good. In the evenings it’s very popular to serve fruit—throughout the winter it was customary to be given a plate of at least apples and bananas. Mind you, the hostess typically skins the apple and slices it, and opens the banana before they present it to you. Now that we’re getting into summer I’m fond of having these little yellow beans called thermos around. You can buy them at the grocery store dry, they just need to be soaked in water for two days and on the second day boiled. Serve them soaking in a little water with salt. Watermelon is also everywhere in the summer.
Another thing to bear in mind is that the women will likely get up and start trying to help you in the kitchen with the tea. If it’s their first time over, I don’t advise letting them help, just as if it’s your first time at someone’s house you should spend the time sitting and chatting with your hosts. But, after you get to know them more, it’s also considered appropriate to at least try to help bring out the teas, etc. Whatever you do, do not let anyone do the dishes or try to do their dishes. I’ve found that it’s considered to be “ayeb,” or shameful except under very specific circumstances—my fiance’s grandmother does not have the use of one of her hands, for instance. Still, she only accepts my help because I’m “family” and wouldn’t want just anyone washing her dirty plates.
Depending on the crowd you’re dealing with, either drinks or argileh (“hookah”) is necessary. I happen to be dealing with the argileh crowd, which is excellent since argileh delivery places are everywhere. There is conveniently one across the street from my house that, for I believe 5,000LL which is just over $3, delivers everything you need within a matter of seconds— the argileh, packed with whatever fruit flavored tobacco the individual chooses (apple seems to be the default), their coals, and all the accessories. It’s also easy on clean-up since all you have to do is stick it outside your front door when you’re done and they pick it up tomorrow.
The thing to bear in mind, however, is that hospitality doesn’t just end at the home or office. If you happen to be munching down on a bag of popcorn in a car of Lebanese, you should always offer them some. More than likely they’re not going to steal your bag of popcorn, but they appreciate the fact that you at least gave them the option. At least throw out a “tfadalo, tfadalo” to the group to which you’ll probably just get a “sahteyn,” or bon appetite!
I guess the moral of all this is that Lebanese appreciate it when you offer. Offer drinks, offer food, offer argileh, offer whatever food scraps you have left in the kitchen when people randomly pop up at your front door unexpectedly, just offer something.
My apartment is cursed. Anything that can, has or probably will go wrong. No one had lived in the place for at least a year when we moved in, so of course there would be a few things we would have to get in order to get the place working.
First up, the water heater. To this day I’m not 100% sure what the actual story was, but apparently the previous residents removed/broke some part of the water heater so that it wouldn’t work. That took a few days to handle, but then all was fine with the world.
Then, the pipe under our kitchen sink broke and flooded the cabinet- a fairly easy fix.
Then my fiance strong armed the faucet in the shower and broke it. Water only comes out of the shower head now.
I live outside the Beirut municipality where a generator is a must. Fiance and his electrician friend installed a switch in the house to flip back and forth between the two electricity sources. One of those wires burned out at some point and had to be replaced (maybe that was just a shoddy install job on their part).
Cut to the issues of our water pump. We have water tanks on the ground that receive the water from the municipality, which then has to be pumped to tanks on the roof. The wire (which was also installed by people we paid when we moved in) burnt out a few weeks ago and had to be replaced. The second that gets replaced the actual pump for the water breaks and has to be replaced.
The toilet seat randomly broke.
And now, remember the electricity-generator switch in the house? There is a main one downstairs near the building’s circuit breaker. That thing burnt out this morning and had to be fixed.
Literally, what is next- we are running out of options of things to break.
I am a few days behind on this particular news but it was a busy last few days.
I read about this Lebanese woman on Friday April 19th. She was on a MEA on the 17th of April and lit up a cigarette and defiantly refused to put it out when the airline attendants demanded so. The flight attendant then says she is going to get the captain and the woman responds by shouting “Go call him. Go call everyone and come here”. This video has since gone viral.
All MEA flights prohibit smoking and she was arrested upon landing.
Many Lebanese are said to feel shamed by this video. I am sorry to sound too harsh but any fool getting on a plane knows they cannot smoke. The fact is, she didn’t care for the rules or that her actions were disrespectful for the other people on the plane.
Perhaps Lebanese are ashamed of this incident and would like to isolate it as a once off or pin on the individual rather than realising the societal rule-breaking attitude this woman obviously thinks is excusable to do, is in fact a very common trait in many Lebanese. Take those Lebanese who love to boast about flaunting the non-smoking rule in their own country or breaking every possible traffic law that exists. This attitude is everywhere in Lebanon.
I witness this kind of behaviour on a regular basis. It is not just about smoking either. It can be broken down to the smallest things in life, like all the queue skipping which the Lebanese are notorious for doing. Get some common courtesy manners for crying out loud.
This video also reminds me of when we were flying to Oman. We reserved our seats when we first booked, so basically 6-7 weeks before the flight and we specifically reserved window seats. When we arrived on the plane there was a big woman sitting in my seat and when I told her she needed to move because she was in my seat she waved me away. The flight attendants came over and also told her she has to move because her seat was the aisle seat. She shrugged her shoulders and looked out the window. What can you do in this situation but I was livid, this casual display of self-centered approach is typical of everyday Lebanese behaviour.
It starts with something small and the attitude escalates.
“By 1414, it was known in Mecca and in the early 1500s was spreading to Egypt from the Yemeni port of Mocha. It was still associated with Sufis, and a cluster of coffee houses grew up in Cairo around the religious university of the Azhar. They also opened in Syria, especially in the cosmopolitan city of Aleppo, and then in Istanbul, the capital of the vast Ottoman Turkish Empire, in 1554.”
So, Arabs invented the coffeehouse. I love coffeehouses and the Middle East. So much yes.