Lebanon in a Nutshell

For something different today, I’ve decided to talk about my country – the little place called Lebanon located in the Middle East on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s pretty obscure, and more often than not, when I tell people I’m Lebanese they backtrack and say, “You’re a lesbian?”, upon which I have to pull out a map and show them where Lebanon is.

We really do exist!

Travel brochures will tell you that Lebanon is the Paris of the Middle East, but I’m about to give you the nitty-gritty version, complete with our crazy drivers, famous foods and ridiculous expressions.

Lebanon is small, but it’s home to a diversity of people. The capital Beirut itself is divided into three sections in which the three major religious sects live. You can immediately tell when you’ve moved from one section to another – one is glamorous, the second is acceptable and the third is poorly. One thing all three areas have in common are the crazy cab drivers who will stop at nothing in order to get a passenger, such as stopping suddenly with no signal whatsoever and in the middle of the street. Another is the obsession of the Lebanese with their appearances; they will strive to look amazing, act in a sophisticated manner and live a life of luxury even if they cannot afford it.

Between each other, the first thing the Lebanese asks about when meeting a new person is their family or home village in order to deduce which religion they follow. Religious sects in Lebanon are civil to one another, but there will always be some underlying tension stemming from their worry aboutĀ  offending the other. Other things the Lebanese say include:

  • To’bor albi or To’borni - literally translated as “bury my heart” and “bury me” respectively, but are actually expressions of love that can be used in place of “I love you”. It also expresses the wish of the person who does not want to survive their beloved because it would pain them to continue living after their death.
  • Kol hawa – literally translated as “eat air”, but it is what people say when they want to tell someone to buzz off, haha.
  • Ma titnammar a’laye – literally translated as “don’t tiger on me”, but it only means “do not bully me”.
  • Hi, kifak, ca va? – This is a typical Lebanese greeting in which they show off their multilingual skills (yeah right) as it combines English, Arabic and French expressions. It is translated as such: “Hi, how are you, okay?”
  • Kahraba walla ishtirak? – this is a bit of an inside joke that only the Lebanese would get. It basically means “Electricity or subscription?” Electricity goes off a LOT in Lebanon, so most people have to subscribe to personally-owned electricity generators to get power when the state electricity is down. It’s generally weaker, so people have to always check if the power they’re having is “electricity” or “subscription” before they use any appliances.

This a typical Lebanese street. The wires you see include ones stretching from electricity generators, intercom wires between different buildings and cables for TV and internet. (Photo credit: Alien in Beirut)

As much as they like to show off, the Lebanese also like to eat and are quite proud of their cuisine. One famous part of the Lebanese Cuisine is their mezze, which involves an array of small dishes that are served usually before the main course and include hummus, pickled vegetables, bread and baba ghanouj. It is also famous for the salads, such as tabbouleh and fattoush. We are also quite proud of our stuffed grape leaves, chawarma, falafel and manakish (my mouth is already watering!). Of course we have restaurants that serve fast food and foreign cuisine, if you’re so inclined.

This is a typical mezze, and you can see the array of different foods there. Be careful not to eat too much or you’ll be stuffed before the main course!

The Lebanese people are loud and like to express themselves using fireworks and celebratory gunshots, which are so common nobody pays attention to them anymore. Whenever there’s an event (and this is entirely subjective, as an event can be a football match), you’ll be sure to hear some action down in the streets ranging from honking to maybe even drumming. But no worries – most of them are quite friendly and would probably love to sit and chat with you over a cup of Turkish coffee or while you share a hookah between the two of you (the Lebanese are big on hookahs!).

On its good days, Lebanon is a place with fantastic weather and many things to do, such as shopping, going to the beaches or mountains, visiting the old Roman ruins, etc. On its bad days, the electricity goes off several times an hour, you run out of tap water, politicians make offensive statements and people hold protests under all the strain.

A photo I took of the Temple of Bacchus in Baalbek. The historical monuments there are pretty nifty. =]

Despite its flaws, it’s not a bad place to live. It takes some getting used to, but eventually it sorta grows on you. :)

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This was written inĀ  response to the Weekly Writing Challenge by WordPress. For this week, we were required to exercise our blogging muscles and write about something completely different from our usual posts. You can check out the challenge here.

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33 thoughts on “Lebanon in a Nutshell

  1. Very interesting. I’m fascinated by other countries, and I’ve always wanted to visit them all. Not a very realistic goal, but I still want to visit as many as I can. Lebanon’s got to be filled with rich history.

      • You WOULD ask that! I don’t remember the names of the dishes, but they used lamb in some that were so good that I couldn’t get enough. Lamb holds the flavor of spices so much better than other meats. Now I’m hungry!

  2. What a fantastic post, Zen! I’ve learned a lot reading this:) It’s so nice to hear about places people live and I can now better ‘visualize’ you when i’m reading your posts.
    I’ll have to remember ‘kohl hawa’ next time someone at work gets under my skin ;)

    • Well I’m glad to hear that! =D I realise my country may be obscure, so I thought it’d be nice to write about it.
      Haha, that would be funny. More infuriating for them because they wouldn’t be able to understand what you’re saying!

  3. Thank you for sharing! It took me the longest time to figure out where you were from, mostly because I rarely read about me’s and other stuff such as that. Stuffed grape leaves are so yummy! I am half Kurdish and half white, but I was raised ignorant of my Kurdish side and it’s culture so I don’t know much about it. I’m the only one in my house who will eat mediterranean food. My Papa still doesn’t believe me that grape leaves actually exist and thinks stuffed ones are made with grapes or something, lol.

    • You’re welcome! Most people are surprised when they learn where I’m from, so I wouldn’t hold it against you for not figuring out where I’m from! And I agree that stuffed grape leaves are delicious; we have them all the time here! It’s a shame no-one else in your family eats Mediterranean food; it’s delicious! But I guess more for you, right? =D And I bet the Kurdish culture is pretty rich too; you should learn more about it!

  4. Zen, I spent the day with my mother, and while she was in the grocery store, I read blog posts on my Nook. I smiled the entire time I was reading yours. It’s like a mini travel documentary. I’ve always wondered where you lived, and now I can picture it so clearly in my mind. I love Lebanese food. I even sent Susan and her parents to a Lebanese restaurant in one of my books. Hummus, baba ghanouj, and stuffed grape leaves – yum! … Great addition to the challenge. I started a post about Ohio from a unit study I did with our son. Maybe I’ll finish it up and post it soon. Thanks for a great trip around your country.

    • It makes me happy to know that it made you smile and helped you form a clear picture of this place! Lebanese food is delicious, and this gives me all the more reason to read your books once I get an e-reader! And I would love to read that post; you should most definitely finish it. Thank you for your comment, Maddie! =]

  5. What an amazing post! I can’t believe the food you pictured is just the appetizer course- I could eat just two or three of those as a meal. Of course, I love trying new food so it would mean I’d just take a couple of bites of everything. I love the part about Lebanese phrases too – I think I’m going to keep “eat air” in mind the next time I get mad! What a brilliant way to tell someone off;) Unfortunately, I’ve heard the Lebanese/lesbian thing on a sitcom here – I don’t really find it very funny. I can’t believe anyone would say that to you – it seems pretty ignorant to me. Anyway, I feel like I learned a lot from your post. Thanks for leaving your comfort zone and sharing with us.

    • Aww, thanks! I’m glad you like it. =D Usually the appetizers are ordered by a bunch of people at the table, because you can get full eating them all. And I trust you’ll put that phrase to good use!
      I don’t think the Lebanese/lesbian thing is funny either, but oh well. What can you do. Though it makes me happy to hear that my post was informative. =]

  6. This is so cool – thanks! I’m always curious about what its like in the Middle East, especially since its such a big ‘controversial issue’ right now. I want to know what its really like… not just what the news tells me.
    Do you like it where you live?

  7. Pingback: When in doubt – Lebanon! | middle east revised

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