So you decided to come to Lebanon despite all desperate pleas by friends and family not to go to the middle east. You signed up on death row and broke your mom’s heart yet somehow miraculously managed to come to Lebanon safe and sound. Who would’ve thought you’d make it that far?
Now as you step out of the airport and discover, much to your amazement, that people actually have new cars (instead of camels) and the latest iPhones, keep these few points in mind as they will come in handy as you embrace the huge culture shock that will hit you like a heatwave in winter.
1- It’s called Service, not Taxi or Cab
What you normally perceive as a simple Taxi is in fact a bit more complicated here. Taxis here have 2 functions. The main one is called “Service” (pronounced Serveece), which means that the driver will only get you on board if you happen to be headed somewhere on his route. In this case he will charge you 1 to 3 services (still pronounced serveece, even in the plural) depending on the distance to your destination. The price of one Service is 2000 LBP which is the equivalent of 1.33 US $. Note that the driver will keep taking passengers along the way as long as they’re on his route. Usually he will charge you 1 Service for an average of 3-4 Km.
The other function is Taxi (generally owned by private companies which you have to call beforehand), which works pretty much like a regular taxi except with the absence of a meter. So the driver will charge you on an estimate depending on the distance required to get exactly where you need to go, starting as low as 5-10$ to 30-40$.
P.S: If you’re a girl, it’s advisable to ride in the back.
2- You don’t need to change the light bulb, the power went out
Yes, it’s a power cut. Every 4 hours during the day and 6 hours during the night the power will switch from government-provided electricity to private generator electricity and vice versa. The schedules are usually (notice the keyword “usually”) as goes: 10am-2pm / 2pm-6pm / 6pm-12am / 12am-6am / 6am-10am.
Now if you’re lucky enough to be living in the Achrafieh district, you’ll only have one power cut per day with the schedule changing from day to day on a 3-hour basis.
3- Try not to be over impressed by how good our English is
I know this is a major shock to you, but we actually speak English and we’re pretty darn good at it! (Well maybe not all of us). But before you go on asking people how come their English is so good, keep in mind that the average Lebanese person is at least trilingual, boasting an impressive glossary of Arabic, English, French and the additional Spanish and Italian words.
4- This is not a time culture
I repeat. This…is…noooottttt….a…..time…….cultshoooooorrreeee……..
A little piece of advice? If you carry a wrist-watch, burn it. Yes, you heard me. Burn it, have your car run over it, exchange it for a lifetime supply of falafel if it’s that expensive, donate it to charity, but please just don’t keep staring at it while you’re waiting for a local to show up to an appointment.
To make your life easier, it is recommended to always add in your mind the suffix “ish” to every appointment you make with a Lebanese person. For instance, an appointment at 3 really means 3-ish, and that could be anything from 3 to 3:30.
You will notice before long that everything is way more chill than what you’re used to in the west. The Lebanese minute can get up to 5 times longer than the universal minute. Having a coffee with a friend here takes an average of 2 hours and so does lunch. Dinner can last up to 3-4 hours so you better not make after-dinner plans.
We have lunch anytime between 1 and 4pm and dinner between 8 and 12am.
We sleep around 2am and can still manage to wake up early and go to work. How do we do it? Well, we just do (and so can you, eventually).
5- Road signs? What road signs?
Ok, I admit we drive like crazy. Although it is something we take pride in, I understand how life threatening it can seem to someone who isn’t used to our way of driving to be in completely new waters, especially when you see everything you’ve ever known about driving not being applied at all.
But hey, at least we’re following the traffic lights now. Some 10 years ago we didn’t even have them. So there is hope for us.
6- Try not to be insulted (as hard as it may be) if you’re assumed to be a maid
Let me just say it, if you’re Asian or black, you’re almost certainly going to be mistaken for a migrant worker, and more often than you would think. You will accuse the people of being racist and in a lot of cases you will be right because of the way most of the migrant workers are treated here, but bear in mind that not everyone is like that and in a lot of cases the assumption happens because people (including myself) were brought up unintentionally associating Asians and black people with maids and janitors.
I’m not justifying but explaining why people almost automatically assume that. But things are slowly changing now as a mind shift is starting to happen in the younger and more educated generation.
So please, I know it’s hard, but bear with us. It’s a question of habit, a bad habit that is, which needs to be changed.
7- Chill, it’s just an explosion!
So you’re sitting quietly enjoying a nice cup of coffee at Starbucks (which I’m sure came as a joyful surprise to you along with every other international food and beverage chain you could possibly think of) when suddenly you hear an explosion somewhere in the distance. No need to panic, no need to call up your wife to pack your stuff and run for your lives before the airport closes down. Sometimes an explosion is just an explosion. It doesn’t mean war is breaking out, it doesn’t mean your worst fears are coming true. Heck, not even we know why we have the occasional explosion from time to time. But life goes on. So before you let your wife’s “I told you we shouldn’t have come to Lebanon” start echoing in your head, put the phone down and carry on with your Double Mocha Macchiato. Think of it as fireworks taken to the next level.
8- Stay positive
It won’t be long before you realize that no one likes it here. Even the people who claim to love Lebanon the most and praise its heritage are the ones that keep complaining and blaming others why this country is a hell hole. But you need to be careful not to get slowly drawn after these people and their continual habit of grumbling.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a missionary thinking of moving here because you feel God’s calling for your life in this country. This means that you are coming here as an agent of change. So if you’re planning on bringing any change (as small as it might be) to this country, you can be sure you won’t be able to do anything if you assume a negative attitude about the people and the way things are run over here. If God is calling you to contribute in the change of an area, you can bet he’s not inviting you to Pleasantville.
I hope by now I haven’t discouraged you from moving to Lebanon, but I felt I needed to share this with you to know what to expect when you make your big move here. Don’t let this hinder you from coming as you will soon realize that the beauty you’ll discover here will far outweigh all the downers you could ever encounter, the beauty of a people who’s been through so much and is still kicking and screaming in a city that never sleeps, Beirut.