Lebanon is a complex country of charm, chaos and contradiction. Beirut, it’s capital, is the wild child of the Middle East. The country hasn’t fully recovered from its 15 year civil war, but people are eternally optimistic and live every day as if its their last. With the utmost respect to my Lebanese friends, I bring you the Lebanon Survival Guide:
Ignore soldiers on the street. Don't panic when you see armed troops or even tanks, it’s normal. Don’t join any protests or take pictures of them and you’ll be fine. Locals are experts at distinguishing between fireworks and gunshots, so if they if they aren’t panicking you shouldn’t either.
Use the triple greeting. The quickest way to fit in (especially if you’re a pale westerner) is to greet everyone in English, Arabic and French at once. Hi, kifak, ça va? After that, if you can’t speak the language, simply throw in the three most common expressions every few minutes: Laaa (you’re kidding, repeated quickly three times), yiiii (really?) and wallah (not bad).
Don’t be scared of the dark. The country has daily electricity blackouts, usually without warning, that will interrupt your daily schedule. Plan activities like blowdrying your hair, running the AC or watching your favourite show straight after a blackout ends and you stand a chance of finishing before the next one.
Wear loose pants to lunch. Renowned for their hospitality, the Lebanese take their food seriously, and they’re damn good at it. Street schawarmas are a firm favourite. The mezze options are endless and the portions generous. Wash them down with arak or a bottle of well-priced Lebanese wine, it’s better than you might think.
Prep your liver. The Lebanese are famous for partying. Dress to the nines then say goodbye to your cash and your dignity at at glitzy rooftop clubs. Book a table, order expensive champagne and infamous dou dou shots for a night you’ll never remember. A word of warning, ‘superclubs’ have stripper poles, not dance floors.
No politics or religion. This tiny country is way more complex than most. Under Christianity you’ll find Maronites, Greek Orthodox, Melkite Greek Catholic and Armenian Apostolic. On the Muslim side you’ll find Sunni and Shia, Alawi, Ismaili and a Druze minority. As for politics, there is no separation of church and state. The president must be a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, and the Speaker of Parliament a Shia Muslim. It’s organised chaos. Oh, and while you’re at it, never mention Israel.
Bring your beach body. In summer you’ll find dozens of sun soaked beaches filled with fit, bronzed bodies. The Lebanese practically live on the beach. There aren’t any free public beaches anymore, so make sure you’re ready for the parade at a private beach club.
Lose your watch. Everyone is always running late. An hour is fairly standard. There's no such thing as timely when it comes to the Lebanese. They don’t understand the rush or the fuss, so plan accordingly.
Competition is fierce. Lebanon has some of the most beautiful people on the planet, but it’s a country where women outnumber men by a significant margin. Sidewalks quickly turn into catwalks.Not surprising when you can get plastic surgery loans from the bank (I kid you not) and they have some of the world’s best surgeons. Fair warning, as a westerner you’ll be seen as a threat by the women and a catch by the men.
Dating is a minefield. Should you make it beyond the first couple of dates, at some point a typical conversation to determine whether you’re compatible will involve a series of questions roughly in this order: Religion, social status, education and political affiliation.