The Lebanese – Always Dressing to the Nines

Beibei Yang/楊蓓蓓

“Lebanon” is mostly associated with negative news in media, like civil wars and terrorist attacks. Although listed as a country with an orange travel alert by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the only places tourists need to avoid are the south of the country which is dominated by Hezbollah and the eastern part which is close to Syria. Other than those places, Lebanon is a very safe country to travel to, as long as you watch out for pickpockets.

Lebanon has plentiful tourist attractions. But its lack of tourism infrastructure makes things very inconvenient for tourists. As soon as I arrived in Lebanon, I got into trouble: how to get to the city center. There was no tourist information center at the arrival hall, neither was there any public transportation from the airport to the city center. My friends told me that taxis in Lebanon had no meters and charged by negotiated prices. They warned me to watch out for taxi drivers that would charge foreigners ridiculous prices. They also asked me not to trust anyone.

 

A foreign traveler’s lucky encounter with kindness

There was no WIFI available at the airport. My UAE SIM card was not working there either. Using Uber was out of the question. I spoke to several taxi drivers, and all of them asked for US$50 for a less than 20 minutes’ journey to the city center. I gave up. I went back into the airport, hoping to get a Lebanon SIM card from the convenience store. But the cheapest available would have cost me US$75, and that was without any Internet service. Out of desperation, I plucked up the courage to ask a stranger if he could lend me his phone so that I could book a car.  

The stranger didn’t know much English. But he was kind enough to lend me his phone. I booked a car through Uber and paid a reasonable US$16. He even contacted the driver for me and explained the exact location for pick up.

When we arrived at downtown Beirut, I was told that my B&B landlord was not at home yet. The Uber driver insisted on staying with me until my landlord came back. While we were waiting, a guy selling beers on the street gave me a bottle of local craft beer and assured me that drinking on the street is totally legal in Lebanon.  

All of a sudden, I realized that this is the “foreign traveler’s luck” mentioned by my Lebanon friends in the past.  Such encounter is really one of the best thing to experience while traveling. 

 

Witnessing beauty and kindness in this unfamiliar place made me trust in this imperfect world and humanity a bit more.

Beirut, Paris of the Middle East – a city of beauty and sorrow

 

As a former French colony, Lebanon uses both Arabic and French as its official languages. Its capital Beirut is not only known as the homeland of the poet Kahlil Gibran, but also the Paris of the Middle East. The Civil War has left Lebanon with bullet holes on many of its buildings. Even those beautiful Haussmann buildings didn’t manage to survive intact.

 

In Lebanon, over half of the population are Muslims, while most of the other half are Christians. You would see both churches and mosques in this country. It was quite interesting to hear bells ringing from churches and calls to prayer from mosques one after the other. Surrounded by mountains and sea, Lebanon is a great place for skiing in winter and a delightful place to enjoy the sunshine along its Mediterranean Sea in summer. More specifically, the temple complex in Baalbek, and the Byblos Old Town are 2 of many must-sees.

 

Middle Eastern cuisine mostly originated from the Levant, including Syria and Lebanon. There is a traditional Arab dessert called Kunafa which originated from Nablus, a city in Palestine. Lebanese people put it in between sesame breads, topped it with rose sugar syrup, and made it their own unique breakfast.    

 

Due to political turmoil, Lebanese government has kept postponing the building of new power plants. Houses and shops that don’t have 24-hour power supply have to purchase overpriced private power generators. That’s why electricity bills in Lebanon include both public power consumption and private power consumption. People who cannot afford private power generators have to deal with power outages from time to time every single day.  

Lebanese people – always well-dressed and enjoying the moment

In the Middle East, there’s a saying that “even down with last penny, Lebanese people will still dress up to the nines”. Lebanese people are known to be the beautiful people in the Middle East. In addition to being a pleasure to the eyes, their soft and charming Arabic accent, often mixing Arabic with French words makes conversing with them a pleasure to the ears as well.  It is no wonder that, for other Arabs, Lebanese people are the epitome of “sexy”. 

 

Lebanese people know how to enjoy nightlife. The owners of many famous nightclubs in the UAE are all from Lebanon. Personally, I have been to a nightclub with Lebanese girls from our B&B on a weekend night. Unlike in the UAE where nightclubs had to close at three in the morning, in Lebanon, the most open country in the whole Middle East, people could dance till dawn.

 

In the nightclub, while I was too tired and retired to the couch, my friends were all still dancing. A group of Lebanese people sitting next to me told me that, there was too much turmoil in their country, so everyone had their own ways of enjoying the moment. Partying all night long over the holidays was simply one of them.

 

Lebanon is both conservative and open. In Beirut, you might see two girls talking and laughing while taking a stroll down the street. One might be wearing a headscarf, while the other might be much more liberal in her dress.  On the other end of the street, you might also find modern and smartly dressed men and women enjoying their rides in jalopies. Everything seems so contradictory, yet co-existed in harmony.  

* This article was originally published in Chinese on Crossing on this page.  thatcontinent has been authorized to edit and republish this article.

** Photo credit: Beibei Yang and Yulia Grigoryeva@Shutterstock

Storyteller's Bio:  

Crossing

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楊蓓蓓 / Beibei Yang

生於 1991 年,在杜拜工作、生活、放逐自己的臺灣人。二十五歲前以為自己會在巴黎恣意的微風中啜飲著咖啡;二十五歲醒來後發現只有烈日、高溫和沙堆,隨遇而安,接受生命所做的一切安排。 拾筆為記錄海灣產油國刻板印象外的所見聞,探索阿拉伯灣藍與黃裡的過去和未來。  

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