Lebanon: A Country of Ironic Contrasts

Lebanon is rooted in contrasts. The warm Mediterranean waters provide juxtaposition to the cool mountain air as you head inland. Street food joints can often be found adjacent to top-notch luxurious dining venues (case in point: Malek el Croissant is just a stone’s throw away from La Table Fine in Jounieh Souks). Beautiful new high-rises soar above century-old facades.

Here are more contrasts whose explanations will send your mind spiraling.

 

  • Long the epitome of chaos and disorganization, Lebanon bizarrely requires seat assignments at the movie theater. The usher stands guard at the door, collects your ticket, emphatically rips it along the perforated mark, and leads you to your seat. In the Western world, it’s simply first-come, first-serve.

 

Photo source: https://www.istockphoto.com/

 

  • Elsewhere around the globe, Pizza Hut is the symbol of fast food pizza nestled in a cardboard box. In Lebanon though, Pizza Hut has dine-in outlets where the waiter takes your order at the table and serves you a slice at a time directly to your porcelain plate. Don’t forget to wield your fork and knife!

 

  • Most branches of Liban Post look like bustling airport terminals, and yet Liban Post queues its customers using take-a-number ticket dispensers. Believe it or not, they abide stringently by their system.

 

  • Pool time doesn’t necessarily translate to a carefree, relaxing activity in Lebanon. Don’t get caught in the pool without your “bonnet” or else the maître nageur might reel you out of the water. Your locks must be neatly tucked inside a spandex hair cap because no one wants to swim in a sea of hairy debris.

 

Image result for swimming cap
Photo source: http://waterfi.com/

 

  • The world may have a shortage of healthcare staff, but that’s hardly the case in Lebanon. Pharmacies are ubiquitous, a mere 300 meters apart in some cities! Best part? Many medications are sold over-the-counter, with the pharmacist playing doctor and recommending a drug or remedy based on your own description of your symptoms. Elsewhere in the world, a pharmacist’s role is limited to filling a prescription.

 

  • Sometimes you feel like you’re a second-class citizen living among barbarians in Lebanon. But pull up to a gas station and you’re suddenly promoted to royalty, as the attendant zips over to your car, pumps your gas, and even squeegees your windshields, all as you sit proudly behind the wheel.

 

  • The “mécanique” experience is easily more ruthless than an equivalent smog check anywhere else in the world. Staff will fault your car if plate numbers are even slightly faded, or if any lights are blown, or if a waft of smog emerges from the exhaust. It’s amazing anyone passes, really. What I don’t understand is how our roads can be congested with dilapidated, polluting jalopies when mécanique purports to be stiffly by-the-book!

 

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Photo source: https://www.groupon.com

 

Contributed by Danielle Issa from Beirutista.co.

About the Author

Danielle Issa

Danielle was born into a Lebanese household in Southern California. Growing up, she constantly found herself living between two realities: outwardly, she was an American girl who loved swinging on the monkey bars and reading The Baby-Sitters Club. Inwardly, she was Lebanese, speaking Arabic at home and forbidden from attending sleepover parties. With age comes awareness and self-confidence, and Danielle learned to embrace these differences. She accepted that she'd forever be suspended between two worlds, and that she'd be like a tapestry, one culture woven into the other. As she grew older and worldlier, Danielle promised herself she would one day settle in Lebanon. And here she is. Three college degrees and a few consulting gigs later, she is now in her parents’ homeland, working in strategy management, fleshing out her blog Beirutista, and contributing to Bitfood. Danielle gets her hair coiffed several times a week, like any proper Lebanese girl, and she loves the traditional mezze. But she still prefers peanut butter to Nutella. And her American accent is unmistakable.