Habibaty! After spending almost a month in Beirut, we figured there are already many things that bridge the gap between the Dutch and Lebanese culture (avoiding the term Western and Arab culture). There are some stories that surprise us, some that make us laugh but also others that make us worried. We believe that these stories are worth sharing, because they might inspire you and appreciate an unfamiliar culture. However, we also want you to sit down for a minute after reading our blogs and think about the things that you love about your own and what you could learn from another culture.
Since Nicole intended to work on her master thesis besides doing her project for the NGO
Lebanese Alternative Learning, we are getting more and more knowledgable about the very interesting political system of Lebanon (yes, she decided not to do it anymore simply because there’s no time, but now she has an excuse to come back soon). Why is it interesting? Simply because the Lebanese government is quite different to how we, in the Western world, know it. For instance, the President of the Lebanese Republic is the head of state of Lebanon and is, by convention, always a Maronite Christian (i.e. one who is an adherent of the Maronite Church in Lebanon). By contrast, the Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament is always a Shia Muslim and the Lebanese Prime Minister is always a Sunni Muslim. Although these representatives are a feature of political parties, they play a much less significant role in Lebanese politics than they do in most parliamentary democracies.
Electricity cut off three hours a day
In Lebanon, the electricity cuts off three hours a day due to a shortage of electricity. However, we have our doubts about this since we hear different sides of the story. Many people pay for a generator on a monthly basis which covers these three hours of electricity. This costs a lot of extra money which many citizens cannot pay. It also causes a lot of pollution that causes the mortality rates to go up. A 2012 study by the American University of Beirut found that in the Hamra neighborhood, levels of airborne carcinogens were 60 percent higher when the government power was off and private generators were operating, which accounted for 38 percent of the daily carcinogen exposure in the area (Sewell, 2018). Whereas Lebanon’s climate is ideal for solar power, private companies keep selling their power on the black market.
Cars and public transport
Cars, first of all, there are many of them. Lets say, way too many of them. Surprisingly, a lot of these cars are crazy expensive (in the Netherlands at least). You find BMW’s, Range Rovers and Mercedes driving around everywhere, as if people here get discount on these show-off cars. Second of all, they do not come in an organized way. The traffic is very chaotic but for some reason it seems to work. The same happens with public transport; there are buses on set routes but there are no stops and there doesn’t seem to be a schedule. Sometimes it takes 30 minutes from A to B and sometimes it can take 60, but in the end you will always reach your destination. At times we miss NS, but the commute is also kind of nice, because there is always something to look at in this interesting city.
The Lebanese cuisine is widely known by Vegetarians. Beans, chickpeas and vegetables in all different sizes and colors; and all of this flavored with the most delicious herbs. In the local stores you can buy loads of them for only 2 dollars, so if you love cooking and have your own kitchen: this country is paradise. But don’t forget that the meat and especially fish at the seaside are definitely worth it as well!
Lebanese people and sports aren’t friends
But you can’t really blame them. With an average temperature of 30 degrees that starts at 06:00 AM, doing outdoor sports like running or cycling is far from comfortable. In addition, the pollution makes breathing almost impossible and cycling here is only for the really crazy ones since the cars aren’t used to bikes at all. Luckily Nicole is able to keep up with the Lebanese national champion, so she found her way to stay in shape. Of course there are alternatives, but from Jade’s experience Lebanese people just aren’t the Dutch when it comes to sports. Five crunches, three push-ups and running around for five minute in a 10 m2 room is enough to make the average Lebanese girl exhausted.
Getting married in Lebanon
In Lebanon it is not possible to conclude a civil marriage. You can only marry at a religious authority such as the church or the Muslim court. Civil marriage is increasingly popular, especially between different faiths. Try to google on travel agencies in Lebanon for civil marriage and you find tons of them. Many Lebanese travel agencies are specialized in civil weddings abroad.
Getting divorced in Lebanon
Recently we read an article about the divorce system in Lebanon. This article of the HRW states that in Lebanon each religious court comes with its own set of rules. Sunni, Shia, and Druze men can divorce their wives at will. Sunni and Shia men can even do this outside of a courtroom. This can happen without the wife knowing. For women however it’s different and more complicated. Sunni and Druze women can petition a court for a divorce, that terminates the marriage. Yet grounds are limited (he’s in prison, prove of hardship and discord, sexual impotence, etcetera). For Shia women, it’s more difficult, they rely on a long process of sovereign divorce. Another option for Shia is the Khul, a process that gives up all financial rights and needs an agreement of the husband. For christians it seems to be even more difficult. For confessions, domestic violence is not sufficient grounds unless it’s life-threatening.
However, we believe that for every story, written by an outside authority, locals should
be able to comment. The interesting part starts here. Because according to some local friends (Shias and Sunnis), the law isn’t this strict anymore. A lot of regulations are written down, but are not working in practice. For instance, according to the law girls here are not allowed to wear shorts. Ironically, almost all the girls that are not practicing a religion are walking in short dresses and skirts. Some weird laws are there, they are just not applied and no one really cares. So for all the content we find online, it is important to wonder if the information is still up to date and what the locals think about it, or if it changes per person (being more conservative than the other).
Sewell A. (2018) Staying on the grid in Lebanon. Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/articles/2018-02-13/lebanon-struggles-to-rebuild-its-power-infrastructure.
Human Rights Watch (2015). Interview: Women Unequal Under Lebanon’s Law. Retrieved: July 26, 2018 from: https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/01/19/interview-women-unequal-under-lebanons-law