Full disclosure here: I’m an expat.
But after living in this country for a few years, I have really started to become introspective and share the locals’ annoyance with the things expats do in Lebanon. I especially find myself hating that group of foreigners that shows up exclusively during the summer months to study Arabic. Am I alone on this?
But at the same time, I have to remember I was a newbie expat to Lebanon once, too. Here are a few of the things I would have warned myself about if I knew all the things I know now. In other words, don't do these annoying things:
1. Only hanging out with other foreigners
Honestly, I was never guilty of this and I can’t for the life me understand how some people show up and do this. A foreigner seriously asked me within the last two weeks if I have any Lebanese friends. Slightly taken aback, I said: “Of course, don’t you hang out with any Lebanese?” He replied nonchalantly by saying, “No, only [insert this guy's country here] friends.” Really folks, what’s the point of coming to Lebanon if you aren't actually meeting the Lebanese?
2. Not learning ANY Arabic
Look, I have met very few expats who don’t at least add “khalas,” “haram,” “kifak/ik,” and “shukran” to their vocabulary, but the people who have been here a year and can’t even get in a taxi or order food in Arabic, well that’s just kind of ridiculous. So if you feel a bit uncomfortable reading this, maybe its time you head on over to ALPSor Saifi Urban Gardensand enroll in classes for a month or two.
3. Criticizing things based on comparisons with the West
Most of the time, the Westerners that show up in Lebanon are open-minded. But every once in awhile I run across someone who don’t understand why the whole world can’t be more like the “enlightened” West. On the flipside, it’s also annoying when people show up and try to defend things like wearing the hijab, just because they don’t want to support right-wingers. Learn something about the context and culture from the locals before you start having opinions. Otherwise you might as well just call yourself an Orientalist and head home now.
4. Spending too much on cabs
This one is purely for our own benefit. Fellow expats, especially newbies, service is 2,000 LL always! Stop paying 20,000 LL to get from Hamra to Gemmayzeh. Hell, stop paying 6,000 LL! If you are really in a rush and no cabs are coming, it is sometimes acceptable to give in and pay 4,000 LL (serviceayn). But shell out any more than that, and you are just taking it up the ass (granted, I’m guilty of this one).
5. Being overly concerned about money
Yeah, I know it sounds like this one is a direct contradiction to what I just said before, but there are some things it is acceptable to spend money on. Drinking, food, and your friends are always acceptable options for dishing out money. No one likes it when you are overly concerned about dividing the bill fairly or always allow your friends to pay for you when they offer, especially when you never offer yourself. Get into the Lebanese spirit and start spending money, even when you don’t have it. I promise, as soon as you stop stressing over your meager finances, you’ll be a lot happier.
6. Distancing ourselves from the West
I used to do this a lot, mainly because I felt like everyone judged me because I grew up in the United States. Generally, no one gives a sh*t and half the time the Lebanese you are talking to either have a relative living in your country, plan to travel there soon, or grew up there too. Everyone assumes that if you are crazy enough to want to live in Lebanon, you probably don’t like everything the West is doing to fuck up the region and you probably didn't support the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
7. Thinking we know everything about Lebanon in two weeks
I actually never did this, but one of my Lebanese friends pointed this out to me early on: that it’s f*cking obnoxious when foreigners show up and think they completely understand the country. This is probably the thing that annoys me the most about those 6-week Arabic students, who all-too-often can be overheard having conversations about Lebanon, and speaking as if they've lived here their whole lives. Oh, you went to De Prague? Oh, you took a service for 2,000 LL? Oh, you cussed at someone in Arabic? Oh, you were 10 kilometers from the bomb that went off last week? I’m not Lebanese and you definitely as f*ck aren’t either. Give it a few more years and then try again.
8. Talking about how the chaos is romantic
I’m kind of on the fence about this one to be honest. I still tend to think this way, and also have a lot of local friends who do too. But when foreigners go on and on about how amazing the country is because of all the contrast, decay, and chaos, do you fully comprehend what you're saying? People here have lived through war, bombs, invasions, and economic hard times. And a lot of them can never leave. They don't have anywhere to go. Yes, in some ways this can be portrayed as romantic, but spare us all the clichés and stop pointing it out to everyone.
9. Thinking Hamra is Lebanon
Hamra flows with alcohol, short skirts and even the occasional gay couple holding hands. Yes, people debate the merits of philosophers and it seems like everyone in Hamra is agnostic or atheist. That is NOT Lebanon. Let me repeat, this is NOT Lebanon. You only need to drive a few kilometers outside of Beirut in any direction to discover several very different versions of the country.
10. Assuming our Lebanon experience is somehow unique
Look, this may be hard for us to understand, but millions of expats have come to Lebanon before and all of them fell in love with the place just like we did. They all thought it was somehow magical and that the chaos was romantic. They all started blogs and wrote Khalil Gibran quotes on their Facebook pages. They all eventually went home to their respective countries and told their friends about all their unique experiences in the enchanting country of Lebanon. Don’t assume you are somehow having a unique experience that no one else has had before. Sure, your friends were different. Sure your degree or job was different, maybe. But we all fell in love, which is why we came and stayed.
Now, repeat after me: I [insert name], an expat from [insert your country], will now stop being annoying, I promise. I’m going to spend more money, speak more Arabic, and hang out with more Lebanese. I’m going to stop thinking I understand this place and I’m going to stop assuming I’m somehow enjoying it in a unique way.
Now go make sure your local friends hold you to it.
Full disclosure here: I’m an expat.