N.B This post was originally published in November 2015.

So you’ve been abroad. Maybe it was for a week, maybe it was for a year. Maybe it was some time in between. Still, there are a few things that will hit you upon landing in Beirut. You may have forgotten about them, but don’t you worry, Lebanon will remind you.

1. Lebanon has a scent.

And no, I’m not talking garbage. Sure, it depends on where you are, but there is a distinct smell that hits you when you exit the airport. It’s surely includes some toxic pollutants, but it is also the ocean, the heat, and something you can’t quite put your finger on.

2. Traffic is the source of the deepest form of rage.

Maybe you were returning from some trip abroad, whether work or pleasure. Maybe you took trains, buses, or trams, joyously waving at people walking on the street, smiling to fellow passengers of public transport, beaming at commuters. Maybe when you get back to Lebanon and hit that first traffic jam on Airport Road, it all comes rushing back. Maybe you understand the origin of all wars, political upheavals, hell, maybe even some natural disasters.

3. That guy yelling “Yalla ya banadoura, yalla ya batata” was sorely missed.

If you’ve lived in Lebanon, you’re accustomed to the street vendor pushing his cart down the road in the morning, announcing the products of the day. While this man is not missed when I am abroad, right when I return to Lebanon a slow smile of recognition spreads over my face when I see this man, giving me an instantaneous feeling of familiarity while simultaneously creeping out all those around me.

4. Rules and laws are suggestions.

While I was afraid at the thought of driving abroad sometimes, what with all these new fangled fines and traffic laws, roughly 1 minute back in a car in Lebanon will have you attempting to adjust back to that “anything goes” mentality.

5. It’s not that you didn’t gain weight, it’s that only Lebanese people will let you know.

Did you indulge a bit on that trip you just got back from? Perhaps a few nights or weeks of binge-drinking were involved? Carbs? I bet there were lots of carbs. It’s not that you haven’t put on weight, my dear friend, it’s that no one was expressing it to you. Walk into the arms of your family or friends at the airport and the first thing after “Habibi” or “We missed you,” is “You’ve gotten fat!”

6. Lebanese people are always afraid that people on the end of the phone line are deaf.

I remember stepping out of the Beirut airport last year to the lovely, welcoming sounds of a man yelling at his friend/partner/wife/child to “NOT TOUCH THAT! IF YOU TOUCH THAT YOU WILL SEE!” in a very loud manner, causing passerby to stop and glance over nervously. I’m not sure if this is true for everyone, but my grandmother also seems to think yelling louder will bridge the distance between her and her son in Australia. I sometimes wish I found out what was not to be touched though…I also wonder if he made them see.

7. Cash doesn’t feel like Monopoly money anymore.

This might just be me, but when I’m abroad, whether it’s euros, dollars, or another currency, it feels like fake money for a while. That coat is 200 euros? A steal I tell you! Oh, 320,000 LL? Let me just think on this one a bit.

8. Cigarettes are seductively cheap.

You know that pack of cigarettes you bought in England? In the US? In Ireland? You know how you nursed every cigarette like it was a newborn, afraid to confront an empty pack? I’m not promoting smoking or anything but fret no more, for it can all be yours.

9. Everything is always open.

Land back in Beirut at 1 AM? Don’t worry your pretty little head. For you can still have a beer, a cheeseburger, or Panadol somewhere. There are still places that will deliver a pack of cigarettes to you. These might seem light little things, but they are critical to a Mediterranean lifestyle.

10. It’s time to time your showers.

Remember how you had hot water whenever you wanted abroad? Remember when you had the luxury of saying, ‘Hey. I think I’ll shower after I gym at 3 pm.’ Sorry, my child. That is no more. Either take a cold one or check your electricity app to make sure that you will still be able to heat your water after the power cut. But hey, it’ll make you a more resourceful, diligent person. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.


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