Before boarding your flight to Lebanon, it should be known that its capital is (and we say this without bias) one of the Greatest Freakin’ Cities on Earth. A place where traffic lights are revered more for their decorative nature rather than their practicality, your outside voice is the preferred volume pitch whether actually indoors or not, and the humble man’ouche (*drool*) holds certain powers in government (not really). And don’t get us started on the nightlife.
Yes, Beirut will envelope visitors in its warm, za’atar-scented bosom, but pays to have a few street smarts in your back pocket. So, for the Academy’s consideration, we present: ‘What not to do in Beirut.’
- Don’t drive
If you obey traffic lights, enjoy using a blinker to indicate and/or are in possession of a weak heart, forget getting behind the wheel. Driving here is like karate – it’s a discipline that takes years to perfect and is best taught by a seasoned elder. If you’re accustomed to the road ‘rules’, then let us raise a glass to your stellar skillz. Whether you’re experienced or keen to drive (don’t say we didn’t warn you), then good news – only a few key car functions are really needed. Your accelerator, steering wheel, brakes and horn. The latter’s functionality is particularly important, as it’s used to overtake, change direction, say hi, express annoyance, and – depending on whether you’re visiting over a national holiday – as a musical instrument. Solution: If you’re travelling long distances over a few days, hire a driver before you arrive.
- Don’t expect world-class taxi service (is there such a thing?)
When a passenger enters a cab, they enter a unwritten contract with taxi driver that aforementioned passenger will be taken to their destination in the swiftest and safest manner possible. In Lebanon, this contractual agreement comes with a clause allowing the driver leeway to take his/her time on the road, detour wherever they feel and undertake any errands should said errands be located less than ten minutes away from the destination originally agreed upon. Solution: Considering all of the above, you better make sure you have good bargaining game to negotiate prices before you enter cabs. If not, ask your hotel to book cabs for you. If you like detours/have time to kill, perhaps take a service (shared) taxi - a cheaper option and a great way to meet locals.
- Don’t assume Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) will get you far
Apologies to the peeps who’ve made an effort to learn a few key phrases in MSA we know you mean well. Like many other countries of the Arab world, heading to Lebanon ready to bust out MSA is like heading to the UK or Australia armed with a few of Shakespeare’s best quotes. People will laugh at you, before realising you’re serious and then awkwardly look away. Lebanon’s rep for being a cultural cocktail extends to its language. A typical Lebanese greeting: “Bonjour, kifeck? You good?” will begin with French followed by Arabic followed by an English answer, because Lebanese people want to help you understand and are well-versed in answering on your behalf anyway. Solution: Learn a bit of French, too.
- Don’t read super nightclubs to be “nightclubs of incredible size and awesomeness”
Oxford Dictionary: Super (adj.): Very good or pleasant; excellent. Lebanese Dictionary: Super (adj): Very good or pleasant; excellent.
All good so far, right? But add the word “nightclub” and you’ll be walking into some pretty different territory. Step across the threshold of a “suber nightclub” and expect entertainment of an entirely adult nature, taking ‘see-and-be-seen’ to another level, if you catch our drift. Solution: if offered entry, an assertive “no” should do it. Unless you’re into that kinda thing.
- Don’t head out before 10pm
The Lebanese are nocturnal creatures. If you’re prepped for a night of seriously hard “bartying,” arrive at a club before 10 and you’ll probably be sharing a drink with tumbleweed. Why is it so quiet? Probably because the DJ hasn’t even shown up yet. Awk-ward. Solution: Have a long, late lunch, then sleep before heading out (shouldn’t be too hard because eating like a pig is pretty much a requirement).
- Don’t spend all your time indoors
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that Lebanese people simply don’t like being inside. Shopkeepers hang outside their stores to gossip, drivers hang out of their car windows to shout at people they know in traffic. And don’t get me started on the rooftop bars, which are as important to Lebanon as tahini is to hummus. Solution: Hangout with the locals