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An American in Lebanon: Cultural Customs

Once arriving in Lebanon, you might not get cultural shock right away until you start getting into a social circle dominated by Lebanese natives, who have been raised with the culture. When you start committing faux-pas and wonder why people are gossiping behind your back, then you will find that you are clearly a foreigner.

PDA- Public Display of Affection
You have a significant other and want to show them affection outside the privacy of your home? Do this at your own risk. Even though many couples find small corners to exchange embraces and steal kisses, such as the booths in Colombiano Café, or the dark corners of pubs in Gemmayze, it’s still a small country, and you never know who is watching. Don’t care what someone says about you? What about your significant other? What happens when they start gossiping about their lack of restraint in public? Embarrassing. For you and your family as well as your significant other. Beware…there are eyes everywhere.

Always Say Yes
When you visit a Lebanese home, especially that of an elderly person, their immediate reaction is offering you food and drink. They will bring you whatever you want, you just have to say it. So, if you’re really not thirsty or hungry and politely reject their offer, they will be offended. So just ask for water or tea and accept some Digestive biscuits no matter how bland they might taste. This will make the host happy, and will be a positive mark on your budding relationship with them.

At a dinner party and someone keeps offering you seconds and thirds because you barely ate anything? (Which means you had a huge helping of chicken and rice, and other small bite sized foods around the table.) You could reject, however this may cause them to continue harassing you until you accept. So just accept a bit more on your plate, but eat only what you can. If you can’t then just take a bite and put your fork down.

Check this excerpt from an online blog:
“Recently we had some visitors and I bought them some sweets from Hallab.When I offered them these sweets they insisted they had just come from a cafe where they had eaten sweets so trying to be Lebanese I insisted they try some.As they were full, I cut half a cake and gave them one each.My husband fell about laughing and said,'What's that?''Well they are full so I just gave them a little,' I said.This incident remained a source of amusement for my husband to tell the rest of the family but I still couldn't see the problem.That was until my sister in law said even if someone says they don't want or they are not hungry you bring them 3 kilos of cake and they will eat it.That is so true and now I understand.”

Going Dutch – What to do when the parents invite you out
When your boyfriends mother casually asks him if you help pay for things during your outings and he innocently replies that he usually pays, this will only incite gossip amongst the family and make them think you’re stingy. Yes, it’s true that men are supposed to pay most of the time when you go out, however it is customary to at least offer to pay your part when going out on a date and especially when you’re just friends.

Don’t share too much
If you are getting to know someone, like your boyfriend’s parents, don’t tell them your whole life story from beginning to end, including that time your mother gave you a hideous dress for your birthday and you ran back to your room crying. And don’t tell them about the time your dog died from trying to catch a poisonous frog and died frothing at the mouth. Lebanese tend to not want to hear those details. Just give them the pleasant small-talk type stories and make them smile. Anything out of the ordinary, keep it in your diary or tell your closest friends who know that you love to over-share.

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