I make tacos at the 2famous Headquarters once a week to the delight and rapture of many a skinny Norwegian man. This week I invited various friends I’ve picked up along the way including one pompous new arrival to the city of Beirut. He’s been here about a week but had no reservations when it came to telling us we didn’t really know Lebanon. I found it a bit insulting but even more hilarious and thus reflected on how perhaps I too was once a bit cold to other expats when I first moved here. In 2010 I lived in Beirut for 7 months and finally moved back here in August 2011. Bearing all the expats I know and have met along the way in mind, I made an overview of the stages through which one goes living in this country. Here is a general summary of the Beiruti Expat.
1. Total Newb 1-4 months :
They’re either a student, journalist, or completely lost couch surfer. In the beginning of living in this city they instantly realize how fast the social scene can be infiltrated and feel like they know this shit before they really do. For most it’s a time to stick to your expat circles and have sex with a few beautiful Lebanese here and there. They lament that the circles in this city are incestuous and they have no desire to hang out with the already large expat crowd.
As a journalist they think they’ve already seen it all, since he/she lived in Kenya for the last 4 months and only had contact with the natives. As a student, they’re probably sticking to Hamra, studying Arabic and overboozing on Almaza. The lost couch surfers have just found their way and are frantically looking for places to live in your neighborhood. Do you know anywhere?
2. 5-10 months:
They’re getting a bit settled and have already sparked a romantic relationship (or many) with inhabitants of the city. Their tourist visa has expired a couple times so they’ve come in and out either taking trips around the region or simply back home (before the war in Syria the majority of expats had trapsed across the nearby border.)
Because their life has calmed down (partying not included) they are more comfortable with other expats in the city and no longer negatively judge them. In fact towards the end of this time period the 5-10-monther welcomes the influx of new people that usually flock in the summer. As a foreigner the expat has more of a desire to explore the country and has probably checked out some cool mountains, rivers, and beaches from north to south. They might have the bus system down or are at least are willing to try it out but never feel safe on the road. Although they use the bus, they don’t know too many of their Lebanese friends who do. Driving with said Lebanese friends, although faster, never makes the expat feel safer.
–Many of the expats get involved in the political discussion that is Lebanon and the Middle East and have certainly brushed up on their history. In the time of 1-10 months they make it clear to all around that they are critically thinking individuals who have shunned the one-sided western mentality.
3. 1-3 years:
At this point the expat really lives here; He or she has stories from ‘the FIRST xxx party’ three years ago in the hills of Hermel or whatever. Their family definitely thinks this man or woman is totally wacky for staying in such a volatile Middle Eastern city, and no matter how many years they’ve called Beirut their home, the fam still freaks out and asks if it’s safe to be here. Disillusioned, the expat thinks danger is not when people are rioting outside their apartment, not when army trucks post up at every corner of the city, and especially not when Israel threatens to attack, but only when they find out one of their friends has just gotten kicked out and banned from Lebanon for secretly working on a tourist visa.
With a deeper understanding of the day to day and more contact with a larger community, they find their duty to enlighten to those ‘back home’ about the reality of the Middle East. For Americans especially, engaging in the “Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” discussion is excruciating and mind-boggling because of the amount of brainwashing going on in the country as a whole.
4. 3 years to infinity:
A real pro, they’ve got the life figured out and extra boxes of candles sitting in the cupboard even if the electricity goes out for 5 days instead of 2. Maybe at this point they are married to a Lebanese person or in the process and are working on the nationality or just residency permit. Despite never having made an effort to speak the language, they are surprisingly good at communicating. And when speaking English, they throw in the “y3ani” or “bes” as if it is part of the English vocabulary. Even if politics is their profession, they’ve adopted a more laid-back Lebanese approach where debating and engaging in passionate discussion about ‘the state of the Arabs’ isn’t really ideal social conversation.
They’ve subconsciously come to understand the tribal laws of the land and how the dynamics of different neighborhoods work. They have numbers for cleaning ladies in every neighborhood and a phonebook’s worth of taxi numbers to get to specific parts of the city and country for the best price. Their foreign upbringing paired with extended time in the regioin makes them, undoubtedly, the most efficient people in the country.
Every expat has made their way to the internationally famous restaurant “Le Chef” which has been featured in every single guidebook and review of Beirut. Charbel, the owner, is known to shout Welcome! to all passersby and diners. It’s one of the first intros you get to this city.
Do you agree? What kinds of qualities and traits can you think of? Tell us in the comments below!