Bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and with two suitcases containing the things I then felt were most important to me, I moved to Lebanon five years ago. Before I left California, my parents briefed me on the peculiar social norms I would encounter in my new home, but my Western sensibilities wouldn’t allow me to absorb the weight of their wisdom; I had to learn the hard way. Half a decade later and ripe with knowledge but lacking the necessary offspring to pass this information down to, I offer this information to you: those considering a move back to the motherland. This is how to survive a family lunch with your ego still intact.
Growing up, my father would sometimes say to me. “Dad*, I swear to God, you are the smartest girl I know, but you’re kind of strange.” In a surprising move to protect me from those who might not find my weirdness charming, or who didn’t know that I could at least balance it with intelligence, my father called me the night before my move to explain that in Lebanon people might criticize me but make sure I, “don’t give a damn what they say.” My mother, on the other hand, more familiar with my short temper towards criticism, especially when it is meant to normalize people, was worried that my new world would spell disaster at the onset of outspoken family members commenting on the way I looked, acted or just sat there doing nothing.
You will enter the lion’s den full of confidence and retaliatory retorts about people having the right to be themselves and so on. I guarantee that six months in they will start to chip at your stone armor of self-confidence and start to believe that perhaps you are an indirect descendant of the Nosferatu rather than a charming 20-something with a heart of gold.
Before I proceed, I would like to say this. I come from a family of extremely beautiful and powerful women who always look amazing and put together. They are extremely loving, down-to-earth (seriously, they are), warm and my favorite people in the whole world. That does not negate the fact that they went through the same hazing as youngsters, and similar to abused children repeating the cycle of abuse as adults, no one is spared from their critical eye.
Never a Dull Moment
When getting ready for Sunday lunch with the family, forget all your predisposed inclinations towards being comfortable. Here are a few tricks of the trade that will keep scrutiny at bay so you can uncomfortably enjoy the food your family is forcing you to eat more of just minutes after they mentioned to you that you might have gained a significant amount of weight since the last time they saw you. A week ago. ‘Tizik Kibraneh’ (your ass has grown bigger) is a family favorite.
If you’re full-bodied like a nice glass of cabernet, learn to dress for your body. Think chic and simple. Listen, I know high-waisted pants are all the rage, but keep that mess at home with facing the firing squad. Enjoy them on a night out with friends and hope you will not run into any of your aunts who will make sure to mention this fashion disaster privately the next time they see you.
Conversely, if you’re thin you will face similar, if not more, criticism. A slender cousin of mine is constantly badgered to go see a doctor because my entire family thinks she’s sick. Never mind that her mother’s side of the family are slight of build; the consensus is that she doesn’t eat because there is something wrong with her. Apparently, no man wants a woman they can’t hold on to (I assume during sex, but this specificity is never mentioned).
If you’re fat, my advice is to either be super gangster about it or just stay home. If you are not strong-willed enough, the depression of not joining the entire family for lunch is far less than the suicidal depression you will develop from constantly being reminded that you are overweight and will, therefore, never find a husband.
If you’re comfortable with your size and you can give a damn about what anyone says, you’re probably not ‘m3a2de’ or self-consciously complexed enough to care about reading this far into this post, so why am I even still writing for you.
If your hair is straight, I hope you take a taxi to Rouche and and jump off Pigeon’s Rock. You have extra time on your hands to do it since you are not busy at home messing with blow dryers, flat irons, and straightening balms. It has become second nature for me to consider what time the electricity cuts on the morning before a family lunch to know if I should straighten my hair the night before or get up early in the morning after a night out to do it.
If your hair is curly like mine don’t even think about just washing it and tying it up and going for the ‘messy’ look. My grandma’s sister once asked me if I thought she was not worth the effort to look good. I know she was being sarcastic, but there is truth in every joke. If you still can’t be bothered with doing your hair, the next section is especially important for you.
No one likes a show-off. While one might think that a full face of make-up is necessary for such an occasion, often time a clear and clean face and perfect eyebrows are enough. That is, if your hair looks good.
If not, you better believe that you’ll need a little bit of lipstick and some mascara, otherwise, the family will comment that you look tired and homely. Getting back to what this is all about, no man wants a women that can’t put in some extra effort to look good, even if there are obviously no men at a family lunch that you might be interested in.**
Oh yeah, if you’re a guy, I hope you join the straight-haired women in that cab to Rouche. None of this applies to you since the only thing that really matters to the elders is that you have a good job where you make good money. This is also relevant to the women in the family, on top of making sure they look good, so think about that next time you roll your ass out of bed and stumble into the family lunch with eye crusties and questionable breath.
So, now you’re ready to enjoy a relaxing Sunday with the fam. I know it seems like a burden, but this is my favorite part of the week so save yourself a little grief, slap on some lipstick and drive over to your grandma’s house. Her cousa mihsheh will make you forget all your troubles and remind you why you’re there in the first place; to break bread with the ones you love.
* Listen, I don’t know why Arab parents call their kids by their own titles. My dad calls me dad, he’s called me dad before the possibility of gay marriage in California extending to me the option of becoming the ‘dad’ in a Lesbian family, and that’s just the way it is.
**I come from a small village in the south of Lebanon, so maybe they don’t know that our generation feels this way.
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