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Little Nuances in Cultures

Updated: Jun 28, 2019

It is a bit strange—perhaps—to think about the possibility of an airplane crash when you are on an airplane. Much worse than that, and unusual, is to believe that one could survive the crash. But I learned recently that was the reason airlines began to assign seat numbers together for parents and children.  They thought that in the case of a crash, if parents and children were not seated together, the parents would hinder the flow of passengers to the exit doors in order to find their kid(s) if they had to land in an emergency.

     I bet that was an American invention because in the United States we are psychic trying to cover the what ifs of the rarest situations, thanks to attorneys, obviously, and their advanced common sense (sarcasm).

     I was amused yesterday when in the midst of my second flight, walking to the restroom, I looked towards the exit door and I saw on the floor a small sleeping bag with a (maybe) 5-year-old kid inside of it. I could not believe what my eyes were seeing, and I was so regretful not to have my iPhone to capture the spectacle.

     I laughed and thought how crazy that was. In the U.S. the airlines do not even let minors sit in the exit doors. After my derision, my second instinct was, what if we need that exit door?

     Five hours later we touched down and one of the cool things about cultural nuances is that they make one aware that we are somewhere else and that ‘these’ people are different (or I am different, for sure). Half of the passengers were clapping at touch down like celebrating that we were on the ground and safe. The other half were busy opening the compartment doors to get their carry-ons, but the airplane was still taxiing, and I was perplexed. I wondered in reality what could have happened? Everyone was going to fall on everyone else, perhaps a few broken bones or many, but there were NOT going to be any lawsuits. I realized we were in Beirut already.

     As I had been 12 hours on airplanes, my hands and feet were swollen, and I took my ring off. Then I arrived at a restaurant for dinner and someone paid for my food. I went to the cashier and explained I wanted my check and that I was married. The owner replied: no one is asking for anything in exchange and tonight is on the house. I walked away. That does not happen in the U.S., but I remember drinking a lot of mojitos free in Colombia.

     Those same nuances are striking my mind every so often since I arrived in Beirut. I walked this morning to buy groceries a mile away from my dorm. On my way, there are many businesses owners and employees who were washing the floors (it is a tradition for every day that the business is open). I remembered it from the last time I was here (15 years ago), but what I did forget is that people clean their businesses from the inside to the outside with soap and water because it is the way to get the bad energies out. In the United States there is NO way we are going to clean the sidewalks with water and soap! That would be a huge liability (and lack of common sense?).

     In Beirut, different from every other place in Lebanon, life is diverse. At some point Beirut was the Paris of the Middle East and their citizens still believe they are Parisians. They speak mostly French and Arabic and they use their hands and facial expressions to say yes, no, maybe, what do you mean, where, etc. And they are fancy and kind, and they love custom name brand clothing. Everybody calls me madame Sal-wa after they have inquired why my name is Sal-wa. My usual response is “my dad is Lebanese” and their usual comment is “YOU are Lebanese!”

     Ahmad was waiting for me. He is a Syrian taxi driver who pretends to speak very good English. He mocked my Arabic accent and I mocked his. But we understood each other because “we are Lebanese!”

     Some of the things that really differ from home is that we do not have a third of the army inside of the airport. They do. In America we have very attentive customs officials and the Lebanese people had three, who were smoking, laughing, and conversing with each other. No one checked my bags or put them under scrutiny. Good for me, I was in my hotel within an hour.

     The buildings have an odd contrast as there are many with bullet holes and others recently built, one next to another. So, I was not sure if I was in a safe place or not. But I asked and walked, and I felt safe for the most part. Yet I went to sleep early because I was tired, and I am used to being in bed by 9pm.

     Three days later is almost midnight and I am still trying to catch up with all of you.

     This afternoon I was a bit homesick and decided to go for a walk on the walkway near the beach. The walk ended up becoming a run. I was not prepared to run because I was in jeans. However, I had this impulse to run and I ran about 3 miles. I got to the westmost tip of Beirut on Paris Street (Minet El Hosn) and stopped to admire the beautiful rock formations on the ocean, the Raouche Rocks. The mythology states that there was a sea monster killed by Perseus in order to save Andromeda. The rocks are the remains of the monster.

     There was this summer breeze that I adore but it was very hot and humid, and I was in jeans. Because of the weather, I barely ate all day, but I got a mint lemonade which was terrific!

     Across from the Raouche Rocks there is a Starbucks but there are plenty of local businesses too with coffee and drinks and homemade food. No point coming to Lebanon to eat at McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, and Starbucks. Truly, for something like that, I would have stayed in the United States—that was my thought after the mint lemonade at Starbucks (embarrassed). Then, I crossed the street and got a fresh squeezed mint lemonade in one of the local businesses, and what a flavor! No more chain restaurants for this trip, I pledged.

      Lebanese people are very clean in most part (if that is a concern coming to Leb). I remember my aunts and cousins cleaning their houses every day throwing water to the walls and I am picky because of them. From them I learned to have different sponges to wash the glasses and the plates. So, no reason to look for American chain restaurants in the Mediterranean.

     Another thing I want to point out about the Lebanese people is their hospitality and generosity. You can see that same hospitality everywhere you go. It is an intrinsic feature of the people from this land, they are all made just that way, they give what they have and what they don’t have too.

     And they are a bit more relaxed, specially with the traffic laws. I saw this guy trying to parallel park a car a bit bigger than the space he was trying to fit in and It was a crack (see pic).

     I start officially classes today. Yesterday was the instruction day and we are expected to work on our Arabic at least 3 hours after our program is done at 5pm. We are learning with Mahmoud Batal, a famous professor of Arabic around the world, the guy that wrote the books we learn from in the United States universities.

     Thanks to all who wrote to me today asking how my trip is going. I will translate tomorrow morning and post at KienyKe (Colombian magazine).

     This weekend I will be in Byblos, Harissa, and Jeita Grotto. Can’t wait to tell you all about it.

     My blog is blocked in Lebanon, but my secretary (my sister@shadiakdavid) will be posting my articles for me from Seattle.

     I will be thinking way too much (in Arabic) or perhaps to tired and not thinking at all.

Instagram: @saluakamerow

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