sábado, 30 de octubre de 2010


One of the benefits of learning a new language is that you gain the ability to view the world differenty. I was in my Arabic (Lebanese) class last week, and I learnt some interesting things about family and succession.

The first thing is that everyone has their Dad’s first name as their middle’s name. Like my Dad’ s name is Guillermo, so in Lebanon I am Maria Guillermo Ortiz.

Another thing I thought was interesting was that if you ask someone about their neighbor Joe you wouldn’t say: “Hey, how’s your neighbor Joe doing?”. This is considered disrespectful. You would actually say “Hey’ how your neighbor, Jack’s Dad doing?”, since Joe has a son named Jack.

Also, there are 3 ways of saying “man”: Rajol, Zalame and Rijjel. And one way to say woman: Mara. And a girl and a daughter is the same word: bent. But a boy is sabi and a son is ibn.

Language is a reflection of the culture, and the emphasis on fatherhood, and “sonhood” is very clear in Lebanese Arabic. But what really blew me away was when I learned that women cannot pass their nationality to their kids or spouses in Lebanon. Only men can do that. So if you are born from a Lebanese man or you marry him, you can be Lebanese, but if your Mum is Lebanese and your Dad isn’t, then you are not Lebanese.

One interpretation of this can be political, since this is a way to control religious “proportions” of the population. Lebanon is managed through a very complex system, called a confessional system, where each religious group has control over certain parts of government and decision-making, depending on their numbers. So in this context, not making foreign men Lebanese would make sense.

But some women are opposing this tradition and starting a movement in Lebanon to change it. International Organizations are supporting them. Check out these links to learn more about the issue:




domingo, 24 de octubre de 2010

Sorry, this table is reserved

Dinner in Lebanon doesn’t start till 9pm. For those of us who like to eat a bit earlier, it is common to enter a restaurant at 7:30 and find it empty.

However, do not be fooled: an empty restaurant doesn’t mean there are open seats. An empty restaurant means that some very specific people haven’t arrived yet.

Let me explain this a bit further: you come to a restaurant, no one is there. You ask for the table in the corner (I love corners) and they tell you it’s reserved. You then get a table in the middle (ugh), and after 2 hours of a lovely meal, you realize that the table in the corner is still empty.

I have 2 theories on this: a) The person who reserved the table didn’t show up or b) you can reserve a table and get to the restaurant eventually.

Option b) would be the most appropriate since the Lebanese (as the Mexicans, I’m not singling out anyone here) are not particularly punctual. But from a business perspective, this makes no sense. How can you have a table open for 2 hours, and not give it to someone else?

The best is when you get to a restaurant, and it is completely empty. You get the crappy table and when you leave, the restaurant is still completely empty. I am clearly missing something here.

PS: I would be very interested in hearing a Lebanese explain this point. This affair of reserved seating remains a mystery to me to this date.

domingo, 10 de octubre de 2010

Lebanese Yumminess

I can't believe I have been here for 2 months and I haven't written anything about food!

I must say that Lebanese cuisine is varied, absolutely delicious and on the healthy side. The incredibly fresh vegetables that are used, combined with olive oil and spices are a much needed break for me from the butter/salt combo from the States.

Besides the well known falafel and hummus that are pretty much the same as you would find all over the world, I have discovered slight differences from what I knew before, for instance, that in Lebanon tabouleh has no bulgur and baba ganoush is also called "mutabbal".

I must confess I had love at first bite with mankoushe which some call the Lebanese pizza, which is a think crust of oven-baked dough with za'atar and cheese, or lamb meat on it, that is sold for 1,750 L.L ($1.25 USD) at the corner of my street and makes for a delicious breakfast or snack.

I also absolutely love Fatoush (which doesn't make you fat by the way), a simple but super tasty salad.

And one can't forget the delicious Shawarma, which is a pitta bread sandwich made of lamb, beef or chicken grilled on a spit (like "al pastor", for Mexicans) with garlic mayo and french fries inside. Perfect after a night out.

But Lebanese cuisine goes far more than these rather simple dishes, and I have tasted very interesting combination of ingredients such as Shishbarak (meat pastries in yogurt soup) or Djaj mah Ruz (chicken over rice with pine nuts and a ton of spices, often served with laban, or yogurt).

For the desserts... forget it. I could write pages and pages about them. They are absolutely delicious. Baklava is the one that almost everyone knows, but there are many others.

There are tons of other amazing dishes I have tasted, but to be honest, I don't remember their names... So next time you go to a Lebanese restaurant, try some of these more elaborate dishes. You will not regret it!

Or maybe, if you are feeling adventurous, you can try cooking? A friend got me in the States a book that is pretty close to the real deal, called "A taste of Lebanon" by Mary Salloum.

Sahtayn! To your good health!

domingo, 3 de octubre de 2010

Hi! Kifik, tu vas bien?

Living in Beirut is listening to multiple languages everyday, French and Lebanese (Arabic) being the most common ones, although a lot of people know English as well.

What is fascinating is that the all people you encounter will speak a different combination of languages, depending on where you are in the city, or where they come from.

In Hamra, you'll hear Arabic, and English the closer you get to AUB (the American University of Beirut)

I Ashrafieh, you'll hear Arabic and French, and English the closer you get to ABC (the mall).

What I love about the Lebanese is that they use all the languages they know interchangeably when speaking, because the person they are talking to also understands perfectly well, so there is no need to make an effort to stick to one. And the more languages they know the more they'll use.

So if you have the good fortune of knowing one or maybe 2 of the languages they speak, conversations sound like this:

At a party 2 girlfriends are talking, "Yesterday, blah, blah, blah, blah, black leather, blah, blah, blah, blah, I told him, blah, blah, blah, blah, I like it very much." (turns out they were talking about a new car)

At the office, "Hi dear, blah, blah, blah, no way, blah, blah, blah OK, blah blah, khalas. Thank you. Yalla bye"

At the Yoga studio. "Hi!!! Blah blah blah?" Very cute! Blah blah blah blah blah in ABC, blah blah blah blah, half price."

There are some words like Mabrouk! (Congratulations), Sukran (Thank you) or Marhaba (Hi!) that you'll start using as a foreigner, as a way to integrate yourself and not sound absolutely clueless.

And inevitably all Lebanese will sprinkle their conversations with the following 3 absolutely transferable words, no matter what language they are speaking in or who they are talking to: "Yalla" (very similar to the Spanish "Vamos"), Ya3ni (Very similar to the English "I mean") and Khalas (that can mean "That's it", or "stop", or "finished", or "allow me").

So... shukran for reading. A bientot. Yalla, bye