sábado, 21 de enero de 2012

Pyjamas in Beirut

It is freezing in Lebanon. Like no kidding. Like gloves, scarve, hat, wool coat, warm socks, boots freezing cold. Like my house is not insulated and I can really feel it (anjad!) cold.

Therefore, part of my very mundane activities this week was pyjamas shopping. Hey, the old T-shirt old leggings combo won't cut it in this weather.  I need something really warm so I do not feel like dying every morning when I get out of bed.

I did not plan to make of this activity anything, let alone blogging material. My plan was to leave work, swing by the mall, spend 30 minutes max in the pyjama store,  go home. One hour and a half and 5 stores later, I left the mall empty handed. Confused. And exhausted.

It seems like I fall into a non-existent category of pyjama wearers in Beirut.
  • I do not (and will not) wear Disney pyjamas (who does?). Furthermore, I firmly believe that anyone older than 13 should NOT be allowed to wear ANY Disney piece of clothing. Not even Pyjamas.
  • I do not wear lace or satin to bed. Call me boring, but that stuff is NOT comfortable.  Seriously, do we have to care about fashion even when we are sleeping?
  • By the same token, name brands, glitter and studs have no place in a Pyjama's top. The people who design those clearly didn't wear them to bed.
  • I do not wear dresses to bed. I know you call them night gowns. It doesn't matter. That's a dress. And if you ever were unlucky enough to have your grandma give you one for your birthday and had to wear it, and cursed every morning when you had it all curled up around your neck, you know what I am talking about.
  • I do not like pastel colors. Sorry. Pastels are lame. Especially lilac. Now, buying a head to toe lilac outfit, with a feminine touch of satin on the sleeves? No, thanks.
  • I do not wear animal print to bed. Or inspirational quotes. And I don't drink coffee. So coffee mugs printed on my pyjamas are not relevant to me.

You might tell me that I am too demanding, or too peculiar with my tastes. But I was only looking for a cotton, long-sleeve top and a pair of cotton pants!

Apparently simple is now what's hard to find. Or maybe I am just not sophisticated enough for Beirut standards. Or maybe there was a new pyjamas memo that I never got.  

In the meantime, I am stuck with my one pair of old, mildly warm pyjamas to weather the cold nights in Beirut. Brrrrrrrrrr....

jueves, 12 de enero de 2012

Christmas Kitsch

Christmas was almost 3 weeks ago, but the spirit of Christmas is ALIVE in Beirut. I wonder if it is because the Lebanese like Christmas so much, or because they cannot muster the courage to actually take down all the Christmas decor.

You know, the Lebanese don't do anything half a@@. When I drive from work to the Christian side of town, this is the vue that welcomes me home:

The red light in the square offers this breath-taking homage to Christmas frenzy:
And let's not forget the red trees that decorate all the lamp posts in major avenues:

But my all time favorite-that actually makes me feel at home (because there is one exactly like this in the roundabout near my house in Mexico) is... the human-size nativity scene! With little lambs with fuzzy, petable backs!

There is something very sweet about this excessive holiday decoration (and the refusal to remove it). It's like Beirutis are saying that this season is really special and they don't want it to be over.

It is true that for Lebanese (Christian, but also from other religions) the end of the year means not only holidays, but also the time when their family and friends visit from abroad. And a Lebanese friend was telling me recently that as the majority of Lebanese are not Christian, this excessive-over-the- top and lavish Holiday display is in a way a demonstration of "Christian pride", like a way of saying "We are SO here."

I have really enjoyed walking around and seeing the Christmas decorations inside stores and businesses. For instance, there is this furniture shop near my house where the Nativity scene literally takes half of the workshop (they added caves and waterfalls for a more dramatic effect). 

But the business who wins first price on my book of Christmas awesomeness is our friendly neighborhood butcher:

I mean, he leaves it on, even when he is closed. He didn't win my business, but he's definitelly won my heart. 

viernes, 6 de enero de 2012

Cultural awareness

"Lebanese are so rude". "Lebanese are so aggressive". "Lebanese are so inconsiderate". These are only some of the statements that I hear often from both foreigners and Lebanese.

I don't know at what point I started actually believing in this. As you might remember, I was quite enchanted with the good qualities of the Lebanese for a while (especially their hospitality). But lately, I have found myself being very rude, aggressive and incosiderate in Lebanon. And to me, it was very interesting to see how differently I behave when I am abroad.

In Lebanon, I have started to be aggressive with people in the car and in the street. I have started saying unkind things to strangers when they cross me. I have started going through red lights, parking the car everywhere and rushing to get ahead of the line...

I have written before about how the environment affect me and how I have become more aggressive in Beirut.  But there is a choice I haven't been making about my own behavior that became very apparent to me in 2 recent interactions.

I was recently visiting a friend's apartment who is out of town to feed his cats.  I parked my car right at the entrance of the building, when the building's concierge came out and told me to move. There was something about the way he said it that occurred as very rude. In a second, I was livid, and ready to kick the guy's butt. The funny thing is that I didn't even understand what he said (he was speaking in Arabic). It was the way he moved his head, the way he looked at me, I don't know. I just found him very rude. So I told him something not very nice and drove off.

In another recent instance, I was driving up a crowded street and there was a soldier on a scooter driving towards me. I was in the right direction, he was driving against traffic. He told me to move. I interpreted his non-smiling face and hand gestures as "Get out of the way". I was livid in a second, and told him again a not very nice thing and drove off.

What do these 2 interactions teach me? Besides the fact of who is right, who is wrong, what the intention of the 2 guys was, what they intended to communicate... I realize how little time and patience I have left for people now. How quickly I just assume people are attacking me. How little I am willing to question my own shortcomings.

So, coming back to the statement "there is a choice I haven't been making about my own behaviour". I have realized that in Beirut I have given up my choice on how to behave, and I have started mimicking others and believing what we say about each other. I have given up the choice to believe that this place is good and that people are kind. I have forgotten that the only thing that has changed is my attitude towards the place (I can guarantee you that the Lebanese did not act differently the day I arrived to Beirut).

So, talking about New Year's resolutions... In 2012, I will treat people out of what I am committed to in life (love and respect) and not out of an impulse and a reaction on how I think they are behaving. I will behave as I want to behave, not as how I think my circumstances push me to. I will embrace my inner jerk and choose to bring something sweeter to the mix. And I will give people the benefit of the doubt.

This is not just an empty promise, but what I see as the great exercise of personal freedom in life. I am sure I'll fall at some point and bark back at someone in the car. But it's worth the try!

I will tell you how it goes...