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8 Things You Can Only Experience in Lebanon

by Joe Batruny Jul 17, 2014
1. Snow ski in the mountains and water ski in the Mediterranean in the span of four hours.

Lebanon is one of the smallest countries in the world, but it’s also one of the most diverse — set against the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Lebanon goes from sea level to an elevation of over 10,000 feet rather quickly. The country’s ski season typically runs from December to April. In the spring, the weather often also happens to be perfect for a day at the beach. On an ideal spring day, one can hit the slopes in the morning, followed by a dip in the Mediterranean’s refreshing waters in the afternoon.

2. Witness a fistfight over a World Cup match involving foreign soccer teams.

This is one of Lebanon’s many inexplicable phenomena. Soccer fans in Lebanon don’t take the sport lightly, especially when the Brazilian, German, Italian, or French teams are involved. After any of the aforementioned wins a World Cup match, you’ll witness caravans of cars passing by, clad in flags of the victorious country, horns blaring in unison, jamming traffic in the process. On occasion, you’ll see a fight between two people who took said match far too seriously.

3. Pair your dinner with an argileh at any Lebanese restaurant in the country.

In the United States, you typically visit a “hookah bar” when you want to smoke argileh. In Lebanon, you just go out to eat Lebanese food (“mezze,” if you’re in the know). Someone at your table will inevitably request an argileh be brought out. And you’ll have your choice of just about any flavor that comes to mind.

4. See a bikini-clad Lebanese woman next to a veiled tourist at the beach.

Lebanon is well known for being a vacation destination for the people of the Persian Gulf, many of whom wear the traditional hijab. Many Lebanese are rather liberal in comparison to the people of Lebanon’s neighboring countries — short skirts, high heels, and bikinis are a daily sight. Make an appearance at one of Lebanon’s extravagant beach resorts and you may come across a woman in her bikini lying a chair away from another wearing the traditional Muslim garb. Try finding that sight elsewhere in the region.

5. See the ruins of 15 civilizations mere steps from an average dinner at TGI Fridays.

TGI Fridays in downtown Beirut doesn’t need to be discussed — it’s TGI Fridays. Steps away, however, you’ll find the Garden of Forgiveness, a sociocultural project located along the Green Line which divided the city during the Lebanese Civil War. The site, uncovered layer by layer over the years, is filled with the ruins of 15 civilizations. The most notable are those of Berytus, the Roman city that existed where Beirut currently sits.

6. Spend eight hours at the beach, but only because you overpaid to get in.

The country’s Mediterranean coast is lined with impressive beach resort after beach resort. Beach parties at Oceana can make Las Vegas look like Reno. And yes, for some reason, if you want to go to a nice, sandy beach, you have to pay for it.

You won’t find too many free beaches here. (Try Bain Militaire if you’re looking for a “bargain.”) No matter where you go, eight hours at the beach is a long time. Too long — but you’re going to get your money’s worth! That’s also why nearly every Lebanese person you see is both perpetually sunburnt and twice as tan as usual during the summer.

7. Go clubbing on the former site of a civil war refugee camp.

It might sound immoral. It could be. It couldn’t be. We’re not here to judge. Either way, B 018 is one of Lebanon’s best-known nightlife spots. Even comedian Russell Peters ranted about it for a not-so-short moment. The spot may sound dingy, though it’s anything but. The club is one level underground. You can’t see what’s going on from street level, unless you get really close, and that’s only because the roof retracts to reveal the nighttime stars and city surroundings when the weather’s appropriate.

8. Learn to speak Arabic, English, and French. In the same breath.

The Lebanese are taught several languages in school. (Lebanon was a French mandate before 1943, if you’re wondering about the reasoning behind the French.)

“Hi. Keefak. Ça va?” is a phrase often heard. “Hi.” That’s English. “Keefak?” That’s Arabic for “How are you?” “Ça va?” That’s French for “How’s it going?” That’s three languages. There’s no real explanation as to why they need to be used in one sentence, but if you want to sound like you’re part of the in-crowd, just do it.

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