The communication style usually depends on how well people know each other, but in general people tend to be more indirect than direct. The Lebanese are very 'touchy-feely'. Direct eye contact with a lot of physical contact is the cornerstones of Lebanese communication.
Some areas of Beirut have a friendly atmosphere, and some Beirutis have a reputation for being very sociable and outgoing. The locals are used to the sight of foreigners and would be happy to show you around the city, if you ask them. However some areas are hostile against foreigners or even Beirutis from other neighborhoods.
The sight of foreigners being the operative term, it should be noted that your external appearance will determine some of the locals' reaction to you. Badly dressed visitors must bear in mind that they should not expect the same warm reception from one and all that their well-dressed counterparts may take for granted.
It is helpful to display some basic courtesies. A simple Bonjour when entering a cafe or shop can work wonders, and might even get you a special rate, or when hopping into a taxi, might just keep the driver from overcharging you. Say Merci when given or offered something, and if you'd rather not accept, then say La'a merci and smile; otherwise you might be taken as rude, even though you're not.
Most Beirutis love going out, and the nightlife in Beirut is arguably world-class. If (and when) you go out at night, dressing up well will most certainly get you some respect. The locals like to see that foreigners are doing what they can to fit in. Expect to be offered a drink or a cigarette. Alcohol is very cheap in shops and supermarkets, yet in night venues, prices can rise up to European standards (8,000L.L/Beer, 15,000L.L/Cocktail).
Smoking is very common in Beirut, a large portion of the people smoke both outdoors and indoors. Most restaurants have special smoking areas that are ventilated, so make sure you ask whether a particular restaurant or cafe is smoking or not, and ask for a non-smoking table if you don't want to sit around smokers.
The communication style usually depends on how well people know each other, but in general people tend to be more indirect than direct. The Lebanese are very 'touchy-feely'. Direct eye contact with a lot of physical contact is the cornerstones of Lebanese communication. If you are from a culture where eye contact is less direct and contact not so prevalent, this may feel uncomfortable. Try not to break the eye contact as this conveys trust, sincerity and honesty. However, interestingly the situation is reversed when dealing with elders where prolonged direct eye contact is considered rude and challenging.
Lebanese have an indirect and non-confrontational communication style, which relates to the need to maintain personal honor. They rely heavily on the context to explain the underlying meaning of their words. The listener is expected to know what they are trying to say or imply. People will often speak in loud voices. This is not always because of anger; it may be just showing another emotion. Non-verbal cues and body language are crucial to learn so you can more fully understand the responses you are given.
For the most part, Lebanese try not to lose their tempers publicly since such behavior demonstrates a weakness of character. They strive to be courteous and expect similar behavior from others. However, if they think that their honor has been impugned or that their personal honor has been challenged, they will raise their voice and employ sweeping hand gestures in their vociferous attempt to restore their honor. It is common to see displays of anger in public, especially on the street and in traffic.
Family is a very important aspect of the culture and asking about one’s family is usually greatly appreciated. In the current political situation it is better to steer clear of talking or enquiring about political/religious subjects.
Greetings in Lebanon are an interesting mix of both the French and Muslim/Arab cultures.A warm and welcoming smile accompanied by a handshake while saying 'Marhaba' is a greeting that can be given without causing offense. Close friends greet each other with three kisses on the cheek, alternating cheeks in the French style. Take time when greeting a person and be sure to ask about their family, health, etc. Some Muslim women prefer not to shake hands with men; it is best to see if a hand is extended to you first, if not, refrain from extending yours.
Man greeting Man - Men usually greet one another with a warm handshake (always use the right hand). Handshakes usually linger a bit. When greeting a good friend or someone familiar, a series of three kisses (alternating cheeks) will be included in the introduction. When greeting those of Islamic descent, using the phrase ‘Salaamu Aleikum’ (peace be upon you) or Salaam accompanied by a handshake or nod of acknowledgment is most common.
Woman greeting Woman - Women greet each other in a similar manner to men. Handshakes (always use the right hand) and kisses (three kisses alternating cheeks) are common. During initial meetings, a verbal greeting and/or nod of acknowledgment is also acceptable for many people.
Greetings between Men And Women – In most areas, a handshake is the norm in formal and business situations. When greeting a good friend or someone familiar, a series of three kisses (alternating cheeks) will usually be included in the introduction. In Islamic societies, social interactions between non-related members of the opposite sex are not as frequent, so as a result the handshake/kiss will usually not be included in the introduction. You will be able to tell if the person you are being introduced to is leery of a handshake as they will most likely fold their hand up and across their chest to let you know they do not intend to shake hands. Always wait for the woman to initiate, if at all.
Personal Space And Touching
The amount of personal space that one is given depends greatly on the situation but it is usually quite close, less than arms length. This space may be a bit greater in business/formal situations and between genders as well. It is common for good friends of the same sex to hold hands or interlock arms while walking and talking together. This is a way of expressing their friendship. Touching is common during conversations, especially between members of the same gender. Between genders, touching during conversations may be considered inappropriate. However, it usually depends on the sub culture (Muslims tend to be more traditional, Christians tend to be more open).
Direct eye contact is acceptable to a degree between sexes. It becomes less so –especially if it’s direct and prolonged– between elders/kids and boss/employee. Between genders, direct eye contact becomes loaded with sexual innuendos, and a girl accepting or initiating eye contact can be considered an invitation for something more intimate in certain sub cultures.
Views Of Time
Time is not usually considered a valued commodity. Being late is a common practice; it may even be a sign of being fashionable when coming late to parties and social events. In business, it is common practice to make appointments or deadlines that are rarely followed.
- Some of the most common facial expressions are used to say ‘no’ or negate something. This can be done by raising the eyebrows and nodding the head up slightly or by making a ‘tch’ sound by pulling the tongue off the roof of one’s mouth, or to really emphasize the point, combine both of these actions.
- Shaking the head side to side usually means you don’t understand rather than 'no'.
- Most people point with a single finger, just not the middle one.
- To beckon someone, you wave with the palm down, clapping your fingers into your palm in a scratching motion.
- In most Islamic societies its best to avoid showing the sole of your foot or using the foot to move anything. This includes pointing the toe or heel or any part of the foot at any person.
Gift Giving Etiquette
- Gifts are part and parcel of the culture and are not only for birthdays and special occasions.
- Gifts may be given to someone who has provided a favor, to someone returning from a trip overseas, or simply out of want.
- The cost of the gift is not nearly as important as what it represents – friendship.
- If you are invited to a Lebanese home, it is customary to bring flowers. If invited for a meal, you may bring sweets or pastries.
- If visiting a Muslim family, it is a good idea to say that the gift is for the host rather than the hostess.
- Gifts of alcohol are welcome in many circles. Muslims though generally do not drink alcohol.
- A small gift such a sweet for the children is always a nice touch.
- Gifts may be given with the right hand or both hands. It is best not to offer a gift with the left hand.
If you are invited to a Lebanese house for dinner:
- Dress well.
- Avoid sensitive topics of conversation such as politics, religion or the civil war unless you know the hosts are comfortable talking about it.
- Greet elders first.
- Lebanese table manners are relatively formal.
- Wait to be told where to sit.
- Table manners are Continental, i.e. the fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating.
- You will be expected to try all foods at the table.
- Expect to be urged to take second or even third helpings. It is best to eat less on your first helping so that a second helping is possible. This shows your host you are enjoying the food and are being taken care of.
Anything goes in Beirut. Shorts and t-shirts are perfect for the summer heat, for both men and women, while heavier clothing is necessary during the winter. Though Beirutis are liberal when it comes to dress, shorts are largely shunned by Lebanese men except young ones, for fashionable reasons.
The Beirutis and Lebanese in general are distinguished form tourists dressed in shorts and t-shirts by dressing very fashionably and smartly even in the hot summer. You should cover up if visiting religious sites, such as mosques and churches. Going out at night is a smart affair, so dress fashionably to fit in.