The Lebanese are very gregarious. The souks (markets) are always crowded; shopping downtown is very popular, as is strolling with friends along the busy streets. Lebanese people usually sit close together and interact vivaciously.
Social Etiquette And Customs
Manners are important and are highly influenced by French etiquette, especially in matters of dress, address, and eating. Strangers as well as acquaintances greet each other respectfully, usually using French terms, such as bonjour, bonsoir, and pardon.
Hospitality is very important. Travelers to Lebanon are received genially.
- To make a good impression, observe the following: smile and say ’Marhaba’ (hi); give a firm handshake and, occasionally, 3 kisses on the cheeks (alternating from one side to the other). The exception to these rules is a person of the opposite gender who displays an Islamic dress code (i.e. veil for women, beard for men) in this case it is enough to nod with the head while saying ’Salam’ (peace). Including a slight bow with this greeting is also a sign of respect.
- Conservative Muslim men will not shake a woman’s hand, but rather cross their hand over their chest to indicate a polite greeting to you.
- Social interaction and conversation occurs at a much closer distance than in the Western world; it is considered offensive to step or lean away.
- Touching a person’s shoulder or holding their hand is common act of friendship between people of the same gender.
- It is important to avoid prolonged eye contact, especially with elders, as it is a sign of defiance.
- It is considered rude to decline the offer of drink.
- Only use the right hand to eat, pass or accept food/drink, as the left is considered unclean in Arabic culture.
Beirut is very culturally diverse, and thus, multilingual. Arabic is the official and national language but French and English are widely spoken, and younger people being generally more likely to be fluent in English, French being more known among older people and a smaller portion of the population.
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.
Drinking is acceptable as is smoking, but it is not polite to be excessively drunk in public. The legal drinking age is 18, not heavily enforced; especially in supermarkets or stores where anyone can buy alcohol. Penalties for possession, trafficking, or use of illegal drugs are serious. Offenders can expect jail sentences and/or heavy fines.
People socialize by going to bars, discos, and parties. When it comes to dating, men ask women out usually. People usually go on several dates before becoming romantically involved.
Lebanon is mainly a capitalist country, and the price of living is quite high.
Alcohol in Beirut is a part of daily life. Each of Beirut's districts has its own fair amount of cafes, bars, and clubs. This said, two of the hotter nightspots, with the highest concentration of pubs and nightclubs are Gemmayze and Monot Street, both located within close range in the Ashrafieh district.
New places open, old ones close, others change name at the drop of a hat and hip venues can suddenly become unfashionable. The best way to find out what's in and what’s not is by checking the local press or simply going there and seeing for yourself! There is no curfew in Beirut so the parties actually do go on until the break of dawn.
SkyBar in Biel, just next to downtown, has been voted as one of the hottest bars in the world. It has an outdoor area overlooking the Sea.
BO18. Trendy club inside a bomb shelter located under a parking lot. The roof opens and you can see outside while dancing. Clubbers park in the lot and descend a staircase into the club.
White. Is a rooftop bar on top of the an-Nahar newspaper building, with an outdoor area overlooking the Sea, Downtown, and the mountains.
Increasingly, there are many bars opening in Kaslik, a suburb between Beirut and Jounieh.
Locally brewed beer include Almaza and Laziza (non-alcoholic). There is also a microbrewery that started producing several styles of more flavorful beer in 2006, called 961 Beer. And in 2010, a new beer was launched called LB Beer, which is brewed without the use of any corn or rice. All worth a try when visiting.
Dress Up - Dressing up in Beirut is a task of its own, Beirutis love looking their best and this is particularly noticeable when going out. Beirutis definitely have a 'party hard' attitude.
Sleep - There are lots of hotels in Beirut's metropolitan area, ranging from cheap hostels to luxury suite hotels. Prices are relatively high compared to similar hotels around the Mediterranean and Middle east, but if you look well enough, there's bound to be the perfect hotel inside whatever budget you set. Check the different districts to find places to sleep.
Stay Safe - Since 2009, Lebanon has become a safe place and the number of tourists is dramatically increasing (more than 2 millions in 2009). The US government's warning to travelers visiting Lebanon was lifted in mid-September 2009. If you choose to visit Lebanon, visit the touristic cities like Jounieh, Byblos,Tyr and Tripoli. Beirut itself is safe, but avoid South Beirut if there is too much political discord with Israel. Baalbeck is safe, but also visit with caution for it is a Hezbollah stronghold. The mountain cities around Beirut and in the North are generally safe but always be on the lookout for political turmoil. Try to at least have a vague idea of the political situation, which is volatile. Try to avoid any political demonstrations. The South has a high level of Hezbollah influence/control but is by no means off-limits. Be aware that the South has a high Shia Muslim population and dress and act conservatively.
It is strongly discouraged to visit Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, unless you are with someone who lives in or is familiar with the camps. Camps vary in size and appearance (the camps in Beirut are like slums, but some rural camps can resemble more open villages) and hostility, but you should bear in mind that Palestinians, who have no civil or political rights in Lebanon and are barred from most professions, will generally feel no reason not to be as open and civil to you as a Lebanese person might be.
Photography of military personnel and installations is prohibited. You should also be careful in taking photographs in the Dahiye (the southern suburbs), if you don't want to get in contact with the Hezbollah. The safest thing is to ask an official nearby for permission.
Avoid talking about politics and religion, even if asked, for this might lead to trouble. Say you don't know the situation if your comments are wanted. Avoid any governmental or military convoys that may be passing by. Lebanese people have adapted to all those situations."Once you get used to the army vehicles guarding major street intersections, Beirut does feel safer than most cities of a similar size in continental Europe or the U.K.". ~ Aldas Kirvaitis