It would be wrong to dismiss Lebanon's mosaic culture as merely Arab when it is clear that it is a blend of indigenous and invading or foreign cultures that have given it the title of the crossroads between east and west for centuries.
Lebanon is a small country located in the Middle East, along the Mediterranean Sea. It is situated between the countries of Israel and Syria. Lebanon has a rich historical and cultural heritage, having been the homeland of many ancient civilizations.
The culture of Lebanon has evolved under the influence of contact with many civilizations and peoples, including the Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arab and Ottoman empires. This enigmatic mix of civilizations and cultures renders to the current Lebanese population a degree of uniqueness.
Lebanon’s population is made up of several ethnic groups: Arab 95%, Armenian 4%, other 1% ~ note: many Christian Lebanese do not identify themselves as Arab but rather as descendents of the ancient Canaanites and prefer to be called Phoenicians.
The Arabs left the deepest mark on Lebanese culture and from them the Lebanese took their language. Other early influences came from the Crusaders and the Turks. Modern Western influence arrived when Lebanon became a French Protectorate early in the twentieth century. French and American schools and universities were subsequently established, and today both French and English are spoken widely throughout the country.
It would be wrong to dismiss Lebanon's mosaic culture as merely Arab when it is clear that it is a blend of indigenous and invading or foreign cultures that have given it the title of the crossroads between east and west for centuries. This picture is seen most clearly in Lebanon, a land of complete contrasts, and a land that cannot be defined by one culture alone, except if one were to bring them altogether and classify them as 'Lebanese'.
Language, food, music, arts and various cultural facets are local Lebanese and performed practically all in Arabic. In the globalized world today, Lebanese youth of all faiths are quite westernized in outlook, breaking away with traditions like most other people of larger cities around the world who previously adhered to their traditional cultures in areas such as dating, music, food, etc.
Compared to most other larger cities of the Arab World, Lebanese cities, particularly Beirut, are more westernized and tolerant. Against Damascus, Cairo, and Baghdad, and especially in contrast to cities such as Riyadh, the views of the Lebanese tend to be more lax towards men-women relations, and even an opening tolerance towards homosexuality.
Lebanon's official language is Arabic. French, Greek, Armenian and English are also widely spoken and understood. Many Lebanese in fact speak a patois of some combination of these five languages, most commonly an Arabic-French mixture. Most Lebanese are at least bilingual, with Lebanese Arabic, and English or French.
Shop signs are predominantly in English. Most restaurant menus, event listings, and such are also in English alongside Arabic and sometimes in French. Road signs, however, are in Arabic and French.
Society, Culture And Religion
The average Lebanese is extremely individualistic. Lebanese people like to "show off" but have a great sense of dignity and humor. They are always willing to be of assistance and are extremely hospitable. Close family relationships, loyalty to family and friends, and honor are extremely important. Fathers and elder males are the heads of the family. Shame is avoided at all costs and insults are taken very seriously. Lebanese people are hospitable and generous. Generally they will insist on paying for a meal, in which case it would be inappropriate to decline the invitation. Humor is always welcomed even in first encounters. Religion is highly respected and coveted in Lebanese society.
From their Phoenician ancestors they have inherited an aptitude for business dealings and a fondness for travel. These two characteristics could help to account for the fact that the Lebanese are migratory people. Lebanese are present throughout the world. Since they have always been at the border between East and West, they often blend easily with the societies to which they migrate. It is estimated that there are as many Lebanese settlers abroad as those living in Lebanon. Areas of emigration include the United States, Canada, South America and Australia. But whether at home or abroad, the Lebanese remain intensely proud of their culture and heritage.
Loyalty to a Group
A person’s name and honor are their most cherished possessions. This extends also to the family and wider group. Therefore the behavior of individual family members is viewed as the direct responsibility of the family. It is crucial for the Lebanese to maintain their dignity, honor, and reputation. The Lebanese strive to avoid causing another person public embarrassment. This can be seen when they agree to perform a favor for a friend to maintain that friend’s honor even if they know that they will not do what is asked.
The Lebanese are proud of their tradition of hospitality. This is a culture where it is considered an honor to have a guest in your home. One should therefore not seen being invited quite quickly to someone’s home for something to eat as strange. Guests are generally served tea or coffee immediately. Good manners dictate that such offers are accepted; never reject such an offer as this may be viewed as an insult.
Classes and Castes - There is no caste system in Lebanon. Money is now the most important factor in determining class lines. The middle class suffered a great loss of wealth during the war, and the gap between the very rich upper class and the lower class has widened. As a result, there have been numerous strikes and demonstrations. Differences in wealth and status often occur along religious and family lines.
Symbols of Social Stratification - All Christians and most Muslims who live in the cities wear European style clothes. In poorer Muslim towns and in some Muslim areas in the main cities, one may still find the Muslim chador (the veil traditional Muslim women wear). In the countryside, women sometimes wear traditional colorful skirts and men wear a traditional serwal (baggy trousers).
Linguistic Affiliation - Languages spoken include Arabic, French, English, and Armenian. There are many accents in Lebanon. The Beirut accent is the mellowest and most highly regarded, while country accents are harsher. Accents are a much higher indicator of social status than they are in other parts of the world.
Urbanism, Architecture, And The Use Of Space
Most of Lebanon's population lives in the main cities of Beirut, Tripoli, and Sidon, which are densely populated. Cities in Lebanon suffer from a lack of space. Most people live in apartments. Furniture is often a mixture of Arabic, Italian, European, and American styles. Apartments are usually decorated in western style: couches are placed against the walls, end tables are common, and walls are often adorned with framed paintings and tapestries.
Lebanese people gather for sports, political events, and concerts. The Lebanese prefer to hold public gatherings in open-air and historical locations.
Gender Roles And Statuses
Division of Labor by Gender - The marketplace traditionally has favored men, and more women stay at home than men. Women are allowed to vote, work, attend school, and participate in all forms of public life, but they tend to occupy traditionally female jobs such as secretaries and schoolteachers.
The Relative Status of Women and Men - Men hold higher social status than women because of the omnipresence of patriarchal religions in Lebanese life. Family is still stressed, as is the woman's role as a nurturing mother. In religiously observant households, women are expected to do most if not all of the cooking, cleaning, and child rearing. Many do not work outside the home. However, many women have broken traditional boundaries and entered the political, artistic, and literary environment, especially in Beirut and other major cities. Nowadays, a growing number of women hold almost all of the same rights as men and hold positions of power in the political, corporate, and civil defense arenas.
Marriage, Family And Kinship
Marriage - Arranged marriages are rare, although they still exist. The country's present economic crisis has rendered money, a secure job, and a home big factors in contracting marriages. Polygamy is legal among Muslims; however, it holds a social stigma, and very few people choose this lifestyle. Religious courts decide on issues of marriage and divorce. Divorce is easy among Muslims, harder for Orthodox Christians, and most difficult in Maronite communities. The divorce rate remains very low.
Domestic Unit - Most household units are made up of a nuclear family. However, the extended family is also very important and often functions as a social security system.In the household, the husband and wife share authority, although wives usually wield more influence over children and in various household matters.
Kin Groups - After the family, a person's loyalty is usually with members of his/her own religion who inhabit the same town. However, marriage between different religious groups has become frequent, and at the end of the twentieth century there was an effort to pass a law legalizing civil marriages, which may undermine the traditional religious and communal boundaries.
The Arts And Humanities
Support for the Arts - Artists are usually self-supporting, although some do receive contributions from patrons of the arts. There is no official government allocation of monies for the arts, although art schools sometimes receive government aid.
Literature - Lebanon has a long history of excellent poets and novelists. In the early years of the twentieth century, Lebanese authors took the lead in defending Arabic and its use in literary creation. Today, Lebanon still has many authors who write in Arabic as well as French and sometimes English.
Oral literature is preserved in villages, where the zajal , a form of poetic contest in the Lebanese dialect, is alive and enjoyed by everyone.
Graphic Arts - Painting is very varied and encouraged in Lebanon. French surrealists, cubists, and impressionists mostly influence Lebanese artists, who add an oriental touch to the French technique and subject matter. Many exhibits are held throughout the country, including the recently reopened Lebanese Museum in Beirut.
Performance Arts - Oriental and Western music are both popular. International festivals are once again very popular and offer an array of symphonies, classical and modern ballets, foreign and local dance troupes, and opera and pop singers. These festivals are usually held in open air on historic sites, such as the Roman temples of Baalbek, Byblos' crusader ruins, or Beirut's central district. Because of the diversity of the programs such festivals offer, people from all walks of life attend and interact.
Lebanese Crafts - Lebanese Crafts reflect the aesthetic sense, the attention to details and the skill and hard work of the artisans and craftsmen involved in this field. The magical touch of craftsmanship transforms daily objects into works of art. The style and beauty of Lebanese crafts attract the tourists visiting the country making the handcrafted items of Lebanon a significant memorabilia of the tour.
The artisans working in small villages in Lebanon produce handicrafts that exemplify their deft craftsmanship. The methods used are often age old and handed down from the previous generation to the next generation. The processes of making Lebanese Crafts utilize the raw materials available in the country.
The intricate details of the crafts of Lebanon make them unique in their own way. Different parts of the country specialize in various handicrafts. Tourists are provided the opportunity of getting a glimpse of the artisans working in their homes or in small workshops. The crafts of Lebanon include soaps, blown glass objects; mats weaved from grass, pottery, cutlery, textiles, woodcarving, etc.
Traditional pottery-making is still popular in the coastal towns, such as Al-Minaa in the north, and Sidon in the south.
Local crafts are encouraged and many souks specialize in selling traditional objets d'art to tourists.