A Foreigner’s Guide to Beirut

And now something a little light given all the violence and rubbish (literally), I posted about recently.

This is a repost from my old blog (www.britinbeirut.blogspot.com). It was, to my dismay, one of my most successful posts in terms of views, providing the Internet adage that ‘listicles’ always do well. It ended up being published by ArabAd magazine back in the day.

Anyway, for your enjoyment, the BritinBeirut’s guide to being a foreigner in Lebanon (with a few new additions). I’ve left the links intact, though many of them point to the old site.

A list of thoughts, vaguely aimed at newcomers, after 10’ish years in Lebanon:

1. An expensive TV is worth little when one has pirated cable

2. Always carry a bottle of water with you when entering an elevator … power outages are not your friend

3. Always negotiate the price before entering a service (shared taxi), a basic understanding of numbers helps here, though not always

4. Forget the concept of punctuality, it will do you no good

5. The “I’m a dumb foreigner, help me” line generally works, unless negotiating with a service driver

6. Failing to like parsley, and therefore tabbouleh, marks you out as a devil worshiper

7. Learn to love parsley

8. Unless you’ve played rugby or American football before, you can forget about getting to the front of the welcoming crowd at the airport. Live with it

9. Light, or indeed A/C, is not a requirement for life

10. Before driving rehearse a mantra. “It’s not personal”, or “I’m not a bad person” are good starting points

11. There is a reason why people drive slowly on the highway when it rains, you’ll soon discover it

12. Learn to drink neat spirits, it’ll save you a lot of pain on your first trip to Gemmayze

13. Yes, shots are compulsory

14. The concept of lines, or queues, doesn’t exist, gentle use of elbows is the way forward, if you’re a woman, you can forget to be gentle

15. If you’re European-looking it’s assumed you understand no Arabic. This can be useful. Do not spoil it for the rest of us

16. Visiting General Security or the Ministry of Labour? Bring a book

17. Abandon all principles of “dieting” or “healthy eating” when visiting a home

18. Talk topics: Religion, politics, sex, electricity. Or electricity, sex, politics, religion

19. Foreigners: Do not attempt to talk politics or religion at first; you’ll inevitably get it wrong. You’ll probably get the sex part wrong too … electricity’s your safe ground here

20. Foreigners: Lebanese are the most hospitable people in the world. Learn to love caffeine

21. A dynamo torch is your best friend

22. Foreign men: Gentlemen, Lebanese women are incredible (and, in the main, not due to this). However, they also have male relatives, often hundreds of them and you are not their idea of the ultimate brother-in-law

23. Foreigners: You need only five Arabic words/expressions, to live in Lebanon: anjad, yani, bukhra, inshallah and m’baref

23(b). Krikor rightly suggested the addition of yalla to the list. I’m slightly ashamed I missed it.

23(c). Joe’s nominee is habibi, favorite of everyone from service drivers to the mother-in-law.

24. You need to be able to spell those using numbers where applicable

25. Inshallah means many different things depending on the context. Understand this to avoid disappointment

26. Learning to distinguish between gunfire, fireworks, firecrackers and backfiring cars will help lower your blood pressure

27. It’s acceptable for older people to stare at you in public. It is not acceptable to stare back, it makes you look like a loon

28. Never enter a bank, keep your money under your mattress

29. Memorize when the electricity is going to cut … that way, you’ll only be surprised when they change the schedule, that’s when you’ll thank me for passing on rule No. 2…

30. Almaza is the finest “beer” in the world, this is not up for debate. Quibble with this at your peril and never, never, mention any reservations about the quality of Almaza in public


  1. When attending a demonstration, bring milk, don’t ask why, just bring it
  1. For some reason which I don’t understand, the power cuts less often around government buildings, live next to one
  1. Despite the additions of 961 and Colonel (pronounced the French way), Almaza is still the best beer in the world
  1. Stop reading embassy security updates, it’ll help you sleep better at night, your bartender is the best source of information
  1. Every foreigner who ever comes here has read Pity the Nation, it doesn’t make you an expert

If anyone has anything to add, feel free.

The image is shamelessly pilfered from here.

On Tear Gas, Rubbish and (Live) Rounds…

I, the Brit in Beirut, normally inject a little humor into my posts, however there are some issues that are just too grim to laugh about.

So, yesterday saw protesters tear gassed, corralled and generally treated like the piles of rubbish we’ve recently seen piled so high on Beiruti streets.

For those that don’t know, there’s been an ongoing crisis in Lebanon surrounding the collection of rubbish from the country’s streets. The story is one of gross incompetence and a general lack of forethought, the sort of story that plays often in Lebanon. Other people have covered it in length and I won’t go into it here.

Crowds moving through Beirut's Downtown prior to the explosion of violence.
Crowds moving through Beirut’s Downtown prior to the explosion of violence.

The problem goes deeper than rubbish. The Lebanese government and MP’s have extended their own mandate repeatedly in recent years, meaning that they’re effectively demagogues, unanswerable to the people. This political quagmire has resulted due to the politician’s inability to form a functioning government due, largely, to political sectarianism and unbridled personal ambition.

Lebanese police, many in full riot gear, deployed tear gas against a largely peaceful protest.
Lebanese police, many in full riot gear, deployed tear gas against a largely peaceful protest.

This illegitimate political class, for they are illegitimate if they haven’t actually been voted into office for years, stand above their people. They are no public servants, rather uninterested bystanders to the Lebanese condition.  These are the people who repeatedly fail to address the electricity shortages that plague the country. These are the people who support the repression of equal rights. These are the people who thrive on division and turn Lebanese against Lebanese. These are the people who can’t organize a simple rubbish collection system. These are the people … oh, forget it, the list is too long and my pen hand too sore.

The vast majority of Lebanese are, largely, apathetic. Life is too hard to bother with protest. Protest will change little. The political class relies on this. If Marx said that religion is the opiate of the masses, in Lebanon we might replace religion with the soul-crushing belief that political ‘representatives’ are in fact untouchable, corrupt, and perhaps most disturbingly, uninterested.

The police fired baton rounds (rubber bullets) at protesters in defense of Beirut's governmental buildings.
The police fired baton rounds (rubber bullets) at protesters in defense of Beirut’s governmental buildings.

The treatment of the protesters in and around the iconic Martyr’s Square in Beirut was disgusting. The Minister of the Interior was reportedly ‘on holiday’ and ‘discovered’ what was happening hours after the first shots and canisters were fired. A reported 15,000 people were on the streets of Beirut’s downtown area, an area devoid of life and home to the parliament currently occupied by illegitimate ‘public servants’.

Now more so than ever the revolution is being televised. There can be no hiding, no claims that these protestors represent a minority.

I merely hope that follow up demonstrations occur and continue to occur.

The political sit-in is something of a Lebanese tradition these days.
The political sit-in is something of a Lebanese tradition these days.


TheBritinBeirut wasn’t present. As a foreigner whose work permit has taken approximately a year, much bribery and the deployment of wasta on a thermonuclear level, I cannot risk any confrontation with the police. I regret it deeply, and am proud of my friends and girlfriend who were gassed. I’ll be holding the milk next time around.

I shall leave you with this guide, from the wonderfully-titled Facingteargas.org and a free PDF from the V&A (?!) that’ll tell you how to make a makeshift gas mask.

Hello world!

I’m back.

After a year’s hiatus in London, the BritinBeirut is back.

I try to bring a slightly irreverent take to life in Beirut, one of the world’s most interesting cities.

A long-term ex-pat, I’ve been here for over ten years and have no intention of leaving anytime soon.

I used to blog at http://www.britinbeirut.blogspot.com, but have moved to Word Press.

I’m a copywriter, editor and (allegedly) a journalist. A freelancer, I’ve sworn off working for anyone but myself.

You can follow me on Twitter (@BritinBeirut) and through this blog. Instagram might turn up sooner or later.

Bonus points for anyone who recognizes the photo, as it’s not me.

Contact me directly at thebritinbeirut@gmail.com.