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.