Being Lebanese, means being special. It seems to me that there is a cultural norm to make your best efforts to stand out from the crowd, to be different from everyone else. In Scandinavia it is all about the opposite – you strive to fit in, to do and be just like the others.
Perhaps this contrast is why I find the Lebanese bling factor so fascinating. I am trying not to be surprised anymore, but it gets me every time. A few selected examples:
Like fancy cars? Lebanon is your place. The number of luxury cars in the streets is impressive. Recently, I saw big commercials along the highway with a photo of a red (was it a Bentley?) cabriolet next to a swimming pool, with the tagline “Total attention seeker”. Even more, some are willing to pay thousands of dollars extra to get a special number plate for the car. The fewer numbers, the more you pay. It is a great way to show of your wasta too. The Lebanese do not shy away from having a bright color on the car either – I saw a golden one once…! Seriously?
Going to the beach? I am glad to inform you that in this country, jewelry is NEVER inappropriate. The bigger the better. A big necklace and dangling earrings are a must. Oh, and full makeup and high heels. Yes, on the beach. I am not kidding.
Going to the movies? Why not pay a bit more to access a special entrance, have a dedicated couch for you and your date, a blanket even, and a personal waiter from whom you can order sushi and champagne during the film. Prove the point that you are special and busy by arriving a little bit late, so that you get properly noticed.
Like plastic membership cards? You will love it here. Sparkling loyalty cards are available for everything – valet parking, restaurants, clubs, special customer service etc. You even have the option to get a “golden membership” at the supermarket, meaning you can bypass the line and get a little bit faster service than the others.
Going shopping? In Beirut you can find every luxury designer ever born on this planet. The more expensive and exclusive the shop, the better. Costs a fortune, but who cares when there are guys in smoking opening the door for you? Walking the streets in downtown feels like being in a fashion show, in which I am soooo last year (or century).
Going to a wedding? The PERFECT opportunity to shine like a star. It does not matter that you are not the bride, you can be a princess anyway. It’s a gala moment, and you spend a lot of time and money to make yourself look, feel and smell the very best. It’s an experience you won’t forget, I promise.
Decorating for Christmas? I have seen photos of Christmas trees where you cannot see anything green, it is simply overloaded with balls and ribbons and glittery stuff. Also, every city and village with respect for itself has a giant tree in the main square. It is specially designed of course, often you may also enter it to admire it from the inside. There is usually a ceremony when they light it up the first time – with live music and fireworks as if it is New Years Eve. A happening not to be missed.
Going to the hairdresser? In Lebanon, it is about so much more than actually cutting your hair. It is about style and perfection. Everyone has a personal hair stylist, and the name of the place (and the area where the salon is located) means A LOT. No place is any good if they do not also offer makeup services, and manicure/pedicure of course. Most women are actually friends with their hair stylists and beauty specialists, as they go to get themselves “fixed” every single week. No joke.
I could go on…
But, let me instead underline that these examples in no way describe everyone or every place in Lebanon. I know plenty of Lebanese people who are really down-to-earth and satisfied with the small and simple things. Perhaps it is just me and the rather low levels of bling factor where I come from, but sometimes I think its madness. As long as you have a choice whether to join the insanity, I have to admit that I just love it…!