Despite that we locals keep saying we want to leave the country as soon as possible, once we have relocated and gone on with our new life, we start feeling the void left by the things we left behind. Mind you, these are not necessarily the big things -maybe because we knew we would miss them (or not?) and have prepared ourselves to deal with it.
We settle down and start doing what we Lebanese do the best: adapting. And then…. the little things of back home, which we had thought insignificant, start popping up in our mind when the least we expect them, and here come the sighs and the tears and the clamps on our throats.
If you are among those who have never relocated, (or you intend to), here are 10 typical Lebanese things our fellow emigrants had revealed missing once in their new life.
You might be lucky to end in a foreign city that doesn’t lack Lebanese food. You’ll get to take these occasional missing-Lebanon‘s trips to a Lebanese restaurant for some fattoush or mtabal or Ma2ane2 or tabouleh, or kabab, or all of them. Yet, you’ll come to know that it won’t be enough to make it up to you.
You miss the gathering of friends and family around a table of mezza, the cheerful vibes, the mood around, the Lebanese music in the background, the talks and the jokes… and your throat suddenly tightens and that food morsel in your mouth don’t taste so Lebanese to you anymore.
Now, that fresh Knefe cheese in a warm Kaak drizzled with syrup is hard to find in foreign countries. And if you do by any miracle, it doesn’t taste the same as in Lebanon, and definitely not like the ones we relish in on a Sunday morning back home. Flash backward: You’ll be rushing to that place all excited for the knefe bil kaak, envisioning the smooth cheese melting in your mouth with the soft Kaak… that combination of flavors and textures… and the memories go on streaming in your vision… And you can’t wait.
You don’t even wait to pay before taking the first (big) bite and the second, and you can almost weep with disappointment as you take your wallet out. You walk out of the place in a state of numbness. You get into your car and wait for your eyesight to clear. You glance at the knefe discarded on the side seat and sigh, and sigh again. You miss home.
That, if you are lucky enough to have found knefe cheese somewhere in your new city. And if you don’t, well… You just have to wait for your next year trip back to Lebanon.
If you haven’t got it yet, let me then remind you here how much our Lebanese food and life in Lebanon are osmotically interrelated. You know that heavenly aroma drifting up to your bedroom window from the bakery nearby and waking you up in the morning? Or permeating the alley as you pass by a bakery in your home city? Yes, that! The baking manakeesh every morning of Lebanon’s weekdays!
It takes really just a silly unexpected trigger when abroad to bring up that memory. It immerses you in visions, you can almost hear a familiar female voice saying loudly “sabahek ya jara,” almost feel again the fretting of heading to an exam at school, and you see them in that alley that somehow resembles yours back home, the students going to school, old A3mo Fahmi in the corner with his shisha….
And you might almost weep, missing these manakeesh moments we take for granted at home. The Lebanese Manakeesh with its own cultural identity, its own emotional link to our roots; that, my friend, you will come to miss.
Only in Lebanon, you get to receive best wishes of healthy bliss for showering or shaving or having a haircut or a hairdo. When you think about it, it’s kind of weird but nicely so. It is weird because Na3iman actually means bliss and also cured, and that could stipulate that you are being told “you’ve been cured for having had a shower or a clean shave or a haircut (!!!).
Who cares anyway from where it originated? The important is that we do expect it from everyone around us once we step out of the shower or the barbershop or the hairdresser salon. And we kind of get secretly hurt if someone forgets to say it. It means to us.
And since Na3iman has no equivalent in any other language, or you might be probably living alone in that other country, you end up looking at yourself in the mirror and saying it to yourself while so missing your family back home.
If you already moved abroad, you have acquired for sure a pretty good idea (so is your wallet) about the costs of manicure, waxing, hair styling, haircut, and shaving, outside Lebanon. Past the first two months (if you make it so far), you will forgo that typical Lebanese characteristic of personal aesthetic focus. You will, otherwise you will have to cut down on your groceries or your fuel and start taking the public bus.
You will be missing your weekly or bi-weekly visits to your former beauty salon in Lebanon. And you being a true Lebanese, clinging eagerly onto that particular aesthetic hallmark of ours whatever what, you will make it a sacred point to learn some new personal skills in front of your bathroom mirror; while sighing and fussing at how tough life is.
You think you are moving to a more advanced country and that all will be easily available to you with a phone call or an online order. You will probably get that, sure, but don’t count on a same-day delivery right at your door and at any hour, as you get in Lebanon.
You know the drill in Lebanon with the convenient services we now have. Need urgent medicine? Craving Mcdonald’s after midnight? Ran out of toilet papers? Need to rent a dress at the last minute? Fancy a ready-prepared shisha at home? Your order is delivered to you no matter what time it is.
Sundays should be named family days in Lebanon. Oh, and not only family days, but also BBQ days. Having Mashewe each Sunday is a tradition for almost every Lebanese family. You’ll miss sitting in your family’s old house with your relatives that you secretly gossip about with your mom. Not only will you miss this, but also your grandmother constantly telling you to re-fill your plate.
One of the most amusing and convenient aspects of living in Lebanon in summer is having the easy-reach to the beach to spend the day. When you wake up on a sunny day with no particular plan, you just hit the beach without the need to plan ahead and no concern about the distance.
Unless you are moving to an island overseas or are planning to get yourself a beach house as your new residence (good luck with that!), you are going to miss the proximity of our beaches to wherever town or city you call home in Lebanon.
#9Your friends fighting over the bills in restaurants
We all know that Lebanese men LOVE to fight over the bills in restaurants. Even if they don’t really want to pay or have enough money to cover the extra friends who joined in uninvited, they fight anyway. It’s a matter of financial male status’ honor.
That, my friend, you will be missing abroad, especially if you got to secretly enjoy so many times being too often on the side of the ones getting covered.
Branching out from #9 and its cultural and patriarchal aspect, we all know that Lebanese men can’t possibly accept on themselves to have their date or their girlfriend pay her share of the bills in their outings.
If you are a girl moving abroad to Europe or North America, get ready to cover the bills of your own outings. Gender equality of these societies, my friend, starts there. You will be missing being treated like a princess with your drinks and meals paid by your date, and even the guys in the group fighting over these bills of yours.
Sure, you might get enough from the cultural attitudes of your Lebanese fellows at times and ache for your space, even dream of an isolated island somewhere in Timbuktu or South Keeling. But they are the very first you’ll get to miss once you settle down abroad.
Need some help unpacking your too many shipped boxes? Want to inquire about an interconnection or “investigate” someone you just met? (Yes, we do that in Lebanon). Your car broke and need urgent help? Forget about your Lebanese instant habit of calling a friend or two who will show up at once.
There will be no more knocking at your neighbor’s door, for example, for “two spoons of sugar” you so need for your morning coffee, or for an onion you suddenly realized missing through your cooking. You will be also missing these knocks on your door from your genuinely concerned neighbors or cousins checking on you when they didn’t see you for 2-3 days. That typically Lebanese spontaneity to help or to be present for you, my friend, you will be missing it the most!
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