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Social Class And “Prestige” in Lebanon

October 25, 2010

Whats next for Lebanon?

Social class is usually an issue talked about all over the world, we see the Caste system of India, the power and influence the upper class possesses in the USA and Europe, but we face a much similar problem in Lebanon. Lebanon is placed in a special category of countries, based on it’s budget and income. It is placed, among the 24countries, in the category of ” Upper Middle Income countries” (UMICs). This is an “ok” ranking, considering Lebanon’s size, and most importantly, constant political problems. So as a country we are doing, not too bad.

But lets look deeper, into Lebanon’s society, or what I call, the largest competition in the world. Anyone living in Lebanon, or having visited it, will tell you that to the Lebanese , everything is about social class and prestige. There are a few things I would like to say before I get into this. Firstly, not all Lebanese think or act in this “mind-set”. I am going to make this post in the same format as I would any other compare/contrast article. Compare and contrast what? Canada and Lebanon of course.

Lebanon’s society is primarily focused on the impression they will make, what people will say after, and how everything looked compared to that of others. Example? Well Lebanese weddings are an easy example to talk about. We’ve all been to the weddings with the girl coming out of a shell in her reception, the lavish dancer, and the over-the-top cakes and decorations. Thats okay right? It’s a wedding. But hold on, tune into the conversations we hear after the wedding. Bestfriends of the groom and bride will be the first to say, my wedding will be better, I will do something nobody has seen, and true enough, a month or so later they throw a wedding with more razzle-dazzle and hype than the previous wedding. Tune into the conversations again, this time to the married couples, and you will most likely hear nagging and complaining about how their wedding seemed “cheap” and how they wish they would have changed everything… if of course they could.

But look even deeper, past the silly weddings, into the relationships themselves. What makes a relationship in Lebanon? Today, and sadly enough, it’s not the people that make a relationship what it is, it’s what they HAVE. Yup, “what kind of car does her drive?”, “where does he work, and how much does he make”, and lets not forget the “where does he live, what kind of furniture” and so on. It’s the same thing with men, look at the men who are in a relationship. “Is the girl good looking?”, “what does she dress like, and how hot is she”. See the pattern? Men have turned into means of accessing what girls had no access to before, while women are now eye-candy a man can show off to everyone to prove he’s got a “hot girl”. Simply, Lebanon has shifted from a society based on intellectual, physical, and emotional importance of a person to the importance of assets and “prestige”.

Another thing that we can talk about easily, is the issue of housemaids. Yeah, I understand some people are sick, some people have 3orr wleid (a huge amount of children), or any other issue which would raise the need for a house maid. But look deeper into this aspect of Lebanese society. Many of the maids, especially the ones that are abused, come from families where they are NOT needed, but are there because it’s “prestige” to have a maid… after all the neighbors aren’t better to have a maid, so they should as well.

I sit back, and usually compare Lebanon to Canada. The differences are huge, even within the Lebanese community in Canada. I mean, as Lebanese Canadians we have some of these traits but, Lebanon blows us out of the park. Canadian weddings are small simple, and about the good times your going to have at the event, maids are seen as being not needed, not because they don’t have children or disabilities, but because it’s not about competition.

I personally don’t see this as an issue that has evolved because of the Lebanese people. I see it has happened because the situation Lebanon is in itself. For example, years of constant struggle, with a history of regional prestige prior to the civil war, and most importantly the ideology of Lebanese nationality, where authors fed and continue to feed us, with the idea we are superior to others in the Middle East have all contributed to the personalities we see today. Also, one can look at the  economic situation of most people in the country plays a huge role. With limited pay and work, and an unlimited supply of pride, the idea of looking like we are living a lavishly and in the same way as upper-class society, we as Lebanese, once again fall victim to the the extremely dynamic society of Lebanon, taking the roles in this extremely large play or performance set out for us.

It could also be the fact of that by nature Arabs, and the idea of Arabianism naturally, and historically, have been associated with showing off and trying to look better than the person next to you (usually seen as an opponent). However that is different. Ancient Arabs used to showoff with extravagant displays of poetry, immense amounts of knowledge, and their power through means that can be used over and over again. Today, it’s displayed by the size of your paycheck, the latest edition of the high-end car, where you got your nose done,  and the place you shop. A sad shift to be honest. I remember the relationships, the business, and dealings our Lebanese ancestors used to deal with, and HOW they dealt with them. I remember a woman was measured by her knowledge, her ability to endure the pressures of a marriage, the difficulties associated with bearing and raising children, and the stress in working along side of her husband to survive and live well. A man was measured by how much wisdom he had, his ability to make decisions, provide for his family, and generosity. I find it degrading, for both sexes, that we have shifted to such a materialistic, and extremely selfish mentality. If we, today, are like this, I can only wonder what the children of tomorrow will be like. Maybe, for Lebanon’s sake and not the sake of “prestige”, they will lean towards the traditional traits that defined a man or woman… not the degrading ones of today.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 25, 2010 8:23 pm

    I think the fact that the Lebanese have nothing to do but show off is a problem but then it can be fun to an extent. If dealt with properly. As a Lebanese-Canadian, I love looking good, dressing up, being extravagent, going out of my way to look good, spend more than I need to etc. and its ALWAYS blamed on my Lebaneseness. When I’m not like that, it’s my Canadian side taking over.

    Also, people generally from back home who come here bring that mentality with them. They want to judge the wedding, they want it to be huge, they want theirs to be better. You can never make the Lebanese happy with anything. Minhib to criticize.

    While Canada is also about simplicity, I think that isn’t always a positive thing. I mean look around you … some people are just gross. They don’t care AT ALL.

    I think what the Lebanese need is a balance. We need to create lines and boundaries. School isn’t a catwalk, shopping isn’t either. People don’t want to see you wearing 10 pounds of make up and high heel 3al courniche. There’s also something called work attire and club attire. We need to define what is okay and what isn’t. People think they are being “western” iza libso their club attire to work, and that they will get married if they wear their 10 pounds of makeup to the courniche. And that girls will get jealous while they shop or go to school.

    These same ideas apply to men. Maybe sometimes in other things like cars etc. Anyway, we could rant about this all day. But really neither Canadians or Lebanese are right in their approach everything in life is about balance.

  2. October 25, 2010 11:33 pm

    I agree with every word in this post! In fact, my cousin got married 2 weeks ago, he’s not the kind of person who would go all extravagant and mega produce his wedding….All the reactions he got to his simple wedding were since the wedding was different and not over the top that it came out to be one of the best and most intimate, the real way a wedding should be!
    The setting did most of the decoration at the Al Bustan Hotel gardens in Beit Mery, where there was a chapel and a lunch awaiting everyone! It was so simple, so fun, so intimate and small that it made all the difference.

    And nobody cared about the stupid details, not his friends, not family….we were all having a great time!

    when it comes to relationships, I understand how most of the people will get into a relationship with the things that define the other person…it sad and a true reality!
    On another note, look at the roads in the morning….what would you notice are the massive amount of cars with one single person in each…I don’t think I need to say more…

    With no notion of public transportation, growing beyond the fake image, the look on the outside and the corrupted inner characters, Lebanon still needs a lot of work on the social/human level as well. As Mariam mentioned its all about balance.

  3. jennifer permalink
    October 26, 2010 12:21 am

    gr8 post as usual i agreer with mariam th key to everything is balance which none of the lebanese have. and u know the saddest thing is that most of these people have no money to show off they put on debts on them just to “show off” ya khayeh ma3ak 3a rasna showoff ad ma badak…. AKHH…. u know what they say about the Lebanese byedayan ta yetzayan eh well so true!

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