A Country of Contrasts
Lebanon is a country of contrasts. The warm Mediterranean waters provide a juxtaposition to the cool mountain air as you head inland. Street food joints can often be found adjacent to top-notch luxurious dining venues (case in point: Malek el Croissant is just a few steps away from La Table Fine in Souk Jounieh). Beautiful new high-rises soar above century-old facades (notably in Achrafieh).
Here are more contrasts whose explanations will send your mind spiraling:
- Long the epitome of chaos and poor organization, Lebanon is bizarrely the only country I know that requires seat assignments at the movie theater. The usher takes your ticket stub, ceremoniously rips it along the perforated mark, and leads you to your seat. In the Western world, it's simply first-come, first-serve.
- Elsewhere around the globe, Pizza Hut is the symbol of cardboard-box, fast food pizza. In Lebanon though, Pizza Hut has dine-in outlets where the waiter takes your order at the table and serves you by delicately arranging a pie slice in your porcelain plate and equipping you with a fork and knife. When we were kids, every trip to Saida in the south involved a pit stop at Pizza Hut.
- Most branches of Liban Post look like crowded third-world airport terminals, and yet Liban Post queues its customers using take-a-number ticket dispensers. Believe it or not, they're very keen on their system.
- Pool and beach don't necessarily add up to a carefree, relaxing séance in Lebanon. Don't get caught in the pool without your "bonnet de natation" or else the maitre nageur might fish you out of the water. A head of hair must neatly be tucked inside the spandex hair cap because no one wants to swim in a sea of hairy debris. Rules, rules.
- The world may have a shortage of health care staff, but not in Lebanon. Pharmacies are a dime a dozen, a mere 300m apart in some cities! Best part? Medicine is over-the-counter, and the pharmacist often plays doctor, recommending a drug or ointment based on your symptoms. In the USA, on the other hand, a pharmacist's role is limited to filling a prescription.
- Sometimes you feel like you're living among animals in Lebanon--even animals can be more civilized-- particularly on the road where people toss their manners out the window. But pull up to a gas station and you're suddenly royalty, as the attendant zips to your car, pumps your gas, and even squeegees your windshields, all as you sit proudly on your throne. How's that for special treatment?
- The "mecanique" experience is often more ruthless than an equivalent smog check anywhere else in the world. The staff are uber fussy about visibly-painted license plate numbers, all head and rear lights working, and absolutely no smoke billowing out of the exhaust. It's amazing anyone passes, really, but then once you re-merge with local traffic, you're surrounded by a swarm of dilapidated, polluting, and plate-less junkyard cars. How can that be?
What other contrasts can you spot?
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