Didn’t your mother ever teach you…

I have touched on the maze of Middle Eastern protocol previously. From a European standpoint, perhaps the most striking difference in social graces is the Lebanese propensity for staring. Yes, the English stare from time to time and for sure the French do. But when you catch them at it, well, they look as if they’ve been caught at it. The evidence being that they look away. They actually stop staring at least until you are looking in the other direction. Not the Lebanese. They stop in their path, swivel their head with the ease of an owl, and quite literally gape. In Europe you can shame a gawker by meeting their gaze. Not here. Facing up to the unabashed stare only means locking eyes with someone until one of you  walks into a lamp post or falls into one of the many potholes in the road. And since the Lebanese are not ashamed to stop everything they are doing to keep up their scrutiny, then you will likely be the one to go from being averagely embarrassed to being inordinately mortified while attracting more rubberneckers in the process.

Now many of the Lebanese are trilingual, studying abroad is common, and you won’t find a family which doesn’t have relatives in at least three other continents. The odd outsider ought not to be so fascinating. Maybe it is more their surprise at seeing foreigners who move to their country by choice, in contrast with the thousands of overlooked immigrants who come to work long hours on low pay to support extended families back home in poorer countries. Why would you come to live here? many ask me astounded. In the next breath they tell me that Lebanon is the best country in the world. They say when something is fragile you appreciate it more.

But it’s not just me they are sizing up, it is everything. The paper seller, the rubbish collector, their neighbour’s cars, their neighbour’s washing line, you name it, they ogle it. Of course, being fair scores high on the stare-worthy register and if you want an ogle-overdose, try conversing publicly with those very immigrants whom many have long since stopped seeing. But even without such incentives, the Lebanese believe that if you look hard enough for a reason to stare then you will doubtless find one. I no longer scoff at the Lebanese girl’s best friend: her fly-eye maybe-I’m-famous sunglasses.

6 Responses to “Didn’t your mother ever teach you…”

  1. mary ann says:

    Interesting. I’ve noticed a distinction. If someone is staring at me I stare back. If it’s a neighbor or a shopkeeper, someone who recognizes me as part of the wallpaper of their world, they hold onto my gaze. But, if it’s a stranger, a loust-about hoodlum whose stare is blatantly objectifying, then it’s another matter. I always see that they’re ashamed. They know they’ve been caught and they’re embarrassed.

  2. Interesting observation Mary Ann, I’ll have to test your theory out!

  3. David says:

    So in India, let’s say someone is across the street and you see they are staring at you.

    If someone stares and you develop an interest in them and give a little tilt to the head or tiny smile around the eyes, more often than not, you will get something nice in return.

    How is it in Lebanon?

    • I’m sure eye contact plays a vital role in all sorts of exchanges here too. It helps enormously to make eye contact while driving for example. Perhaps because it humanises the situation. However, most starers you come across in the street will not have any plans for exchanges (apart from some chat-up lines, as Zoe pointed out). I have female neighbours who stare brazenly but don’t chat, even when I take the initiative, which I find hilarious somehow.

  4. Zoe says:

    Loved this! I travel to Lebanon now and again for work.

    They do love to stare especially the men! I have tried meeting their stares but most of them took it to mean I was “interested” in them. So amusing though when you politely refuse or make excuses, they answer “No problem, it’s ok for me!”. It doesn’t dawn on them it might not be ok for you!

    Ahh the Lebanese, you gotta love them :D

  5. iva says:

    nono…AMMAN JORDAN! number one at starring! even if you’re fully clothed!

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