I’m trying to imagine how the friends I had while in college would have reacted if I turned up some Saturday evening with – horror of horrors – my parents in tow. Here trying to socialise with one’s parents at the same time as one’s peers is by no means the pariah-making choice it is in the Anglo-Saxon world. For a start the middle-aged accord as much importance to a social life as their offspring, so kids tag along with their parents more often than the other way round. The lack of inter-generational intolerance is refreshing.
On the other hand, I sometimes wonder how those born during the war years, who survived bomb blasts, shelters and shortages, can have grown up so lacking in autonomy. Of course I’m talking about a specific demographic but there are enough of them that they cannot be ignored.
A friend of mine says, tongue only slightly in cheek, that in the morning he asks his wife what colour tie to wear and his mum what sandwiches to pack for a day out. Which is totally feasible since both sets of in-laws live in the same building as him. That’s nothing; on the apron strings scale that rates as ‘responsible’. Many men (and some women who have yet to meet their Prince Charming) continue to live with their parents well into their thirties, being served three feasts a day, with their washing, ironing, shopping and cleaning all taken care of by doting parents who ask nothing but to spend as many hours in the day as possible with their semi-domesticated pet-progeny. Even those who go abroad for a few years often move back in with their parents.
There are various factors which could explain this, apart from sheer sloth. First there’s the oft-cited culprit of the booming property market. Prices have more than doubled in the last couple of years, and in addition the small flats and studios which are the usual home for young people in Paris, London or New York, are very rare. Even if money is no object, it’s hard to find a one-person apartment. It’s as if the property ladder started somewhere above your head.
On the other hand, with properties often spacious, there is no pressing need to leave the confines of one’s parents place. Once a guy’s sisters are all married off, he even has room to have all his mates stay over. His parents’ maid will make the beds up in a jiffy.
The importance accorded to one’s make of car could also have a major influence. It’s normal to live with your parents, but driving around in anything less than a BMW is just not cool. In contrast, most young people in the UK would rather be able to drive their friends over to their bedsit in a Fiesta than take them for tea with their mum in a new convertible. And if they do live at home while working they tend to contribute to housework and expenses rather than save for the latest model.
Another factor is the need to be with people. And for many, apparently no need to ever be alone. But then again, Anglo-Saxons don’t move out because they want to be alone. More often it’s because they want a place to invite their own friends. Less inclined to socialise with their parents, they constantly look outside the family for companionship and often each sibling – let alone the parents – has their own distinct circle of friends with little or no overlap.
The Lebanese do not have this sense of exclusiveness either with friends or homes. There is a feeling of common property, available to all the family, and likewise social circles are broader, including family and visitors who pass through. That doesn’t mean they don’t have their “best friends”; indeed even adult Lebanese will usually point these out to you explicitly at every opportunity, while unashamedly introducing the non-best version by saying: “This is Rami; he’s the brother of my best friend.” But overall people, like personal property and other resources such as time, are pooled.
Has this kind of practical and financial dependency of young adults always been common in the region? Has it increased because people start their first job later, studying and then waiting for a career in line with their degree rather than a bill-paying job? Maybe I’m taking this from the wrong angle and the struggles of the war years and the fear of losing what is precious are actually the cause of parents’ pampering and reluctance to see their kids grow up.
While the extended childhood some men indulge in is rather ludicrous, the genuine enjoyment of family time throughout adolescence and beyond is, on the other hand, charming. Far more appealing than generations of teenagers who need to escape their family to relax. A happy few even strike the balance between fleeing their parents and failing to sever the umbilical cord.