Names related

rival baptismal sites where John the Baptist is said to have preached: Israel (left) and Jordan (right)

Many of the distinctions between Anglo-Saxon culture and that of the Middle East come down to individualism on one side and communal living on the other. This is typified in the most basic prop of social interaction and key element of first impressions, the names we give during introductions.

The British – and even more so the Americans – work hard to find an individual name for their children. This name will, they feel, express the child’s uniqueness and help it to be viewed by others as an individual.

So they can’t call it Joe – there’s already an Uncle Joe. They can’t call it Emma – there will be three Emma’s in its class at school. They can’t call it Jonathan because people will shorten it to Jon and there are so many Johns. They can’t call it a whole range of wonderful names simply because they are just too common. Common is the worst insult for a name. They want their kid to be special. But not too special. Not strange.

It’s a hard balance to strike. It is surely easier to have a regional shortlist of top names, all of which – within the given community – are beyond criticism, true classics. Names like  Read the rest of this entry »

Lebanese idol

first-floor Mary grotto lit by electric bulb

Over the past month of boisterous football frenzy, as Lebanese political flags were, for once, pushed into the background by the colours of other nations, a common refrain has been circling: if only the Lebanese could differ in politics as good-naturedly as they do in sport. Convoys of cars full of flag-waving, face-painted fans choke the streets after every victory, however minor, leaving passers-by deafened but indulgent, telling one other, So long as its not politics.

And yet, such comments are only heard because of similarities in the behaviour of football supporters and party advocates. For a start, the sheer number and the variety of flags in both domains are remarkable, and Lebanon’s fractured political scene could be described as a never-ending round of 16, save for the ever-changing alliances.

Both worlds involve the idea of claiming territory – not only by emblazoning their homes throughout the rivalry but also by overrunning the streets to mark a victory. A win on the pitch is celebrated with fireworks and sometimes celebratory gunfire; a political triumph gets the same reaction with the proportions reversed.

In reality, these two domains not only look alike but actually share a common basis: a deep-seated desire to  Read the rest of this entry »

Masses at mass

rainbow chicks

Easter is officially over. For five days, religious chants filled the supermarkets while shoppers – in priestly frocks, nuns’ habits and hijabs – stacked their trolleys high for a marathon long weekend. Fireworks went off at churches in irregular spurts from early morning through to the wee hours. I wondered if they were lit in return for donations, just like candles but more showy. The accountant sent a text message saying Qam el Messih haqan (in truth Christ has risen) and crowds streamed to and from mass constantly, carrying with them whiffs of incense.

But now the Pepsi stalls which sprang up outside cemeteries are gone and the white shrouds on the large crosses pinned to lampposts  Read the rest of this entry »