Beirut is a fabulous city that blends the best of Europe with its Middle Eastern roots, and adds a flair all its own. As you walk down the streets dodging old Mercedes taxis and brand-new BMWs and SUVs, you can feel the pulse of a city that takes time to enjoy life even as it keeps speed with the latest fashion or business trends. I don’t like the American way of life that barely squeezes in time for a meal and offers you coffee to go. In the evenings you can sit down for a leisurely meal of Lebanese mezza washed down with arak, a clear licorice liqueur that, when mixed with water, becomes cloudy. The mezza are small plates of delicious appetizers, from babaganouj (smoky eggplant dip) to fattousch (Middle Eastern leaves, tomato, cucumber and mint). The Mishlawis took me to an elegant restaurant in the newly developed downtown where I sampled different types of hummus, little fried fish, and kibbeh nayeh (raw meat paté). But you can also get a quick sage or manesh from a sidewalk vendor to take home or even eat on the street, although thankfully the American habit of eating on the run has not yet infested the area.
As you stroll down the shop-lined streets of Hamra or the student area of Rue Bliss, elegant Arabic script interspersed with French and English store names tempt you to try out the latest fashions or unwind by smoking a narjilah or drinking mint tea. Nearly all the people here are bi- or trilingual; everyone is friendly. The very first night I arrived I called a friend of a friend, who promptly introduced me to her friend. By Friday I had met ten people who had volunteered to show me around, help me find housing, or introduce me to people I should meet. This kindness and willingness to help, without even being asked, is one of my favorite things about Beirut. When I lived in France I struggled to make friends in a society where friendship is a guarded commodity. My hosts have taken me under their wings and treat me like family. The warmth expressed by Beirutis has made the transition into an unknown place effortless.
Posted By Courtney Radsch (Lebanon)
Posted Jun 13th, 2003