The small suburb neighborhood of Ain Al Rommaneh is one of the few places in Beirut that I could see myself living. The city truly fascinates me, but in the same way is repulsive. It is hedonistic to the max, with Porsches and Ferraris and Billboards for liquor proclaiming, “Plastic Surgery made me Fabulous.” Its beach clubs line the water front closed off from the public and filled with bronze Cross wearing 20 -30 year olds drinking in a bar in the pool dancing to techno with a sea of beach chairs flowing into Mediterranean. It is an isolated reality drowning in money that I have nothing against, but cannot feel fully comfortable in. Where as Ain Al Rommaneh is a cozy little suburb with activity on the streets, shoe repairmen, old men playing cards, children running around. It all seemed more real and alive, more enjoyable and soothing. Everyone I met was happy and talkative, as well as more helpful than wanting of your money, which is the usual case being a foreigner. There is however one issue with the area, Beirut and Lebanon in general; it is horrible for learning Arabic. Leaving aside the differences in Lebanese Arabic, the amount of polyglots makes it impossible to speak Arabic, I begin in Arabic, they ask if I speak English or French and if I continue still in Arabic they just choose one to respond in. If it wasnt for my experience in Syria I would say it was due to my poor Arabic, but it really is that they just all speak English and French near fluently. There are of course some that don’t, or that enjoy speaking Arabic to you, especially if you speak a little Lebanese, but the rest just switch to English or French and go on with it. I even had one sandwich seller get mad at me, saying to me in English after I ordered in Arabic “Why don’t you speak English to me.”
Although I do have to say that Lebanon is great for my French. The one semester I took in college has paid off. There has been quite a few times were they just assume because I am an “Ehjnabi” (foreigner, a word you’ll hear twenty times a day) I don’t speak Arabic and so they speak to me in French. When it has happened I have understood and just speak back in Arabic, because although my comprehension has improved my French speaking abilities have not. One funny example of French being used was as we were walking to the National Museum of Beirut. We needed to ask directions and I joked about asking the Army guy sitting behind a giant machine gun on a tank on the street corner. We decided that would probably not go over so well, so as we walked along the side walk, I looked to my right at a wall which was shoulder height with trees behind it, and to my surprise a soldier was hiding in the trees decked out in a his gear and rifle, I think more because he surprised me than for any other reason I quickly asked him in Arabic where the Museum was. He popped out of the bushes smiling and happily told us in French which direction to go. After being thoroughly startled and laughing at the situation we joked about how we compromised his position just to find a museum.
One last situation that I find funny and slightly frustrating is the influence of the backpack. There have been multiple occasions where I have needed to ask directions, so I either go into a store or ask a random person. One thing that is great is here they always go out to show you, they never just tell you half-heartedly. So after having a conversation in Arabic about where I need to go and what I am looking for, they proceed to the sidewalk to show me, and when they see the back pack they suddenly go mute, using only hand motions and small grunts, which I find slightly amusing, only to have me say in Arabic the directions they have been signing to which they say “oh oh” and continue in Arabic. It’s the strangest thing only because we’ve already spoken in Arabic, but there is such a strong feeling that no foreigners can speak Arabic that they just stop.