Lebanese Culture Essay Titles

The culture of Lebanon and the Lebanese people emerged from various civilizations over thousands of years. It was home to the Phoenicians and was subsequently conquered and occupied by the Assyrians, the Greeks, the Romans, The Persians, the Arabs, the Crusaders, the Ottoman Turks and the French. This variety is reflected in Lebanon's diverse population, composed of different religious groups, and features in the country's festivals, musical styles, literature, cuisine of Lebanon and architecture of Lebanon. Tourism in Lebanon is popular with periods of interruption during conflict.

Despite the religious and denominational diversity of the Lebanese, they “share an almost common culture”.[1] Based on Article 11 of the Constitution of Lebanon states: "Arabic is the official national language. A law determines the cases in which the French language is to be used." The spoken Lebanese is the language used in public which is a hybrid of the languages of the above-mentioned cultures, Food, music, and literature are deep-rooted “in wider Mediterranean and Levantine norms”.[1]

The hilly Mediterranean Geography of Lebanon has played a role in shaping the history of Lebanon and its culture. Archaeology of Lebanon is conducted to explore the area's past.


By the turn of the 20th century, Beirut was vying with Cairo to be the major center for modern Arab thought, with many newspapers, magazines and literary societies. Additionally, Beirut became a thriving epicenter of Armenian culture with varied productions[2] that was exported to the Armenian diaspora.

Visual arts[edit]

Mustafa Farroukh was one of Lebanon's most prominent painters of the 19th century. Formally trained in Rome and Paris, he exhibited in venues from Paris to New York to Beirut over his career.[3]

Contemporary art[edit]

Contemporary art started in Beirut immediately after the end of the civil war (1975-1991).

Many contemporary artists are currently active, such as Walid Raad, a contemporary media artist currently residing in New York.[4]

Two contemporary art exhibition centers, the Beirut Art Center and the Beirut Exhibition Center (does not exist anymore) in the BIEL area reflect the vibrant Lebanese contemporary art scene. These two centers are intended to host exhibitions and are a must in the world of international as well as local contemporary art. Many art galleries also add to the local art scene, exhibiting the works of artists such as Ayman Baalbaki,[5]Akram Zaatari,[6] Marwan Sahmarani,[7]Nadim Asfar,[8]Lamia Joreige,[9] Jean Marc Nahas,[10][11]Ricardo Mbarkho,[12] Mansour El-Habre,[13]Anita Toutikian and many others. These galleries are run by gallerists such as Saleh Barakat[14] (Agial), Galerie Mark Hachem,[15] Fadi Mogabgab,[16] Nadine Begdache (Galerie Janine Rubeiz),[17] Odile Mazloum (Galerie Alwane).[18]

Located in Foch Street in the Solidere area, FFA Private Bank is home to many temporary exhibitions of contemporary local artists as well as to a permanent display of paintings by Lebanese artists (Sahmarani, Baalbaki, Hanibal Srouji...) or foreign artists such as Fabienne Arietti's "Nasdaq".[19] A Jean Dubuffet's huge sculpture can also be seen when visiting the atrium of Bank Audi Plaza, located in a beautiful contemporary building designed by Kevin Dash. By Strolling through the streets of the city one can find some interesting works such as sculptures of Michel Basbous in the Bank of Lebanon street.

Ashkal Alwan, the Lebanese association for plastic arts and a platform for the creation and exchange of artistic practices. It was founded by Christine Tohmé, Marwan Rechmaoui, Rania Tabbara, Mustapha Yamout and Leila Mroueh. Initially, Ashkal Alwan promoted and introduced the work of artists who have been engaged in critical art practices within the context of post-war Lebanon. The Home Works Forum is a multidisciplinary platform that takes place in Beirut, Lebanon about every other year. it has evolved into one of the most vibrant platforms for research and exchange on cultural practices in the region and beyond.

Umam Documentation & Research runs an exhibition space (The Hangar) located at Haret Hreik, in Beirut's Southern suburb with extensive events.

In the field of digital art, the artist Ricardo Mbarkho investigates the transformation of cultural industries into creative industries.

In the field of photography, the Arab Image Foundation has a collection of +4000 photographs from Lebanon and the Middle East. The photographs can be viewed in a research center and various events and publications have been produced in Lebanon and worldwide to promote the foundation.


Main article: Architecture of Lebanon

Architecture in Lebanon includes the legacies of various occupying powers including the Romans, Phoenicians, Ottomans and French, as well as post independence developments.

When the Ottomans exiled Fakhreddine to Tuscany, Italy in 1613, he entered an alliance with the Medicis. Upon his return to Lebanon in 1618, he began modernizing Lebanon. He developed a silk industry, upgraded olive-oil production, and brought with him numerous Italian engineers who began the construction of mansions and civil building throughout the country.[20] The cities of Beirut and Sidon were especially built in the Italianate style.[21]

The Italianate, specifically, Tuscan, influence on architecture in Lebanon dates back to the Renaissance when Fakhreddine, the first Lebanese ruler who truly unified Mount Lebanon with its Mediterranean coast executed an ambitious plan to develop his country.

The influence of these buildings, such as the ones in Deir el Qamar, influenced building in Lebanon for many centuries and continues to the present time. For example, streets like Rue Gouraud continues to have numerous, historic houses with Italianate influence.[22] Buildings like the Nicolas Sursock mansion on Rue Sursock, which is today a major museum, attest[citation needed] to the continuous influence of Italianate architecture in Lebanon.


See also: Arabic literature

Khalil Gibran (1883–1931), who was born in Bsharri, is particularly known for his book The Prophet (1923), which has been translated into more than twenty different languages.[23] Several contemporary Lebanese writers have also achieved international success; including Elias Khoury, Amin Maalouf, Hanan al-Shaykh, and Georges Schehadé.


See also: Arabic poetry

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Popular culture[edit]


Main article: Music of Lebanon

Music is pervasive in Lebanese society.[24] While traditional folk music remains popular in Lebanon, modern music reconciling Western and traditional Arabic styles, pop, and fusion are rapidly advancing in popularity.[25] Radio stations feature a variety of music, including traditional Lebanese, classical Arabic, Armenian[26] and modern French, English, American, and Latin tunes.[27] Prominent traditional musicians include Fairuz, an icon during the civil war, Sabah Melhem Barakat, Wadih El Safi, Majida El Roumi, and Najwa Karam who built an international audience for the genre.[24] Historical figure and Lebanese musical pioneer Lydia Canaan is listed in the catalog of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's Library and Archives in Cleveland, Ohio, USA[28][29] as the first rock star of the Middle East.[29][30][31][32][33] Canaan's unique style fuses Middle-Easternquarter notes and microtones with anglophone rock. Marcel Khalife, a musician who blends classical Arab music with modern sounds, boasts immense[34] popularity for his politically charged lyrics.[24][25] Distinguished pop artists include Nancy Ajram, Haifa Wehbe, Fadl Shaker, Elissa, and Mika.[24]

According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, Lebanon's music industry is growing and could attain leading status in the region.[35] Lebanese performers are celebrated throughout the Arab World,[36] and with the notable exception of Egypt enjoy increasing regional popularity.[35] Rising demand for Arabic music outside Western Asia has provided Lebanese artists with a small but significant global audience. However, widespread piracy continues to inhibit the music industry's growth.[35]


Main article: Media of Lebanon

Lebanon is not only a regional center of media production but also the most liberal and free in the Arab world.[37] According to Press freedom's Reporters Without Borders, "the media have more freedom in Lebanon than in any other Arab country".[38] Despite its small population and geographic size, Lebanon plays an influential role in the production of information in the Arab world and is "at the core of a regional media network with global implications".[39]

After independence, Beirut emerged as the epicenter of publishing in the Arab world, characterized by free and liberal media and literary scenes.[40] Lebanon's press became a huge industry despite the country's small size and has remained a haven for Arabic publishing.[41] The establishment of modern printing presses and sophisticated book distribution channels made Beirut a regional publishing leader, and gave the Lebanese publishers a dominant role in Arab publishing.[42] Lebanon hosts annually two important regional publishing events, the Beirut Book Fair and the Beirut Francophone Book Fair.[43]

Television in Lebanon was introduced in 1959, with the launch of two privately owned stations, CLT and Télé Orient that merged in 1967 into Télé Liban.[44] Lebanon has ten national television channels, with most being affiliated or supported by certain political parties or alliances.

Lebanon was one of the first countries in the Arabic-speaking world to introduce internet and Beirut's newspapers were the first in the region to provide readers with web versions of their newspapers. By 1986, three newspapers from Lebanon were online, Al Anwar, Annahar, and Assafir, and by 2000, more than 200 websites provided news out of Lebanon.[39]


Main article: Cinema of Lebanon

Cinema of Lebanon, according to film critic and historian, Roy Armes, was the only other cinema in the Arabic-speaking region, beside Egypt's, that could amount to a national cinema.[45] Cinema in Lebanon has been in existence since the 1920s, and the country has produced over 500 films,[46] some of which are:

  • West Beirut – by Ziad Doueiri, released in 1998, received the Prix François Chalais at the Directors' fortnight of the Cannes Film Festival (1998)
  • Mabrouk Again – by Hany Tamba, released in 2000
  • The Kite– by Randa Chahal, released in 2003, received many prestigious awards including the Silver Lion, Prix de la paix- Gillo Pontecorvo and Prix de la Lanterne Magique at the Venice Film Festival (2003)
  • After Shave – by Hany Tamba, released in 2005, received the 2006 French César Award for best foreign short film
  • Bosta – by Philippe Aractingi, released in 2005
  • Under the Bombs – by Philippe Aractingi, released in 2006
  • Caramel – starring and directed by Nadine Labaki, released in 2007
  • Where Do We Go Now? – starring and directed by Nadine Labaki, released in 2011, received the Cadillac People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival (2011)


Main article: Theatre of Lebanon

Lebanese theatre has its origin in passion plays. The musical plays of Maroun Naccache from the mid-1800s are considered the birth of modern Arab theatre.[47] Some scholars like Abdulatif Shararah divided theatre in Lebanon into three phases: translations of European plays, Arab nationalism, and realism.[48]

Cultural relations between Lebanon and Egypt[edit]

The cultural relations between Lebanon and Egypt is considered a unique kind of cultural historical relations, Because there is a considerable overlap between the Lebanese and Egyptian cultures, especially in the fields of literature, theater, cinema and journalism, all of them played an integral role towards each other especially in theater, cinema and journalism, that's what was confirmed by the Conference Egypt in the eyes of the Lebanese and which is Within the activities of the cultural program Egypt in the eyes of the World . Which is held at the headquarters of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism, and in the presence of the Lebanese Ambassador in Egypt, Madeleine Tabar and Ahmed Ghanem founder of cultural program Egypt in the eyes of the World and an elite of Lebanese artists.[49]


Many Christians and most Muslims who live in the cities wear European style clothes. In the countryside, women sometimes wear traditional colorful skirts and men wear a traditional sherwal (baggy trousers). Dress was historically Ottoman, but remains only as part of the folk culture. Today, almost all Lebanese wear Western clothing.

Famous names in the Lebanese fashion industry include Elie Saab, Zuhair Murad, Reem Acra, and Rabih Kayrouz.

Holidays and festivals[edit]

Main article: Public holidays in Lebanon

Lebanon celebrates national holidays and both Christian and Muslim holidays.

Christian holidays are celebrated following both the Gregorian Calendar and Julian Calendar. Catholics, Protestant, and Melkite Christians follow the Gregorian Calendar and thus celebrate Christmas on 25 December. Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on 6 January, as they follow the Julian Calendar.

Muslim holidays are followed based on the Islamic lunar calendar. Muslim holidays that are celebrated include Eid al-Fitr (the three-day feast at the end of the Ramadan month), Eid al-Adha (The Feast of the Sacrifice) which is celebrated during the annual pilgrimage to Mecca and also celebrates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son to God, the Birth of the Prophet Muhammad, and Ashura. Lebanon's National Holidays include Workers Day, Independence day, and Martyrs Day.

Music festivals, often hosted at historical sites, are a customary element of Lebanese culture.[50] Among the most famous are Baalbeck International Festival, Byblos International Festival, Beiteddine International Festival, Broumana Festival, Batroun Festival, Dhour Chwer Festival and Tyr Festival.[50][51] These festivals are promoted by Lebanon's Ministry of Tourism, Lebanon Hosts about 15 Concerts from International Performers Each Year Ranking Number one for Nightlife in the Middle east and 6th Worldwide.[52]


Main article: Lebanese cuisine

Lebanese cuisine is similar to those of many countries in the Eastern Mediterranean, such as Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Greece, and Cyprus.

The Lebanese national dishes are the kibbe, a meat pie made from finely minced lamb and burghul (cracked wheat), and the tabbouleh, a salad made from parsley, tomatoes, and burghul. The national beverage is arak, a strong anise-flavored liquor made from fermented grape juice. It is usually drunk with water and ice, which turns the clear liquid milky-white, and usually accompanies food. Arak is a strong spirit similar to the Greek ouzo and the Turkish raki.

Lebanese restaurant meals begin with a wide array of mezze - small savoury dishes, such as dips, salads, and pastries. The mezze are typically followed by a selection of grilled meat or fish. In general, meals are finished with Arabic coffee and fresh fruit, though sometimes a selection of traditional sweets will be offered as well.

M'Juhdara, a thick stew of onions, rice, and lentils, is sometimes considered poor man's fare and is often eaten around Lent by people in the Lebanese diaspora.

Beirut and its environs contain many restaurants of various national origins. At the same time, wine is growing in popularity and a number of vineyards currently exist in the Bekaa valley and elsewhere. Beer is also highly popular and Lebanon produces a number of local beers, of which almaza is perhaps the most popular.

Food in daily life[edit]

Lebanese cuisine is influenced by other Mediterranean cuisines. Pita bread is a staple. The Lebanese enjoy hummus (a chick pea dip), fool (a fava bean dip), and other bean dishes. Rice is nearly a staple, and pasta is very popular. Salted yogurt is common in many dishes. Red meat and chicken are common but are usually eaten as part of a dish. Eating in Lebanon is tied to family: people almost never eat alone. The Lebanese consider eating out a social and almost aesthetic experience. During Lent, Christians eat meatless dishes and at Halloween, they eat a variety of wheat-based dishes. Lebanon sells fruits and vegetables to neighboring Arab countries, as well as to Italy, France, and the United States. Wine is produced in the Bekaa and exported to France[citation needed].


Main article: Lebanese society

Lebanese society is similar to certain cultures of Mediterranean Europe as the country is "linked ideologically and culturally to Europe through France, and its uniquely diverse religious composition [create] a rare environment that [is] at once Arab and European.[53] It is often considered as Europe's gateway to Western Asia as well as Asia's gateway to the Western World.[54]

Mixed-sex groups of youth are very common in Verdun, Hamra Street, Ashrafieh, and downtown Beirut as well as other places. Premarital physical sexual relations are very common, although intercourse is frowned upon and avoided by both Muslim and Christian girls.

The contraceptive prevalence rate is estimated at 58%, of which 34% modern contraceptives, primarily IUDs, pills and condoms.[55]Prostitution in Lebanon is nominally legal.[56]

By comparison to most other Arab capitals, Beirut is more westernized and more culturally liberal. Compared to Damascus, Cairo, and Baghdad, and especially in contrast to such cities as Riyadh, Beirut is more tolerant with regard to relations between men and women, and also with regard to homosexuality.[citation needed]

Notwithstanding the persistence of traditional attitudes regarding the role of women, Lebanese women enjoy equal civil rights and attend institutions of higher education in large numbers (for example, women constituted 41 percent of the student body at the American University of Beirut in 1983). Although women in Lebanon have their own organizations, most exist as subordinate branches of the political parties.

While gay sex does not enjoy wide acceptance, Beirut has a number of gay bars and nightclubs, in addition to five LGBT rights organizations, namely Helem, Arab Foundation for Equality (AFE), Nasawiya-Feminist Collecrive, Proud Lebanon, and Mosaïque.[citation needed]


Main article: Sport in Lebanon

  • Football is the most popular sport in Lebanon. In association football, the governing body for Lebanon is the Federation Libanaise de Football (FLDF). The FLDF organises the men's, women's, and futsal national teams.
  • Basketball - Basketball is one of the most popular sports in Lebanon[citation needed]. In basketball, the governing body is the Lebanese Basketball Federation, and it is a member of FIBA Asia. The Lebanon national basketball team has qualified three consecutives times to the FIBA World Championship in 2002, 2006, and 2010, and the team is ranked 24th in the world and the women's national team is ranked 61st in the world. The most successful Lebanese basketball clubs are Sporting Al Riyadi Beirut and Hekmeh-Sagesse, known as C.S. Sagesse or Sagesse for men and Antranik SC for women.
  • Rugby league - Rugby league is a popular sport in Lebanon. The Lebanon national rugby league team qualified and played in the 2000 Rugby League World Cup, and nearly qualified for the 2008 Rugby League World Cup, but were narrowly beaten by Samoa in their final game.
  • Weightlifting - Weightlifting has been, besides basketball, one of the biggest success stories in Lebanese sport. In the 1972 Summer Olympics, Mohamed Traboulsi won the silver medal, in addition to many gold medals in continental and regional championships and is considered one of the most revered athletes in Lebanon.
  • Winter sports - Skiing and snowboarding are popular sports up in the mountains, and the country boosts six ski resorts, with slopes suitable for skiers and snowboarders of all ages and levels of experience. Off-slope, there are many opportunities for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling.
  • In the summer, skilifts can be used to access some of Lebanon's best hiking trails, with panoramic views stretching as far as Cyprus to the west and Syria to the east on clear days. Canoeing, cycling, rafting, climbing, swimming, sailing, and spelunking are among the other common leisure sports in Lebanon. Adventure and extreme sports are also possible throughout the country.
  • Running - The Beirut International Marathon is held every fall, drawing top runners from Lebanon and abroad. Shorter races are also held for youth and less serious competitors. Race day is promoted as a fun, family event, and it has become a tradition for many to participate in costumes or outlandish clothing.
  • Equestrian sports - Equestrian sports are increasing in popularity, especially in the highlands of Lebanon, where the game of polo is played in farming villages and towns around the country.
  • Rugby union - Rugby union is increasing in popularity, and was introduced from France. The Lebanon national rugby union team represents Lebanon in international rugby union, and is governed by the Lebanon Rugby Union.

In 2009, the country hosted the Winter Asian Games, which took place in the capital, Beirut.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ abStokes, Jamie. Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Africa and the Middle East, page 406
  2. ^Migliorino, p. 166
  3. ^"Moustafa Farroukh". Kaftoun.com. 2 July 2010. Retrieved 5 May 2012. 
  4. ^"Media Art Net | Ra'ad, Walid: Biography". Medienkunstnetz.de. Retrieved 5 May 2012. 
  5. ^"Ayman Baalbaki". lucegallery. Archived from the original on 26 April 2010. Retrieved 5 May 2012. 
  6. ^"Earth of Endless SecretsWriting for a Posterior TimeAkram Zaatari". Beirut Art Center. 22 July 2009. Retrieved 5 May 2012. 
  7. ^"Marwan Sahmarani Biography and Links – Marwan Sahmarani on artnet". Artnet.com. Retrieved 5 May 2011. 
  8. ^"Nadim Asfar". Galerie Tanit. 10 May 2008. Archived from the original on 28 April 2012. Retrieved 5 May 2012. 
  9. ^"Independent Curators International – Lamia Joreige". Curatorsintl.org. Retrieved 5 May 2012. 
  10. ^"Jean-Marc Nahas". Jean-Marc Nahas. Archived from the original on 18 January 2012. Retrieved 5 May 2012. 
  11. ^"Jean-Marc Nahas". Art of the Mid East. Retrieved 5 May 2012. 
  12. ^http://www.ricardombarkho.com/html/en/bio_en.htm#up
  13. ^"Mansour el Habre". ArtMed Gallery. Archived from the original on 7 March 2012. Retrieved 5 May 2012. 
  14. ^"Yale World Fellows Program | The World Fellows". Yale.edu. Retrieved 5 May 2012. 
  15. ^"Mark Hachem Gallery :: Beirut.com :: Beirut City Guide". Beirut.com. Retrieved 5 May 2012. 
  16. ^"Art – Creativity's capital". Executive-magazine.com. Archived from the original on 26 January 2012. Retrieved 5 May 2012. 
  17. ^"galerie JANINE RUBEIZ". galerie JANINE RUBEIZ. Archived from the original on 5 February 2012. Retrieved 5 May 2012. 
  18. ^"Galerie Alwane". SAIFI VILLAGE. Retrieved 1 August 2015. 
  19. ^"Media Relations". FBI Private Bank. 7 December 2011. Retrieved 5 May 2012. 
  20. ^Carter, Terry; Dunston, Lara; Humphreys, Andrew (2004). Syria & Lebanon — Google Books. books.google.com. ISBN 978-1-86450-333-3. Retrieved 2010-01-18. 
  21. ^Dib, Kamal; Dīb, Kamāl (2004). Warlords and merchants: the Lebanese ... - Google Books. Books.google.com. ISBN 978-0-86372-297-4. Retrieved 2010-01-18. 
  22. ^"Premium content". Economist.com. 2008-09-11. Retrieved 2010-01-18. 
  23. ^The Hindu (5 January 2003). Called by life. The Hindu. 5 January 2003. Retrieved 8 January 2007.
  24. ^ abcdCarter, Terry; Dunston Lara (15 July 2008). "Arts". Lonely Planet Syria & Lebanon. Lonely Planet. Thomas Amelia (3 ed.). Lonely Planet. pp. 254–255. ISBN 978-1-74104-609-0. Retrieved 19 September 2009. 
  25. ^ abSheehan, Sean; Latif Zawiah (30 August 2007). "Arts". Lebanon. Cultures of the World (2 ed.). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books. p. 105. ISBN 978-0-7614-2081-1. Retrieved 19 September 2009. 
  26. ^McKenzie, Robert. Comparing Media from Around the World, Pearson/Allyn and Bacon, 2006, p. 372 ISBN 0-205-40242-9
  27. ^Kamalipour, Yahya; Rampal Kuldip (15 November 2001). "Between Globalization and Localization". Media, sex, violence, and drugs in the global village. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. p. 265. ISBN 978-0-7425-0061-7. Retrieved 19 September 2009. 
  28. ^Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archives – Lydia Canaan Subject File
  29. ^ abO'Connor, Tom. "Lydia Canaan One Step Closer to Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame", The Daily Star, Beirut, April 27, 2016.
  30. ^Salhani, Justin. "Lydia Canaan: The Mideast’s First Rock Star", The Daily Star, Beirut, November 17, 2014.
  31. ^Livingstone, David. "A Beautiful Life; Or, How a Local Girl Ended Up With a Recording Contract in the UK and Who Has Ambitions in the U.S.", Campus, No. 8, p. 2, Beirut, February 1997.
  32. ^Ajouz, Wafik. "From Broumana to the Top Ten: Lydia Canaan, Lebanon's 'Angel' on the Road to Stardom", Cedar Wings, No. 28, p. 2, Beirut, July–August 1995.
  33. ^Aschkar, Youmna. "New Hit For Lydia Canaan", Eco News, No. 77, p. 2, Beirut, January 20, 1997.
  34. ^One source says "cult following", other says "folk hero"
  35. ^ abcWorld Intellectual Property Organization (2003). "Copyright Industries in Lebanon". Performance of copyright industries in selected Arab countries: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia. World Intellectual Property Organization. pp. 148–152. ISBN 978-92-805-1316-5. Retrieved 19 September 2009. 
  36. ^Karam, Michael (27 October 2005). Wines of Lebanon. Saqi Books. p. 263. ISBN 978-0-86356-598-4. Retrieved 18 September 2009. 
  37. ^Migliorino, p. 122
  38. ^"Lebanon profile – Overview". BBC News. 24 August 2011. Retrieved 4 November 2011. 
  39. ^ abDale F. Eickelman; Jon W. Anderson (1 July 2003). New media in the Muslim world: the emerging public sphere. Indiana University Press. pp. 63–65. ISBN 978-0-253-34252-2. Retrieved 11 December 2011. 
  40. ^Migliorino, p. 123
  41. ^Andrew Hammond (2005). Pop culture Arab world!: media, arts, and lifestyle. ABC-CLIO. pp. 94–. ISBN 978-1-85109-449-3. Retrieved 11 December 2011. 
Rue Maarad is a main street in the central district
Sidewalk Cafes are a trademark of the BCD
A selection of Lebanese dishes from Cafe Nouf Restaurant in London
An array of Lebanese cuisine.

A Look at Lebanese Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette

Facts and Statistics

Location: The Middle East, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Israel and Syria

Capital: Beirut

Borders: Israel 79 km, Syria 375 km

Population: 5,882,562 (2014 est.)

Ethnic Makeup: Arab 95%, Armenian 4%, other 1% note: many Christian Lebanese do not identify themselves as Arab but rather as descendents of the ancient Canaanites and prefer to be called Phoenicians

Religions: Muslim 59.7% (Shia, Sunni, Druze, Isma'ilite, Alawite or Nusayri), Christian 39% (Maronite Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Melkite Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Syrian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Chaldean, Assyrian, Copt, Protestant), other 1.3% note: 17 religious sects recognised

Language in Lebanon

Article 11 of Lebanon's Constitution states that "Arabic is the official national language. A law determines the cases in which the French language may be used". The majority of Lebanese people speak Arabic and either French or English fluently. Moreover, Lebanese people of Armenian or Greek descent also speak Armenian or Greek fluently. Also in use is Kurdish spoken by some of the Kurdish minorities in Lebanon, and Syriac by the Syriac minorities. Other languages include Circassian, spoken by 50,000, Tigrinya (30,000), Sinhala (25,000), Turkish (10,000), Azerbaijani (13,000), Polish (5,000), Russian and Romanian (together 10,000 speakers), and Turkmen (8,000 speakers).

Lebanese Society and Culture

The People

There has deliberately not been a census in Lebanon since 1932, before its formation as an independent nation. This is due to the political consequences a major shift in the population dynamics an accurate census could have. The population is generally viewed in terms of religion. The predominant differences between people are those between Muslim and Christian sects. The proportion of each is politically sensitive so estimates from different sources vary widely. What is known is that approximately 90% of the population is urban rather than rural.


  • Lebanon is a religious mish-mash and this has ultimately been the cause behind social tensions and the long, drawn out civil . The government officially recognizes 18 religious sects of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.
  • Religious differences are built into government and politics. Christians are guaranteed 50% of the seats in parliament. The President is always a Christian and the Prime Minister and Speaker of the House are Muslims. The Druze are awarded 8 seats in parliament. The government maintains that this system prevents one community from gaining an advantage over the others.
  • Religion affects almost all areas of culture. Family laws such as divorce, separation, child custody, and inheritance are handled in religious courts and there is not a uniform system for all citizens. Map of Lebanon

Loyalty to a Group

A person’s name and honour are their most cherished possessions. This extends also to the family and wider group. Therefore the behaviour of individual family members is viewed as the direct responsibility of the family. It is crucial for the Lebanese to maintain their dignity, honour, and reputation.

The Lebanese strive to avoid causing another person public embarrassment. This can be seen when they agree to perform a favour for a friend to maintain that friend’s honour even if they know that they will not do what is asked.

Hospitable People

The Lebanese are proud of their tradition of hospitality. This is a culture where it is considered an honour to have a guest in your home. One should therefore not seen being invited quite quickly to someone’s home for something to eat as strange.

Guests are generally served tea or coffee immediately. Good manners dictate that such offers are accepted; never reject such an offer as this may be viewed as an insult.

Lebanese Customs and Etiquette

Greeting people

  • Greetings in Lebanon are an interesting mix of both the French and Muslim/Arab cultures.
  • A warm and welcoming smile accompanied by a handshake while saying “Marhaba” is a greeting that can be given without causing offense.
  • You will see the greeting close friends with three kisses on the cheek, alternating cheeks in the French style.
  • Take time when greeting a person and be sure to ask about their family, health, etc.
  • If man is greeting Muslim women you may find that some wish not to shake hands; it is best to see if a hand is extended or not first.

Gift Giving Etiquette

  • Gifts are part and parcel of the culture and are not only for birthdays and special occasions.
  • Gifts may be given to someone who has provided a favour, to someone returning from a trip overseas, or simply out of want.
  • The cost of the gift is not nearly as important as what it represents – friendship.
  • If you are invited to a Lebanese home, it is customary to bring flowers. If invited for a meal, you may bring sweets or pastries.
  • If visiting a Muslim family, it is a good idea to say that the gift is for the host rather than the hostess.
  • Gifts of alcohol are welcome in many circles. Muslims though generally do not drink alcohol.
  • A small gift such a sweet for the children is always a nice touch.
  • Gifts may be given with the right hand or both hands. It is best not to offer a gift with the left hand.

Dining Etiquette

If you are invited to a Lebanese house for dinner:

  • Dress well.
  • Avoid sensitive topics of conversation such as politics, religion or the civil war unless you know the hosts are comfortable talking about it.
  • Greet elders first.
  • Lebanese table manners are relatively formal.
  • Wait to be told where to sit.
  • Table manners are Continental, i.e. the fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating.
  • You will be expected to try all foods at the table.
  • Expect to be urged to take second or even third helpings. It is best to eat less on your first helping so that a second helping is possible. This shows your host you are enjoying the food and are being taken care of.

Business Etiquette, Customs and Protocol

Meeting and Greeting

  • Lebanese can be somewhat formal in their business dealings. At the same time, they will strive to be hospitable and will go out of their way to be generous and gracious hosts.
  • Greetings should not be rushed. It is important to take time to exchange social pleasantries during the greeting process.
  • The most common greeting in business is the handshake with direct eye contact.
  • The handshake may be more prolonged that in Western countries.
  • Very religious Muslims may not shake hands across genders. In such cases, the foreign business people should simply nod their heads as a way of acknowledging them.
  • If someone is introduced with a title, use that title when greeting them. If the title is given in Arabic, it is appended to the first name. If the title is in English or French, it will be added to the surname.
  • Business cards are given without formal ritual.
  • Having one side of your card translated into French or Arabic is a nice touch but not essential.
  • Present and receive business cards with two hands or the right hand.

Business Etiquette Lebanon

Communication Styles

The Lebanese are very “touchy-feely”. Direct eye contact with a lot of physical contact is the cornerstones of Lebanese communication. If you are from a culture where eye contact is less direct and contact not so prevalent, this may feel uncomfortable. Try not to break the eye contact as this conveys trust, sincerity and honesty. However, interestingly the situation is reversed when dealing with elders where prolonged direct eye contact is considered rude and challenging.

Lebanese have an indirect and non-confrontational communication style, which relates to the need to maintain personal honour. They rely heavily on the context to explain the underlying meaning of their words. The listener is expected to know what they are trying to say or imply. Non-verbal cues and body language are crucial to learn so you can more fully understand the responses you are given.

For the most part, Lebanese try not to lose their tempers publicly since such behaviour demonstrates a weakness of character. They strive to be courteous and expect similar behaviour from others. However, if they think that their honour has been impugned or that their personal honour has been challenged, they will raise their voice and employ sweeping hand gestures in their vociferous attempt to restore their honour.

Business Meetings

  • The business culture in Lebanon is multi-faceted and also rapidly changing. The country is eager for foreign investment and many companies have adopted a Western approach to business. At the same time, smaller companies may retain many Middle Eastern aspects to their business culture.
  • Punctuality is generally expected for business meetings.
  • Meetings generally begin with the offer of tea or coffee. While this is being sipped, it is important to engage in some chitchat. This is important in order to establish rapport and trust.
  • Meetings are not necessarily private. The Lebanese tend to have an open-door policy, which means that people may walk in and out, telephone calls may be answered or the tea boy may come in to take drink orders. It is best to be prepared for frequent interruptions.
  • Meetings are generally conducted in French, Arabic or English. It is generally a good idea to ask which language the meeting will be conducted in prior to arriving. You may wish to hire your own interpreter.

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