Location and Geography
Lebanon is located in the Middle East, bounded on the north and east by Syria, on the west by the Mediterranean Sea, and on the north by Israel (Palestine).
Lebanon consists of two mountain chains, the ante-Lebanon; a narrow coastal strip, where all the major cities lie; and a fertile plain, the Bekaa valley, which lies between the two mountain chains and provides most of the local agricultural produce.
The capital is Beirut. Population in 2010 estimated 3, 904, 18. 95% of the population in Lebanon are Arab, 4% Armenians and 1% other ethnic backgrounds.
Lebanon gained its independence in 1943, at the time the population was one-half Christians and one- half Muslims. However, higher birth rate among the Shiite Muslims changed this balance and it had a big effect in the civil war later on. Recent estimates suggested 70% Muslims and only 30% Christians.
The official language in Lebanon is Arabic, then comes French as a second and then English and of course Armenian.
Lebanon has many accents that can be an indication of what area a person comes from in Lebanon. The Beirut accent is the most highly regarded. Accents in Lebanon are an indicator of social statues.
Lebanon was built by maritime people, the Phoenicians. Since then the country has seen many invasions. The people of Lebanon then were influenced by other cultures and languages. Lebanese people take pride in being descendant of the Phoenicians (The Alphabet inventors) and some Christian refer to them as Maritimers and not Arab.
After World War II, Lebanon was placed under French mandate. France introduced parliamentary system and it was the first one in the Middle East. During that time Christians had strong political presence!
Although various communities in Lebanon share similar ethnic background, they define their cultural boundaries through religious affiliation has always been a source of disagreement and trouble at times.
Religious differences are built into government and politics in Lebanon. Christians are guaranteed 50% of the seats in parliament. The present is always Christian, the Prime Minister (Muslim Sunni) and Speaker of the House (Muslim Shiite). The Druze are awarded eight seats in the parliament. The government always expressed that maintaining this system prevents one community from gaining an advantage over the others.
Religion affects almost all areas of culture. Family law such as divorce, separation, child custody, and inheritance are handled in religious courts and there isn’t one system for all citizen.
A person’s name and honour are the most cherished possessions. This extends also to the family. 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 are proud of their tradition of hospitality. This is a culture where it is considered an honour to have a guest in your home. Don’t be surprised for receiving an invitation for dinner quickly after meeting someone.
You might find that most Lebanese people wear European style clothes. Yu might find some Muslim women wearing the traditional veil however not so much and more in rural areas.
Education is very important in Lebanon. Many parents choose to place their children in the most expensive private schools, in order to receive better education. The better schools are those which teaches more than two foreign languages.
Lebanese Universities are the best in the region and hold great reputation, and high education is widely encouraged. However, not a lot of jobs are awaiting those new young graduates.
Guests are generally severed tea and coffee as soon as they arrive. Accept an offer of wither drinks out of politeness and avoid rejecting it unless you have a good explanation.
In most Lebanese homes women and men share sitting and eating areas. Women take an active part in professional and social part. When greeting a Muslim women wait until she offers her hand for shaking. Greeting is an important part for meeting people, big smile and a handshake while saying “Marhaba”. It is also usual to greet people in French. Close friends will greet each other with three kisses on the cheek as the French do.
It is also common to take something with you when visiting someone (cake, traditional sweets, flowers, chocolate etc…). The cost of the gift does not matter, and merely represents-friendship. Small gifts or sweets for children are always a nice touch. Gifts of alcohol are also welcome; however Muslim families usually do not drink.
Dress well for dinner. Greet the elderly first. Avoid any conversations around politics, religion and the civil war. Israel is also a touchy subject. Table manners are formal. Wait until you are invited to table and shown where to sit. Food is eaten with fork and knife (fork- left hand, knife- right hand). Some families might only have spoons on the table. Lebanese take pride in their food so a compliment is always appreciated. There will probably be many choices of different food at the table. It is nice to try everything and take another helping but always wait to be invited again.
Lebanese are very touchy with lots of physical contact. Eye contact is very direct and sharp, if you are from a culture where eye contact is less direct you might feel uncomfortable. Try not to break eye contact as this conveys trust, sincerity and honesty.
Lebanese have an indirect and non-confrontational communication style, which relates to the need to maintain personal honour. They rely on the context to explain the underlying meaning of their words. Body language and non- verbal cues are crucial to learn so you can more fully understand the responses you are given. “The listener is expected to know what they are trying to say or imply”.
The business culture in Lebanon is multi faced, and also rapidly changing. The country is eager and in need for foreign investment and as a result many companies have adopted a Western approach to business. Although, some smaller companies continue to have Middle Eastern culture mannerism about how it conducts its business.
Punctuality is important and respected in general for business meetings. They normally begin with the offer of tea and coffee, and a bit of chitchatting to start the meeting with is not unusual in order to get to know each other.
Again as other Arab countries most meetings might be interrupted by phone calls and people coming in and out, so it is best to be prepared for frequent interruption.
It is also usual that meetings are conducted in Arabic, French or English. So it is best to ask beforehand about what language will be spoken during the meeting. The exchange of the business card is not a big deal and could be offered at any point.