Lebanese Culture

Core Concepts

Primary Author
Cultural Atlas Editors,
  • Honour
  • Sincerity
  • Integrity
  • Hospitality
  • Sensitivity
  • Adaptability
  • Wariness

Lebanon is a small yet diverse country. It’s approximately 160 km long and 56 km wide at its largest point, bordering Syria, Israel and the Mediterranean Sea. The predominant culture is fundamentally conservative and exhibits a great deal of respect for traditions, drawing on many Arab customs. Long-standing Islamic and Christian traditions remain deeply ingrained in social and expectations. However, many practices and lifestyles also reflect European influences. This is partly due to its coastline’s proximity to Europe (as a key point of contact for trade between the East and West), as well as a period of French occupation in the 20th century. Ultimately, contemporary Lebanese society is highly diverse. It is common to see both traditional Lebanese attire and modern European fashions in city streets. As such, the Lebanese people are familiar with a plurality of lifestyles and are often capable of easily adapting to other societies. 

Lebanon is more than many Western societies. Individuals often perceive themselves to be members of 'groups'. These groups reflect or come to define who its members are and often demand a high degree of loyalty. For example, the group’s interests usually supersede those of the individual, even if they conflict. Furthermore, group members expect to receive preferential treatment over anyone who is not part of the group. In return for this loyalty, an individual gains a sense of belonging, protection and unity. The American University in Beirut conducted a study that concluded Lebanese people generally feel their loyalty is strongest for their family. Their subsidiary group loyalties are then towards their religion, Lebanon as a nation, their group, and lastly – political party.

The Lebanese social is stratified by class. Many of the differences in status are determined by wealth, which usually correlates along familial or religious lines. Those who are wealthy are usually distinguishable by their lavish clothes and belongings that they proudly display. People are generally comfortable interacting across the social classes. However, there is a clear social separation between those occupying the lowest status – beggars – and the rest of society. The cultural concept of ‘’ generally demands that elders receive the utmost respect from those younger than them, regardless of their social status.

The perception of honour once regulated much of Lebanese behaviour. Though the honour code is not stringently followed, it has left cultural imprints on communication styles. The is the learned principle that people should protect their personal and family honour at all costs. This requires individuals to give a public impression of dignity and integrity by stressing their family’s achievements and positive qualities. In Western society, self-criticism can position a person beyond moral reproach by others. In Lebanon, however, the expectations of society can pressure individuals to conceal or deny anything that could tarnish their honour to avoid bringing shame on the individuals (or their family) by peers. Therefore, to prevent such indignity in Lebanon, criticism is rarely given directly and praise is expected to be offered generously. The younger Lebanese generation generally doesn’t feel the need to strictly uphold the honour code. Such customs are more prevalent among the older, more conservative population. However, one’s personal integrity and dignity is still seen as an important virtue throughout Lebanon. It is arguably a reason why the Lebanese are particularly charitable and hospitable.

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