Lebanese Culture

Core Concepts

  • Honour
  • Sincerity
  • Integrity
  • Hospitality
  • Sensitivity
  • Adaptability
  • Wariness

Lebanon is a small yet diverse country. The culture is fundamentally conservative and exhibits a great deal of respect for traditions. 95% of the Lebanese population is Arab; therefore, the predominant unifying culture is Arab. However, lifestyles are strikingly Mediterranean for a Middle Eastern country. A slow, social pace of life is usually maintained. This is partly due to its proximity to Greece and dependency on its coastline for trade between the East and West. Its Islamic and Christian roots remain deeply ingrained, but a period of French/Western governance in the 20th century has influenced Lebanon to be quite culturally eclectic. Today, it is not uncommon to see completely veiled women walking down Lebanese city streets next to those wearing modern European fashions. 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 collectivistic than 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 collectivist loyalty is strongest for their family. Their subsidiary group loyalties are then towards their religion, Lebanon as a nation, their ethnic group, and lastly – political party.

The Lebanese social hierarchy 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 ‘filial piety’ 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 honour culture 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. Any admission of error or failure can bring shame and loss of face on individuals (and 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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