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Lebanon is a small yet diverse country. Lebanon is bound to the north and east by Syria, to the south by Israel, and to the west by the Mediterranean Sea.
Lebanon is a busy commercial and cultural centre for the Middle East. It is one of the most densely populated countries in the Mediterranean area. However, since 2010 there has been economic decline and this has been exacerbated by COVID-19, as well as the 4 August 2020 port explosion in Beirut.
The predominant unifying culture is Arabic and exhibits a great deal of respect for traditions. Its Islamic and Christian roots remain deeply ingrained, but a period of French/Western governance in the 20th century has provided a culturally eclectic influence.
Young Lebanese people struggle between keeping traditions and being impacted by the less conservative lifestyle they are exposed to through television and the internet. Personal integrity and dignity are important virtues.
The first Lebanese migrant arrived in Australia in 1876. There was a large wave of immigrants after the Second World War and again after the outbreak of civil war in 1975. The 2016 census revealed that 83.4 per cent those who are Lebanon-born, arrived in Australia prior to 2007. Many are well-established and settled in Australia with the majority living in New South Wales.
The interests of the family are expected to supersede those of the individual and loyalty is shown to fellow family members. Family cohesion and solidarity is fundamentally important, whatever happens to one member of a family impacts upon the whole family.
Wealthy individuals are expected to financially assist less fortunate family members by providing job opportunities or financial support. Elders are deeply respected and deferred to and the father, or oldest male, is the patriarch of the family.
Lebanese families tend to be bigger than Australian families and closer-knit. It is expected that family members care for the elderly as they grow older. The use of nursing homes and residential care facilities in Australia is viewed negatively. This can create some tension amongst the younger generation who have grown up in Australia and may not assist their aging relatives as much as expected.
Arabic is the official language, although smaller proportions of the population are Armenian (or Kurdish-speaking) and French and English are also spoken. In Australia the main languages spoken at home by people born in Lebanon are 87.6 per cent Arabic and 8.7 per cent English.
Since the seventh century, Lebanon has served as a refuge for both persecuted Christian and Muslim groups. Approximately 54 per cent of Lebanese are Muslims and 40.5 per cent are Christians, with similar figures here in Australia.
Since Lebanese Muslims and Christians have lived together closely for many years, both groups have influenced each other’s way of life. For many Lebanese people, religion is more of an identity and there can be little difference between how a nominal Christian or nominal Muslim lives.
The Lebanese take pride in their hospitality and are very generous. Socialising over meals can be quite lengthy. When invited to someone’s home, take a small gift and greet people, beginning with the oldest.
Having second servings shows that you are enjoying their hospitality.
Punctuality and time are relaxed, arriving 20 minutes late is common.
Lebanese don’t usually plan ahead. It is not uncommon to agree to meet, “God willing” and then not follow up. However, they are spontaneous and enjoy meeting without much notice.
As they don’t like to say, “No,” or, “I don’t know”, they may also agree or compliment you as a matter of course. If you need to criticise or correct, take an indirect approach and include praise so as not to dishonour them.
Lebanese often sit and stand very close to each other and can be quite expressive in their greetings, particularly if they know you.
Lebanese will often communicate in an indirect manner. They can be quite eloquent and theatrical. A raised voice may be an expression of a genuine feeling rather than anger. Being quiet or silent may indicate that they are upset.
Lebanese people are comfortable talking about politics as long as you are sympathetic to their opinion.