Nation Blanding: Hedonism and the Underselling of Beirut

There’s a video currently making the rounds, featuring an over-excited Richard Quest extolling the virtues of Lebanon’s hedonism and joie de vivre, while he prances around its handful of rooftop clubs dressed like that weird uncle in your family no one talks to, who hits on 16 year olds at weddings. And wears white loafers. When I first stumbled on the video, I wasn’t sure whether I should feel a mild sense of pride or a profound sense of shame. I have opted very firmly for the latter, for a number of reasons.

I mean the show is called Future Cities, and is supposed to be about how cities are positioning themselves for the future (the name kind of gives it away) through development and sustainability. Quite how cramming thousands of people into sweaty clubs ensures Lebanon’s sustainability, is quite beyond me.

However much I enjoy positive portrayals of Lebanon in the media, I’m not sure that showing its three most inaccessible venues is really the way to go. I mean, when they cover Mykonos or Ibiza, I’m pretty sure there isn’t a slum where people live on less that USD 2 a day within walking distance. Before I’m accused of hypocrisy, sure I go to these places. But I don’t think they’re our greatest achievement in thousands of years of history. Not by a longshot.

Plus the video features Ke$sha. Why would I listen to Ke$ha’s opinion on anything? For starters, she has a dollar sign in her name, and anyone with monetary symbols in their monicker loses points on the Credibility-meter. So, I’m pretty sure her musings about how Lebanon’s energy mirrors the energy she puts in her shows, can be safely ignored.

And what’s all this nonsense about joie de vivre anyway? I’m sorry but I have yet to see a genuine example of someone loving life when I go out in Lebanon. We go to clubs with 3000 people, but hang out with the 20 we already know. We all look inward at our table. People stare into their Blackberries and iPhones trying to figure out if something more exciting is happening elsewhere, because they’re under the impression that they are in no way contributing to the complete lack of an atmosphere here, and it’s everyone else’s fault. If they can tear themselves away from their apparati, it’s to give someone across the club a death stare. Then maybe bbm somebody about it.

And before anyone says it’s just the rooftops, I have to disagree. Go out anywhere, and it’s the same. Batroun, Sour, Gemmayze, Jounieh. Maybe Hamra’s bar scene is a tiny bit different. I have yet to see anyone actually dancing outside the sweaty confines of a salsa night. And no, guys, slicing the air with the palm of one hand and shaking your vodka tonic around in the other, while you bob your head to the newest Taebo Cruise, or whatever his face is, track does not constitute dancing.

I’m sick of people confusing self-medicated post-traumatic stress with a love of life. Drinking yourself silly is not an affirmation of life. It can be a lot of fun, sure, but don’t call it joie de vivre. People not caring about tomorrow isn’t a smart thing. Shocking, I know. Many people at these clubs didn’t live the Civil War, they have every reason to plan for tomorrow. They’re young and educated and living in a period of relative, if tenuous and tense, stability. But they don’t, because they’re inheriting their parent’s misplaced insouciance.

This has wide-ranging consequences. The Lebanese spend a disproportionate amount of their disposable income on going out. I’ll be the first to admit, I was immensely guilty of this in the past. In my days as a banker in London, I spent embarrassing amounts of money on going to the “best” clubs, because that’s kind of what was happening around me. But when I moved to Lebanon, I wanted to change that. I wanted to grow up, essentially.  How many people here say to themselves, “You know, I’ll go out less, but I’ll rent my own place.” Not a lot I’m supposing.

Sometimes I wonder if the Lebanese don’t actively enjoy being ripped off. I mean there’s that old joke about the two women who are comparing dresses and one of them says victoriously “But I bought mine at full price, yours was on sale”. But the joke is turning into a harsh reality, and our spending habits are kind of causing it. If we’re willing to pay, then retailers, restaurateurs and club owners are sure as hell happy to increase prices. Lebanon now ranks 75th in the world in terms of cost of living. That’s ahead of LA and Munich. Yeah, you read that right.

Inflation is getting so high it’s giving Keith Richards a run for his money. Yet we don’t really complain. It’s seen as a sign of weakness to be Lebanese and complain that something is out of your price range. Sure, we’ll get in a serveece and nod along as he complains about the cost of gas and whatnot. But will you talk the same way with your friends? Will you ever tell them you’re struggling to make ends meet between inflation, your Rockefeller lifestyle and your salary that barely covers the basics.

Well, I’m sorry to say it, but I feel pretty stupid paying 8,000LL for a man’ouche at Zaatar w Zeit.  And can someone explain to me why even these places are so expensive? The staff are paid peanuts, they don’t get benefits, the businesses barely pay taxes, and yet the prices are the same as in North America or Europe for a lot of products now.

And by the way, the rampant inflation also keeps tourists away. Superior purchasing power doesn’t mean unlimited purchasing power. Many are balking at the prices in Beirut. And I can understand them. When you consider they pay 1000 USD to get here from Europe, then 200-300 a night to stay here, you can imagine they’re pretty skint by the time Skybar comes around. Compare that to 60 Euro tickets from most European capitals to Spain or Greece, and you can understand why this tourist season has, by all accounts, been absolutely disastrous.

Lebanon is not a Mediterranean party town. Places like Monaco, Ibiza, Mykonos pop up for a few months a year on the party map, much like rock festivals take place in deserted fields in England or Poland. Because life can go back to normal once that seasonality disappears. Reducing a city of 2 million people, a pulsating city, to being a handful of rooftop clubs is patronizing in the extreme.

And just to come back to that damn video for a minute. If you think you’re promoting Lebanon proudly by reposting videos of an annoying meth head prancing around what we, in our navel-gazing, have come to consider the best places in the world, you are very sorely mistaken. The type of tourist who comes to Beirut isn’t the type of tourist who goes to Ibiza. Anyone who comes here is looking for something more. Otherwise, they would just go to Ibiza. I hate to break it to you, but there’s vodka and boobies all over the world. There are things we have that we should be celebrating.

Of course they want to have a good time and have a few drinks and stumble around town. But believe it or not, people who come here also want to see Bourj Hammoud for example, the same way they want to see Chinatown in New York. They want to see the old Green Line, the way I wanted to see the Berlin Wall. They want to see the abandoned train station in Mar Mikhael or the Oscar Niemeyer architecture in Tripoli. They want to meet real people and artisans. They want to experience all the things that have disappeared from their societies.

Don’t believe me? Well, Lebanon ranks 190th out of 200 in a recent index of Nation Brand perception, so we obviously haven’t been doing it right. I think it’s time to move past the “party capital of the Middle East” spiel, and onto something real and engaging. “Hedonism” or “Joie de Vivre” are not brands for a country like Lebanon. They are both irresponsible and grotesque for a place steeped in so much history and circumstance.

Not caring about tomorrow isn’t something to be proud of. Leave that to alienated emo teenagers listening to Slipknot in their dilapidated suburban houses in Maryland. That’s not how mature adults who have ambitions think about life. You know what my most hated expression in Lebanon is? When you say to someone “Let’s meet next Thursday” and they scoff at you and say “Tan 3ish la wa2ta” (Let’s live till then first). Even if it’s just a lexical overhang from a time of war, it is insidious. It doesn’t communicate joie de vivre, or fun, or hedonism. It says you’ve given up. It says you don’t care. I’m sorry, but I don’t want that to be the brand my country brandishes to the world.

133 Responses to “Nation Blanding: Hedonism and the Underselling of Beirut”

  1. Nathalie Dib
    September 6, 2011 at 4:53 pm #

    First i would like to tell you that every time i read your blog entries i enjoy it so much because you have great writing skills.

    But for the first time i don’t agree with that you wrote.
    This video was not a stand alone video on Lebanon, it comes within a series of videos that Richard Quest did about Lebanon that you can check out on CNN website.
    I would have to agree with you and all the people that commented on this blog entry, that this image of Lebanon shown in this short documentary is not what we all feel and like. And i understand that you can be ashamed of it because Lebanon has so much to offer and none of it includes “crazy parties at rooftops”. But, these kind of documentaries can at least give another image of Lebanon than the one most foreigners have.
    Do you have any idea how many times i am asked when outside Lebanon if I’m surviving the war and very primitive questions of the sort? Same for my family living abroad. Every time they come to Lebanon their friends answer is: Are you crazy? or Please watch out!
    Aren’t we fed up of that too?
    Yes again, they could have talked about a million other things like the art scene in Beirut, the history, the entrepreneurs but how would this be interesting for foreigners watching? Quest is playing on the dichotomy between an Arab country that in the head of a lambda foreigner would only match with Camels, mosques and desert and an extravagant night life. This is what sells at the end. And yes its a shame.

    I’m not talking about all of the foreigners of course because lots of them are aware of what’s happening and specially not the ones that dared and came to the Middle East! But there are prejudices from both sides up until now about the perspective of Europeans/Americans towards the middle east and vice versa.

    Also what’s bothering me lately is that Everyone is so cynical about everything that happens in Beirut. From bloggers, to journalists to people around me and even me sometimes! Can we all please stop the criticizing for a while and see how we can change things and make things evolve?
    Ok we got it, people are superficial, botoxed, show off, women get married for the money, all we care about is our looks, bank accounts and parties at rooftops. And then? that’s it? point it out and feel cool for a while? What are we all doing to change this image? Of course we cannot start a massive brainwash for most of the people although i think it would be cool but let’s write about positive stuff from time to time, put in place a good debate about stuff we can change etc. etc.

    Anyways, again chapeau for the writing style and I’m in no way attacking you. Just giving my opinion.

    Cheers :)

  2. Mansoor
    September 6, 2011 at 5:41 pm #


    1- Banker in London has a connotation of massive bonuses, heavy partying and the occasional coke sniffing off the back of escort girls. A client adviser is basically a tea boy who dreams of becoming a trader. So although you job falls into the banking category, i find it a bit misleading to say you were an investment banker.
    2- Your perfecting douchebagdom doesn’t mean in any way you’re douchy. Just like reading about the kamasutra or watching stacks of porn doesn’t make you good in bed.
    And just like you were able to acquire that fake wisdom after twenty something years of pointless partying, you should allow some time for the traumatised post-war generation to mature.

  3. Newcomer
    September 6, 2011 at 7:38 pm #

    This column so eloquently articulates the thoughts that I’ve felt guilty for thinking. I moved to Beirut very recently. What I’ve found astonishing is how the younger Lebanese seem less in touch with the Lebanese culture that the rest of the world has fallen in love with. All I hear about here is clubbing. I have nothing against clubbing, but it’s not the purpose of life, and clubbing would not even make it into a list of the top 10 coolest things to do in Beirut. Moreover, this trend seems to have decimated the Lebanese music industry.

    In a country which has arguably some of the finest cuisine in the world, the domination of foreign restaurants makes no sense. Where is the entrepreneurial spirit of the Lebanese?

    As for prices, well I’ve just moved here from London and was looking forward to a lower cost of living… and honestly so far there is no difference between Beirut and London in terms of my day-to-day expenses. I don’t know how people survive here.

    But just so other people don’t get the wrong idea; I love it here! I just think I probably love it for different reasons than the clubbing generation 😛

  4. Yas
    September 6, 2011 at 8:35 pm #

    Sigh, your post made me happy and sad all at the same time. 10 years in Beirut and to be honest, I’ve only seen it on a determined downward spiral into a messy amalgamation of things it thinks “it should be” – if only it could gain some self esteem and be it’s true self. Oh god, just had a scary thought – what if this is being its true itself?

  5. Karim
    September 6, 2011 at 8:55 pm #

    tsk tsk tsk… Mansoor – bashing someone in their comment section just for the heck of it… so unclassy.

    you have personal issues with Nasri? envy, jealousy, [insert other derogatory attribute], etc.?
    solve it with him in private or go see a shrink.

    either way, CHILL!

    disclaimer: I do not know Nasri in person, I’m just someone who enjoys reading what he writes, and who finds the occasional disagreement in the comment section an occasion for a healthy and challenging discussion.

    there is just this thin line between actual constructive criticism and virulent gratuitous attacks that it is so uncool to cross.

  6. mounir
    September 6, 2011 at 10:01 pm #

    1- he said ‘banker’ not ‘investment banker’
    2- maybe its better if u start your own blog and share your brilliant ideas with the whole world. and try to keep this site for people who actually have something USEFUL to say..

  7. Batrouni
    September 7, 2011 at 12:02 am #

    Haha spot on! This video is a pure publicity for these 3/4 clubs and an indication of how lame people have become.
    But you know what, Beirut isn’t even a great party city! You have more chances to get hit than get laid in a club, that is if you were allowed to get in!

  8. S. Jaffer
    September 7, 2011 at 12:29 am #

    Liked your piece…and really like your site! I will check back here more often!!

  9. Nasri Atallah
    September 7, 2011 at 12:57 am #

    Nathalie Dib
    You know I always enjoy a good debate ☺ Well, like I said I enjoy positive depictions of Lebanon in the media (ie ones that don’t involve warfare or gratuitous exoticism). But this kind of piece has already been done to death (including by Cal Perry of CNN last year). And even within CNN’s current focus on Beirut, it’s still pretty crap. And the rest of the pieces on Beirut (I only saw the Solidere one) are similarly weak and redundant and been-there-done-that-got-the-tshirt.
    As for complaining for the sake of complaining, well that is both a very Lebanese and a very British trait, so I’m kind of doomed to partake in it. But it isn’t just free complaining. The fact bloggers and so on talk about it, means we’re contributing to the conversation, that maybe isn’t happening in the mainstream media, and that has to count for something. Also, on a personal level, I’m involved professionally in a series of initiatives to bring arts, culture and social responsibility to the forefront of corporate culture through a project I’m currently involved with pretty much full time. So I’m putting my money (ie time) where my proverbial mouth is.

You shouldn’t feel guilty for having these thoughts, I think articulating them, and getting them into the public domain is healthy. Discussions around these things are always useful. And the last time I went to London, was the first time I felt very little difference money wise with Beirut, in terms of purchasing power. And that was a first, given I’ve been going back and forth for decades. It’s a crying shame.

    I haven’t given up hope completely yet. Even though I agree there is a definite downward spiral on a lot of levels, there are enough people who still care about an alternative.

    Karim and mounir
    Thanks for putting up for me, but I’m kind of used to Mansoor. He has come in and commented before based on personal attacks rather that what’s in the post he’s commenting on. And to answer your concern, I don’t know the guy. However, he does feature in the acknowledgments to my upcoming book (published in November by Turning Point, just in time for Christmas, fits perfectly in a stocking * wink wink *) along with a Serbian guy who called me the worst writer he’s ever had the displeasure of reading. I have a sense of humour.

    HA! More chances to get hit than get laid. I’m stealing that!

S. Jaffer
    I’m happy to have a new reader! Welcome and thank you.

  10. Mansoor
    September 7, 2011 at 1:59 am #

    @Karim, no point for you to be a lemming and follow the crowd of shallow thinkers. You’re right i think i am jealous of Nasri’s blog. After all it has around 1000 hits per month. Not bad for a guy with 2000 “friends” on facebook

    @Mounir, I don’t expect you to understand the lexicon of banking. In most probability you haven’t even opened your own bank account yet. As for your suggestion about having my own blog, well i don’t intend on doing it, purely for a lack of meritorious readers. My nightmare would be for people like you to have access to my thoughts. Nietszche explains that very well in “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, if you think you’re good enough to read it. But I’m not holding my breath.

    @Nasri. Thanks for including me in the acknowledgement section of you “book”. You remind me of a hilarious lebanese proverb which basically says ” Eza wahad baza2 bi wejjak, bet 2oul 3am bet chatteh…”

    Sur ce, bonne nuit tout le monde

  11. Hulk
    September 7, 2011 at 7:28 am #

    Going by the reactions to Richard Quest’s Beirut Nightlife piece, Quest was indeed wrong to claim that Lebanese enjoy a certain joie de vivre. More aptly, he should have described us as self-hating and endlessly critical douchebags

  12. Ziad Kamel
    September 7, 2011 at 8:41 am #

    The blogger makes a lot of good points that i agree with but do we really need to hate on positive media that Lebanon receives just because it’s about the night club industry? Does being cynical about Beirut’s nightlife accomplish anything except for getting a large number of hits on a blog? I don’t see New Yorkers or Londoners or any other people hating on media coverage of their own city’s debaucherous night life scene. Besides, the blogger failed to mention that the 5min CNN nightlife clip was preceded by 3 other longer short films about Beirut with something ‘more substantial’ to his deep cultural tastes like heritage and architecture and rebuilding the country. Nightlife gets 15% coverage out of the whole Beirut series and guess what, haters be haters. I guess we should just settle for the media status quo: Failed Lebanese Leaders getting media coverage on CNN when they are in the process of destroying the country.

  13. Nasri Atallah
    September 7, 2011 at 8:59 am #

    Hulk – that would undoubtedly be a more accurate depiction. But in all seriousness, doesn’t the fact that so many people reacted the same way count for something? or at least say something?

    Ziad – I’m not being cynical because it is about nightlife, I tend to be quite cynical in general and I just happened to stumble on this video this week. I don’t watch CNN, and I actively avoid anything Richard Quest does, but I was aware of one other video (that also made the rounds online) about the Downtown and the Souks and so on, which was similarly poor journalism (and which also got some people pissed off). I still don’t think nightlife fits into the Future Cities category, based purely on the title sequence for the show that involves “alternative commute plans” and “new bike schemes” and whatnot.
    As for New York and London, they enjoy the luxury of immensely powerful brands (and that’s understating it), and debaucherous nightlife comes as a small percentage of the overall package. They’re not in the process of establishing what those cities mean to the outside world.

    And believe me, my tastes aren’t necessarily deep or cultural, I like a night out as much as the next person. I’m also a fan of the Alleyway, and the Angry Monkey looks awesome. I just think there are other things we should be addressing, and other things CNN should be paying attention to, especially on a show about sustainability. I’ll try to find the two segments of the show on Lebanon that I haven’t seen, maybe there’s something in there that should be shared widely that’s been missed. And on a side note, you were about the only articulate person in that video.

  14. I-Browse
    September 7, 2011 at 9:45 am #

    Hulk – Spot on.

    Nasri – Great stuff, might not agree with everything you put down – but def a fun read nonetheless.

    Let’s try and have a more positive outlook on the ‘motherland’, shall we?

    This CNN segment was definitely a step up from the chest-beating, America-bashing, veiled monstrosities that have typically been paraded in any ‘feature’ on Lebanon.
    And this isn’t me saying I love America, or have anything against the veil, (although I do take issue with the chest-beating – I find it rather pointless and melodramatic).

    I’d rather a positive expose on Beirut’s nightlife (despite all its *insert judgments here* ) than watching yet another ‘look at those silly backward Arabs’ segment on CNN, or otherwise.

    So if we’re going to be ‘big picture’ about all of this, this was a good thing – albeit your personal pet peeves.


  15. Nasri Atallah
    September 7, 2011 at 9:54 am #

    I-browse – I guess positive is a relative term, which is why I started by writing that I enjoy positive portrayals of Lebanon, but…
    Sure, people not thumping their chests in anger is more positive than people doing just that.

    I’m not negative for the sake of being a hater, I just really think there’s a lot that needs to be thought of from a PR standpoint, and I’m not sure we’re doing it quite yet.
    And I don’t think the motherland has given us a hell of a lot to be positive about (even internally) in a while.
    But sure, I agree, it’s a step up from CNN coverage a decade or even five years ago.

  16. Reina
    September 7, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    Congrats on publishing your book! 3u’bali!
    I’ll keep an eye out for it… :-)

  17. serge gelalian
    September 7, 2011 at 10:54 am #




  18. Ribal Abi Raad
    September 7, 2011 at 11:36 am #

    I think Reef said it best, when she said that almost everyone who’s commented on this article, and who’ve shared it, are part of this cult of narcissistic, elitist group.

    Our problem is not in the way we view our country and the way we think about our lives. Our problem is in the fact that we chose to stop any type of critical thinking and SELF-analysis.

    I am hardly poised to see any Lebanese who’d willingly admit he’s made a mistake. God forbid a Lebanese person could actually do something wrong! I wish I could rant my heart out on this comment.

    I’m not going to praise you for criticizing people. I’m not going to praise you for being analytical of this video. I am however, going to applaud you for being one of the few Lebanese people I’ve ever known for admitting a mistake, and admitting that his lifestyle may not, after all, be the only way any human has to live their life.

  19. موكسي
    September 7, 2011 at 12:03 pm #

    this is one great blog post

  20. Nasri Atallah
    September 7, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    Reina and Serge – Thanks a lot!

    Ribal – Fair enough. It’s much appreciated. I don’t believe in something called “a lifestyle”, I think people should mix and match between various influences and activities and social groups. Otherwise you don’t learn much, and you get the false impression, as you rightly point out, that you’re always right. And yeah, being self-critical is useful, especially when it’s sincere.

  21. simon
    September 7, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

    I agree that ” not thinking about tomorrow ” isn’t something to be proud of, but still i posted the video on my page .
    I don’t understand how seeing people dancing and having fun pisses you so much. If u want to spend your day in Bourj Hammoud and in an abandoned train station your free to do that but please don’t criticise Lebanese people’s love for enjoying life.

  22. Nasri Atallah
    September 7, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

    I’m all for people dancing and having fun, and my main contention with this video and the notion it perpetuates is precisely that no one seems to be dancing or having fun. And I don’t spend my days in abandoned train stations, that would be odd, it was an example for illustrative purposes.
    Also, I don’t criticise people for loving life. I’m criticising a video that claims to show people loving life who aren’t really loving life.

  23. T.A.I.
    September 7, 2011 at 1:43 pm #

    @ I-Browse

    So Arabs have to choose between being portrayed as either “chest-beating, America-bashing, veiled monstrosities” or young, hedonistic and superficial club goers who “party it up” even as a certain southern neighbour is dropping bombs on their “chest-beating, America-bashing, veiled” compatriots?

    With the budget CNN has, you’d think it could afford better journalists. Ones able to go deeper than shallow appearances and provide viewers with a more layered analysis of what Lebanon is. There’s nothing inherently wrong with showing “chest-beating” people or pretentious clubs (because they both exist), as long as they’re included in a broader narrative, and their existence and behaviour is described in a meaningful and honest manner. Why do some people in Lebanon hate America? Why do others desperately want to resemble Americans and worship the latter’s culture to the point of forgetting their own? How many people realize that both kinds of people are reacting to the same historical events and economic situation, but simply reacting differently? Some choose to beat their chest, others choose to play pretend. Most importantly, where are those who fall in the grey areas between these two crowds? Including them would add richness to the reporting and make it something more than mere propaganda.

    The reason why these so called “journalists” have chosen to focus on the Beirut clubbing scene these past few years is simple. It’s called contrast. When you put two colours together which stand opposite each other on the colour wheel, they both appear more vibrant, you’ve created contrast. Similarly, when you show a young crowd dressed in revealing clothing and drinking while an American act performs on stage, in contrast to veiled women beating their chest in anger and desperation amidst piles of rubble and dust, both scenes become more attention grabbing. The cost of this is that all subtleties are lost about both types of people and everything in between, and you’re left with obscene caricatures of reality. Let’s not settle for this junk simply because it is “better” than the other option. In the end, both options are a new kind of orientalism.

    Another point worth making is that these depictions aim to create in people’s minds a separation between “good Arabs” (in line with Western agendas) and “bad Arabs” (in opposition with Western agendas). And of course, many brilliant Lebanese play into this irresistible, divisive script which titillates their sectarian minds, as showcased by the sectarian undertone of some comments.

  24. Hulk
    September 7, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

    Nasri – I have a few contentions with this piece that I was too rushed to explain earlier, hence my breif comment. However, now that I have time to;

    1) Seeing that we’ve both lived in London (read ur bio), this part: “I mean, when they cover Mykonos or Ibiza, I’m pretty sure there isn’t a slum where people live on less that USD 2 a day within walking distance…”
    How is that relevant? Ever been out in Mayfair in London? Well next time you’re out there, jump on the N74 bus and take a short trip down to Elephant and Castle (I wouldn’t advise you to go beyond). Say hi to the vagabonds and drunks, I’ve missed them. Doesn’t detract from London’s night scene, and neither should it from ours.

    2) “And what’s all this nonsense about joie de vivre anyway? I’m sorry but I have yet to see a genuine example of someone loving life when I go out in Lebanon. We go to clubs with 3000 people, but hang out with the 20 we already know. We all look inward at our table. People stare into their Blackberries and iPhones trying to figure out if something more exciting is happening elsewhere, because they’re under the impression that they are in no way contributing to the complete lack of an atmosphere here, and it’s everyone else’s fault. ”

    Lack of atmosphere?! Lack of atmosphere?! Man.. I’m a well traveled party-er. These places have amazing atmospheres. Otherwise, I haven’t lived in Lebanon since 2007 – so now when I do go, I have to go to places like skybar etc on random tables where I know one or two people. I MEET people all the time. Even when I sit on the bar, I always end up talking to random people. Sorry your outings have been so bland, but I have never witnessed (to the extent that you describe it) this pack attitude of yours. Sure friends hang out on the same table, hell, they’re friends.

    3) “I’m sick of people confusing self-medicated post-traumatic stress with a love of life.” What? So everyone in Lebanon is suffering from post-traumatic disorder? What kind of silly statement is that.

    4) You’re spot on about inflation and spending. Nothing we can do about that though and I think that’s an irrelevant point you brought up just to flesh out this piece.

    5) “When you consider they pay 1000 USD to get here from Europe, then 200-300 a night to stay here, you can imagine they’re pretty skint by the time Skybar comes around. Compare that to 60 Euro tickets from most European capitals to Spain or Greece.” 1000 USD! No need to hyperbolize to make your point. I used to live in London and would regularly find flights between 350 (with a stop-over, but what do Europeans care about a stop over when they’re paying 60 euros to jump on thrift airlines) and 800 USD. The 60 euros you mention are rare bargains you’ll find on thrift airlines (ryanair, easyjet). We don’t enjoy thrift airline routes.. so no point of comparison. Hence, moot point.

    6) Your last point about foreigners wanting to see sights; I have had a couple of friends bring a group of Americans and a group of Europeans over to visit Leb. Both groups went up to Baalbeck, Byblos, etc. No foreigner with a brain would come here and miss that. They do see those things. But they also know that we party hard. We do. We party hard. Lebanese love to party. Nothing new there. Just an extra pull factor.

    I really think that you wrote this piece as a cliched knee-jerk reaction to Quest’s video. Nothing is wrong with highlighting ANOTHER facet of Lebanese life. Nothing wrong with the fact that we have exclusive (all top clubs in the world are exclusive) raving clubs. Unfair of you to bash it.

  25. Gab
    September 7, 2011 at 2:59 pm #

    Thank you for telling it like it is, you just spoke the words out of my head!

    I agree with every point you mentioned above and unfortunately, coming from the communication business, its so clear to me we have not even considered branding our country like we should.
    Notice the logos of the Ministries, where’s our country’s logo? a strategic communication plan? Tourist strategy? Implementation of decent laws (remember the ones every Lebanese abroad follows?) I mean there’s a whole lot of branding and strategic work to be done to adjust such a bad situation!!

    So far its hypocrisy that reigns….

  26. I-Browse
    September 7, 2011 at 3:20 pm #

    @ T.A.I.

    You make a great point, and I stand corrected on some issues that you brought up.
    I did not consider the contrast involved, nor the larger brainwashing agenda that you hinted at.

    I don’t necessarily agree with your understanding of my intentions in writing my reply, however.

    As for the ‘sectarian undertone’ comment, if that was a thinly veiled jab at my mentioning the veil, etc – know that I am a staunch atheist, and not interested in pursuing that line of argument.

    Very Lebanese of you to immediately point that out, and draw a line there.
    I was stating a fact, even if my choice of adjectives was loaded.

    The ‘chest-beaters’ – I hope we can agree on this much – represent a minority that tended to be flaunted as the norm, which moderate believers would not appreciate, no matter what side of the fence they were on.

    And to clarify what I mean by minority, lest you once again accuse me of sectarianism – I’m willing to bet no one in your nuclear family has ever been caught on one of CNN’s segments displaying their grief that way. And yes, I made an assumption based on your English..a result of an education.. and the marked negative correlation between education and religious fanaticism.

    The point I was trying to make, which you so eloquently argued against until unfortunately resorting to a bit of smear tactics – is that in so far as content is considered, this is a definite upward trend in features on Lebanon.

    And yes, that is relative.

    But the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and as far as I’m concerned, this was a step in the right direction.

    Now in terms of the actual content of the segment, and the glorification of the superficiality that is rampant in Lebanon – I am not a fan, and I am not defending that.

    But you did open my eyes to another perspective on the issue, and I thank you for that.

    But let’s stick to the big picture, which is what I was referring to, and not be tit for tat about how things are said.


  27. Nasri Atallah
    September 7, 2011 at 3:28 pm #

    1) I have been out of Mayfair in London, thank you very much. I have been to Elephant & Castle, and beyond (scary, I know). And the fact you suppose I haven’t kind of indicates where you’ve pigeonholed me.
    I’m not saying other places in the world don’t have poverty, so they can enjoy partying. But comparing London, one of the wealthiest cities in the world, with Beirut, where a far more substantial proportion get by on close to nothing with no access to public services, isn’t entirely helpful either. To your credit though, it probably wasn’t my strongest point in the piece.
    2) Just for future reference, not everything I talk about are things that happen to me. I tend to not go to these rooftops, even though I occasionally do in summer to see expat friends who refuse flat out to go anywhere else. I’m lucky enough to be exposed to another side of nightlife in the city where people do dance a bit more, and where the crowd is a bit more interesting and eccelectic. And I manage to have quite a bit of fun. But when I do go to rooftops, I’m afraid they’re not terribly social places. And I’m a sociable kind of guy, so I find it boring. And I stand by the point that there’s no atmosphere, besides the thumping music, nothing else seems to be moving. Funnily enough, I’ve seen better atmosphere in clubs in the Elephant & Castle you seem to revile and fear.
    3) No, not everyone. I don’t see the word everyone in there.
    And yes, incidences of wide-spread, untreated mental health conditions prevailing in Lebanon due to warfare and lack of proper care are well documented. It makes sense if you think about it. It’ll take me a bit of time to dig out the studies I’ve read (well, skimmed through out of curiosity). But I’ll get back to you on that one. Not sure I have any articles on self-medication though, that’s speculative based on anecdotal evidence.
    4) Glad we’re in agreement. And no it wasn’t to flesh out the piece, to be honest I think it’s tediously long for a blog post as it is. But I think our willingness to spend without questioning might have an impact on inflation. Then again I’m no economist, and granted, I’m completely pulling this assumption out of my ass.
    5) Please forward me the number to your travel agent or the URL to the booking site you use. It seems I’m being taken for a ride by both of mine.
    6) Sure they go to those places, I’m just saying that even in terms of interesting things to see there might be one or two items to add to a perhaps tired itinerary.
    No knee-jerk. The knee-jerk was making fun of the video on my Facebook profile in a sentence or two. This was something I kind of wanted to say, and have wanted to say for a while. And your being dismissive isn’t really an argumentation technique. To paraphrase you, there’s nothing wrong with the fact some people question having exclusive clubs (that they might occasionally go to) as a major part of their nation’s international branding/PR campaign. ANOTHER facet of Lebanese reactions to this video.
    But in conclusion, thanks for taking the effort to write such a long comment. I enjoy a bit of engaging banter!

  28. Ziad Kamel
    September 7, 2011 at 4:00 pm #

    Nasri – Many thanks for your reply to my comment, i appreciate it.

    Being somewhat of an optimist, I see the positive side of this polarizing debate about the video in question circulating on social media sites and blogs such as yours. Whatever way one looks at it, this 5min CNN Video on Beirut Nightlife has generated more media mileage than anything else in the past few years (other than wars, extremism, assassinations, failed leaders…). The YouTube vid already has more than 18,500 views to date and thousands more have seen it on CNN’s website and millions more on satellite TV. It has mobilized bloggers, journalists and tweeps to viciously post their links and personal analysis.

    I am for once happy that the debate is about something light-hearted and fun rather than political and pukey (yes i just made up this word). The media mileage this vid created shines the global light on Lebanon and sends the following message:

    The Lebanese are not only good at killing each other but are equally good, if not better, at trying to (or seemingly trying to) enjoy their lives to the best of their abilities and invest in their country (under a corrupt and failed political leadership that provides them with nothing but sadness and disasters).

    I am looking forward to sharing a drink with you at The Angry Monkey or a lunch at Couqley anytime.

  29. Hulk
    September 7, 2011 at 4:01 pm #

    You’ve replied with good humour, Nasri. I still disagree! Otherwise, when I have time to, I’ll check out the rest of your blog. As a fellow blogger, I see you’ve done well. Good luck keeping it up.

  30. Nasri Atallah
    September 7, 2011 at 4:40 pm #

    Ziad – Hmm. Optimism. I should try that sometime!

    Hulk – Thank you and I would have been very disappointed if you agreed with me all of a sudden :) Let me know what you think of the rest of the blog. Any chance of the URL to yours?

  31. Hulk
    September 7, 2011 at 5:28 pm #

    Its in hiatus and Im switching onto my own site! But will advertise here once up again 😉

  32. Omar
    September 7, 2011 at 6:19 pm #

    Well I really don’t understand what the big deal is. So the city is on CNN and Richard Quest is boasting the Lebanese peoples’ party scene, boohooo how sad!
    He is not really saying that that’s the way to go, the report is just exposing somewhat of a reality. Lebanese youth does have that mentality.
    And most importantly, the program is called future cities, and that city is Beirut. If you want to see more history and culture, you should go to Tyr, Tripoli and Beiteddine, etc. But that’s not really the scope of the show.

  33. Sarah
    September 7, 2011 at 9:24 pm #

    Always love a controversy. Witty blog, despite a slightly pompous demeanor overall. Mostly enjoyed the debate in the comments section. It’s admirable that you take the time to respond to each of your commentators oftentimes with a lighthearted attitude. Will be back for more juicy debates on your blog!

  34. alextohme
    September 7, 2011 at 10:44 pm #

    Dear Beardy
    Sometimes CNN misses key journalistic scoops, such as this “supermarket tries to sell rotten cucumbers in saudi” youtube clip which has over 400,000 views.

    Much as we would all like to see Quest interviewing Beyonce Bouncing over some Batinjaan in Batroun i’m afraid the target audience of CNN just isn’t going to buy it. (or are they…..? )

    Sometimes i wonder if people in Amsterdam say, god i’m so sick and tired of people coming here to hang out in our cafe’s, our red light district and use our bicycles, when we have so much more to offer. There’s the Hague and Rembrandt and Vermeer.

    The combined direct and indirect contribution of travel and tourism to Lebanon’s GDP is over ONE THIRD (33.8%). By contrast the total contribution of the same in the Netherlands is 6%

    sex drugs and rock and roll are obviously much cheaper in amsterdam. but i digress…

    thanks to the glorious interweb thingy, we no longer have to rely solely on things like TV and airport lounges to get the word out and influence others. those of us that like to portray any other image of lebanon, multiple different images, can do so through blogs, social networks, youtube etc, and they can zip around the world flooding people’s inboxes at great speed and scale.

    i myself am going to create a blog about supermarket vegetables as soon as i finish writing this comment.

    bisoux from the iowa of the middle east

  35. Nasri Atallah
    September 8, 2011 at 1:00 am #

    Well first of all, I don’t think you got my point. And the fact you think that there’s no history and culture in Beirut and one has to go to Tyr, Tripoli etc, is extremely worrying. And again, I don’t get how clubbing is the future of Beirut.

    I think you’re being lenient by calling me only “slightly pompous”, so thank you for that. And the least I can do is answer comments, after all people take the time to say something, the least I can do is respond. And I love the comment section, I often find fallacies in my argument and discover completely new ways of looking at an issue. Glad you’ll be coming back ☺

    I look forward to your blog about supermarket vegetables. Words cannot express how much I look forward to it.
    And actually it is funny you should bring up Amsterdam. When I went there, I was chatting to a Dutch friend of mine who said “I hope now you’ve been here you know it’s not just weed and hookers, and that you’ve seen the real Amsterdam. That crap is just for American backpackers. Locals don’t really like it”. It struck me as odd at the time, that this guy would be negating something the city is so famous for. But the city is taking measure now to reduce the Red Light district, with a view to eliminating it completely and I hear they’re curbing the sale of drugs in coffeeshops. So I guess they prefer their Vermeers.

  36. The Silent
    September 8, 2011 at 1:51 am #

    I’ve been following this latest blog-comment thread with great interest, as I’m pretty much split between naked rage at Quest’s oversimplification and the realization that garden-variety “parachute journalists” are likely to oversimplify every city.

    Miami. Las Vegas. Nairobi. Shanghai. Mexico City. Rio. Washington. London. Each of these cities draws an immediate stereotype; yet, each city is also a complex and ever-evolving urban habitat.

    Not to bash Nasri’s fine work or the diligent comments of his critics… But the truth, as usual, is somewhere in between.

  37. T.A.I.
    September 8, 2011 at 2:55 am #

    @ I-Browse

    Thank you for your comment. Your willingness to be open to different perspectives is appreciated.

    Hinting at sectarianism wasn’t meant to be a jab or smear tactics. The word “monstrosities” simply gave the impression that you look at a certain part of the Lebanese population with disdain. Sectarianism doesn’t have to be based on religion. It can be based on lifestyle, beliefs and politics. No matter how much one disagrees with “chest-beaters” and the likes, singling them out and calling them “veiled monstrosities” was uncalled for, don’t you think? Fanatics can be found in every group. Some wear a suit and a tie and can be more dangerous and corrupt than the so called “chest beaters”.

    The Western media likes to use certain images to convince viewers that Arabs are “terrorists” who need to be tamed before they attack North American suburbs. As Lebanese, we don’t need to fall for it, do we? Maybe the “chest-beaters” look threatening to the average Westerner, and certain Lebanese are embarrassed by the association, but…who goes to war in every corner of the planet killing millions and looting everything it can get its hands on? But they’re “civilized” right? Because they don’t “beat their chest”?

    It seems some Lebanese are so ashamed by the negative portrayals they got in the media for so long, that they’re ready to embrace anything that sounds remotely positive by Western standards, however shallow and vacuous. Sure, the portrayal of Lebanon as a pile of bombed out rubble, inhabited by blood thirsty savages was aggravating, but let’s stop blaming this biased portrayal on a particular group simply because they refuse to adopt western standards and are willing to stand up for themselves against aggressors. Let the West be ashamed of their bias and lies, of Iraq, Afghanistan, Chagos Islands, Vietnam, Hiroshima, what they did to Native Americans, colonisation, support of puppet dictators, slavery and the list goes on.

    There are, however, things the Lebanese should be embarrassed about: garbage everywhere, worst internet speeds than so called “third world“ countries, rampant corruption, mistreatment of foreign workers, gender inequality…and especially, the fact that people would rather indebt themselves to wear expensive brands, drive luxury cars and be seen in soulless “exclusive” spots than take care of these issues.

    Hopefully my comments don’t come off as long rants. Your comments simply triggered chains of thoughts which I felt compelled to share.

    Cheers :)

    @ Omar

    You say (surprisingly, without a hint of irony):

    “And most importantly, the program is called future cities, and that city is Beirut. If you want to see more history and culture, you should go to Tyr, Tripoli and Beiteddine, etc.”

    Have a look at these links:

    Beirut used to be all about history, culture, good taste and class. What had survived for decades and centuries has for the most part been destroyed and replaced by cheap, ugly, worthless, pseudo-modernity. Those who want a “future city” should learn to respect its past and take into consideration sustainability, which is not the case in Beirut.

    Furthermore, history and culture are not just about a roman ruin here and an Ottoman relic there…they should be present in the very social fabric of a place. Just as historic architecture has been replaced by a tasteless concrete jungle, the social fabric in Beirut is being eroded by consumerism and pretentiousness. And people are supposed to be proud of this…

  38. Ibrahim Farah
    September 8, 2011 at 7:15 am #

    Thank you for this great article. It reflects years of thoughts that I had in my head, and that i still don’t understand why we turned the only city of culture, and liberties in the Arab World into a club. When i was trying to discuss these issues with my friends they were looking to me in a strange way that shows their discust, like they were saying: “this stupid retarded guy does’nt see how Beirut is becoming like foreign cities full of life, he’s surely a weirdo”. Excuse me guys I have lived and visited cities around the World more that any of you, and I can distinguish “FAKE” from “REALITY”. I always remember the world that i heard from a 16 years old boy born and raised in LA when he first visited his homeland and he was asked about his opininon, he replied: “SORRY THIS IS A FAKE COUNTRY.” When I saw the reprotage I remembered a firned of mine who live in a very poor neighboorhood in a 1 room appartment, and she goes out with guys who took her to these fancy clubs. Her family are barely making their livings, while she spent all her savings (years of working) on buying a Nissan Z50. The author didn’t mentionned how much it cost to spend a night at one of these clubs, I would like to tell you that coming in and out will cost you at least 150 USD, while the minimum rage in Lebanon is 300 USD. Since 2005 until now, the country is going backward on a very fast pace. Well educated people especially youngs who has ambition cannot find their place here, they are simply leaving the country. Those who should be the future of the country are leaving. Beirut used to be the favorite place for authors and intellectuals (Mahmoud Darwish, Nizar Qabanni, etc.) not becasue of its night life, but becaus of the freedom of expression and the publishing industry that we had. And beleive me vodka and foreign music doesn’t give tourism in Lebanon any added value. Instead of spending 150$ per one night in Skybar, I can go to Bodrum, Turkey for a week, having the best CLEAN beaches, hotels, tours, and surely clubs… all for no more than 700 USD including the ticket.
    I can write a thesis about this subject, but I choose to stop here allowing other people to comment.

  39. Nasri Atallah
    September 8, 2011 at 8:14 am #

    The Silent
    Good to hear from you. Naturally, we can’t expect Richard Quest or CNN to do Lebanon’s branding and image work for us. After all, these journalists come into town for 2 days and are shown around by a fixer who shows them pretty much what he thinks they should see. There aren’t that many fixers in town, which is why so much coverage turns out to be near-identical. And the Quests of the world aren’t really journalists, they are brands unto themselves, and so they engage in theatrics to boost ratings and so on.
    I agree with you though, it has been very interesting to read everyone’s comments, and the one thing I come away with above all is that people care about how their city is perceived enough to argue a case for or against a certain approach. And that can only be a good thing.

  40. I-Browse
    September 8, 2011 at 12:06 pm #

    @ T.A.I.

    I just thought I’d clarify a few points, because I think we might not have totally understood each other.

    To begin with, yes – referring to them as veiled monstrosities was uncalled for.
    But I wont apologize for it, as it is my opinion.
    And to be perfectly honest, yes I am disdainful of all extremists, especially religious extremists. I think they are backwards. And that is my opinion, again.

    More importantly though, I don’t blame the negative perception that the west has of Arabs on these extremists. I blame irresponsible journalism and selective reporting that leads to these stereotypes. Extremism exists everywhere.

    So to go back to the original point I was making, it was refreshing to see a CNN segment on Lebanon that didn’t portray us in a negative light.

    And again, positive is relative but I’m sure we can all agree that compared to segments in the past, this is a step up. It is on a positive note, regardless of whether or not you agree with the content itself.

    That’s really all I had to say, and I thank you again for shedding light on some issues I had not considered.

    @ Nasri:
    Great stuff, your blog.. went over some other posts. Also, kudos on dealing with comments – nothing is easier than being anonymously critical on the internet (or trolling, in the internet terminology of this generation). Nice to see that you don’t take the bait, and have a sense of humor about it all.


  41. Omar
    September 8, 2011 at 3:41 pm #


    I know perfectly well that Beirut has a lot of culture. I was just answering your point where you brought up Tyr and Tripoli’s architecture… I meant to say that the show is called future cities, and that city is Beirut, not Tyr, not Tripoli, not Batroun…
    I’ve also seen a number of reports on the busy streets of Gemmayze, Monot and Hamra. The rooftops of Beirut is just another new hot topic. Beirut has also been on the news for its clashes, its wars, etc. It’s okay if we have a pleasant discussion about the city for a change.
    You know what really bothered me Nasri is that amid all the criticism you managed to find the opportunity to tell us that you have been to those places and that you have spend your early adulthood in the posh clubs of London.
    If Beirut has some problems and some major bugs, this doesn’t mean that its people cannot enjoy themselves. A line up of international artists have been singing in Beirut’s nightclubs. These people fly all the way from the US to sing in some third world country’s nightclubs. Don’t tell that’s not something to talk about. It doesn’t really matter how many $ signs they have in their names.
    From what I know, tourists love to come to Beirut to enjoy most importantly the interesting mix that we have. They can go cruising in Bourj Hammoud in the daytime, go to the beach, up to the mountains, have coffee in Rawda, and then throw a party at night.
    One last thing, you really think no one complains about the inflation? You’ve really never heard anybody other than cab drivers complain about that, and the electricity, etc?
    I’m sorry to have taken so much of your space, a little controversy is always nice. Maybe I’ll get my own blog someday. My point is let’s just give ourselves a break, and enjoy the buzz!

  42. Nasri Atallah
    September 8, 2011 at 3:58 pm #

    Ibrahim Farah
    Thank you. Your comments are interesting, and you make a good point about people leaving the country for lack of opportunities. That deserves a whole post (and much more) of its own.

    Glad you like the rest of the posts. I love dealing with the comments, I learn a lot from them. And it’s only polite to answer people who have taken the time to write something. Where would we all be without a sense of humour! 

    Why does it bother you that I admitted going to these places? I think it would be far more worrying if I’d allowed myself to criticize part of what they represent if I’d never set foot inside them. Plus I say I regret having wasted so much time and money in similar places; it’s an admission of past (and occasionally current) mistakes. Not sure how that would bother anyone.
    And artists come to these clubs not because they love our city, but because they are paid often 6 figures to show up to perform. That says nothing about Beirut, it only indicates the financial power of the businesses running the places.
    The day you described (Bourj Hammoud, Rawda, etc) sounds perfect to be honest. Sign me up for that anytime. And yeah, people complain about inflation in ways that aren’t really vocal or organized. Including me. I complain all day but don’t do much about it. We don’t have vocal consumer protection groups and so on that defend our rights and hold business owners accountable to a set of ethics.
    I think overall we pretty much agree about most things, we just phrase them differently and emphasize different things. Thanks for your comment, it’s fun to respond to. ☺

  43. Charbel
    September 9, 2011 at 8:00 am #

    Oh dear…
    Nasri I just salute your capability of reading all the comments you get, and replying to each one of them!
    Some people take themselves much too seriously.
    Reading a couple of comments made me feel like watching the presidential debate, with these elaborate counter-arguments and dissections of every letter you have typed.
    It’s really beyond me why people just want to make you look so wrong.
    After all, I had the impression this was nothing more than a personal blog.

  44. Nasri Atallah
    September 9, 2011 at 4:05 pm #

    Thanks for the comment. I know what you mean, this blog (and most blogs) are just idiots venting about things that they love or hate. And that’s just what I do. Some people take it far more seriously than I do. I thoroughly enjoy the debates though, so all the comments are welcome!

  45. Karla Yanina
    September 12, 2011 at 11:19 pm #

    Every so often when I feel homesick for Beirut I visit this blog. Not that I am Lebanese, I was born in Guatemala and have lived in Canada most of my life, but when i visited Lebanon last year I felt at home, like i’ve lived there before, maybe in a previous life, but that’s a discussion for my psychic. This blog is always thought provoking and please know, almost always i get a good laugh. Nasri you do have a gift and thanks for sharing it with strangers.
    As for CNN, it is sad that this particular clip focuses on something soo terribly shallow but at the same time, it might be good to remember who makes up CNN’s audience. For the most part it is people who are happier shopping at Walmart than going to see a proper tailor, and so on. However, when I went to Lebanon my aim was to learn about a very rich old culture and it was difficult. I was never able to find a Hammam Souk, every time i asked people pointed to a western style spa. I was also corrected for using the word Shookran, and I quote “In this country we use the words thank you or merci”. WTF ?!? It must be noted that this came from a young person, 22 year old at a lounge in Gemayseh. Next time i want western culture i will save many, many thousands of $$$ and stay home! Trust me coming from Winnipeg it is very expensive to fly to the Middle East. And no i never had a chance to go to the bars in question here, as a woman travelling I kept it to nice safe places like Opium in Gemayseh, Mike, his wife Joyce, Jimmy the dj, all treated like one of of their own, so didn’t venture too far.
    Ah, by the way, do we have the cheap flight info yet? I would really appreciate it too.

  46. Karla Yanina
    September 13, 2011 at 5:48 am #

    i was 1/2 asleep when i wrote the above, it should read Opia not Opium, among other things. sorry about that.


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