Returning to Beirut isn’t easy.
Many people of Lebanese origin split their time between Beirut and other towns (anywhere you can find a Lacoste store). Folks in my cohort - single, male, Lebanese twenty-somethings with some disposable income, dual-residency, and a penchant for disregarding the old adage that “nothing good happens after 2:00 a.m.” – face a peculiar challenge: Adaptation.
The truth is, each city has a pulse, a preferred conversational approach, ritualized itineraries, and certain quirks. A young man must adapt to the city’s wants without losing sight of what sets him apart. (As Thomas Jefferson said: “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand firm like a rock.”)
The Flow: A Basic Introduction to the Concept of Positive Energy
Hopping between two cities is a bit more problematic than jet-setting. A jet-setter is in vacation mode for most of his life, shedding his inhibitions, reveling in anonymity, playing the tourist card, and skipping town just before “consequences” begin to materialize.
Meanwhile, dual residents must deal with all the cautions of home while enjoying only some of its comforts. Cautions: That pretty girl by the bar? She could know your sister – or worse, your ex-girlfriend. That random “Tuesday night” walking down your side of the street? She’s likely gone through a stable of your friends. That sweet innocent librarian type who won’t let you hold hands in public? One word: Chalet.
Comfort is trickier. When should we head out? Where should we start the night? Who do I know that can get me past security in my scuffed shell-toe sneakers? And how should I manage a conversation? By the time a man rediscovers “the flow,” it’s time to head back to the other city.
“The flow,” by the way, is an inner serenity arising from the knowledge that you’ve mastered a city’s quirks. A man who’s settled into a flow begins exuding what appears as confidence. That flow, or lack thereof, interacts with external elements – the city’s habits or patterns – to shape the night.
You may find yourself effortlessly engaging in banter that is somehow both casual and meaningful. You may suddenly find ladies smiling at your every gesture and laughing at jokes you know aren’t funny. Perhaps you’re telling ladies exactly what you’d like to do to them – consequences be damned – and discovering that they’re happy to oblige. That’s flow.
(Note: friends have suggested “groove,” “mojo,” “vibe,” “routine,” “game,” “aura,” “mystique,” and “interoperability.” Indeed.)
Conversely, if you find yourself awkwardly standing around, fiddling with your wrinkled shirt, interjecting at the wrong times, and mechanically plodding through every conversation, then you’d better go home. (We’ve all been there. Much like Lebanon’s political system, I spent about two years in a suspended state of dysfunction.) Not only are you not succeeding, but you risk thwarting your friends. The flow is a sensitive, nuanced energy. Don’t be selfish. Walk away.
Back to the Basics: Six Steps to Rediscovering the Game in Beirut
To play the game in Beirut, you must prepare for the PAS MAL test, a popular metric based on the following six issues: Profession, Access, Sema’a (Reputation), Mobility, Ambition, and Location. (Full disclosure: I spent far too much time figuring out the ‘S.’)
Muscle past the inevitable phalanx of fist-pumping male “friends,” most of whom couldn’t date her three years ago and now hover around to complicate your life. Talk to the female friends. They hold the key to her castle. (Beware. Usually, a woman will have two friends – or, two types of friends – that could undermine the whole enterprise. One will be jealous and judgmental. The other will be a flirty distraction.)
Once you’ve managed to earn some unstructured time with her, dispense with the intricate introductory routine – name, school, common friends, sectarian affiliation – and enter the labyrinth of her mind. Success: Having listened and talked to you for about twelve minutes, she gives you the “pas mal, pas mal” look. Then, and only then, order drinks.
Profession: Shoo btishtighel?
Be prepared to describe your job in fifty words or less. For instance: “I’m a doctor. [PAUSE, let it register.] I considered neurosurgery and pediatrics, but now I’m interested in plastic surgery.”
Dr. Anonymous accomplishes three things with that statement. First, by concisely describing his job, the good doctor demonstrates command of self. It’s natural to question, perhaps constantly question, your own path. But she doesn’t need to hear it all on the first night; it’s not her fault.
Second, in a subtle manner, the doctor’s checking the right boxes. By indicating that he could have been a neurosurgeon, the doctor is letting people know just how smart he is. By noting his interest in pediatrics, the doctor has endeared himself by showing how much he loves kids. (YAY, shoo cute!) And as a potential plastic surgeon, he’s offering a service in high demand – after all, he’s in Beirut.
Third, by being brief, he’s giving her the chance to ask more questions, continue talking about herself, or begin ignoring him in a ploy to make him want her more. In any of these scenarios, the doctor can expend less energy on initiating conversation and spend more time understanding her.
If you’re not a doctor, engineer, or lawyer, some creative resume-building will help. If you’re a sales executive at a hotel, try “account manager specializing in hospitality and leisure.” If you’re a bartender, try “silent partner and mixologist.” If you’re a spy, try “journalist,” “political consultant,” or “development advisor.”
Speak the truth, with some seasoning.
Access: Yi, Ma’ak Passpooooort?
The term “access,” to be brief, is a euphemism for “passport(s)” and shorthand for “ability to get me the fuck out of here.” From a practical standpoint, of course, there’s nothing wrong with seeking stability or prosperity. But women are increasingly blunt about their desire for this sort of access – almost as blunt as the men they deplore for their open pursuit of
Fellas, the next time you meet a girl at a bar, just brandish your passport(s) – Lebanese, French, Canadian, American, or some combination thereof – and ask: “How you like me now?” If she slaps you, she’s a genuine girl. If she starts shamelessly pursuing you, just enjoy an “intimate” night.
Reputation: Who’s Your Daddy?
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, family ties matter. Lebanese men, having spent their twenties trying to plow through every girl in sight, typically want a girl from “a good family” or “good home.” The ladies simply want a guy who’s “connected.” On balance, that’s fair.
Mobility: Shoo Ma’ak Siyyara?
Like a scene from Swingers, young ladies may ask you whether you have a car. They’ll also ask you what type of car you drive. A friend of mine, having traded in his BMW X5 for a Seat Ibiza, was stunned when a date told him “she wished he had a bigger car.” (The way I see it? At least she wasn’t complaining about the size of his other “attributes.”)
Just be honest. You probably can’t buy a new car on the spot, but you’ll be able to gauge what type of girl she is. Information matters.
Ambition: What’s Your Five-Year Plan?
I’ll never forget the day a girl asked me what my five-year plan was. Initially, it seemed like a cute conversational foray on a typically tentative second date. However, she kept pressing for an answer, smugly informing me that men who stayed in Lebanon were simply “boring,” “unintelligent,” and “unambitious.” She didn’t want to date guys who “stuck around.”
She was looking for a ticket out of Beirut. And I was the fucking ticket.
To be fair to her, she was probably frustrated and a bit jaded. If men find it difficult to parachute into a city and connect with people, women undoubtedly feel trapped by what they see as the playground antics of dual-residents and the collective apathy of those who remain.
But this girl had no credibility. Here’s her plan (seriously): Spend days tanning at Lazy B. Spend nights drinking a hole in daddy’s wallet. Spend every waking hour prowling for a man who’ll buy her illicitly-gotten trinkets for the next fifty years.
I explained what I do for a living. Entering the semi-sarcastic phase that precedes rage, I also explained that “my plan” was to remain open to the “signals the world was sending me.” The subsequent events were marked by angry versions of a popular activity. And that was that.
(The general advice? Determine the nature of her inquiry on a case-by-case basis and respond accordingly.)
Location: Where do you live?
Don’t tell her you live in Beirut.
You’re just visiting, perhaps for thirty years or until your prospective kids “find their roots” and graduate from college. You’re a consultant in Abu Dhabi who visits twice a week. You’re a restauranteur in Johannesburg who’s bringing a Nando’s-Mhanna fusion concept to the Mediterranean. You’re a pilot for Etihad. You’re a journalist from Cleveland on a temporary assignment (but you’ve lived here for six years). You work for the U.N. (no way to actually verify that, so have at it).
If she asks whether you’d like to return to Beirut “for good,” be honest. If you’re not sure, be vague. (Don’t lie. There’s no telling what she thinks.) As discussed, many women would love nothing more than a ticket out of town. On the other hand, many others are charmingly hell-bent on raising their kids in a city that’s a New York Times piece waiting to happen. (Check the World page during war. Check the Travel section during peace.)
Anyway, the truth is none of us live in Beirut. Beirut lives in us.