June 23, 2006

Street Names

Lebanon has a very intricate street labeling system. It is a bilingual duo system (French and Arabic) where streets and neighborhoods have both names and numbers. So you could live on 342, Ibrahim Street in Gemayze, for instance. Or, if you want it in numbers; 342, 95, 29.

You’d think with a system like that, it would be very easy to find someone’s address. Unfortunately it is not. This is an old system, and although it is still pretty much in place in pre-war neighborhoods, it is non-existent in areas that have been built after the civil war. And in the areas where it is still in place, it is not being used. Street names are an alien thing to the Lebanese. When explaining where someone lives, it is done in terms of landmarks. Thus I have friends who live near the SNA building, above Kayaan. And there are friends that live three houses down from the Maria statue near the overpass in Tahwita. I know a couple near the airport bridge, on the left side of the sheikh. But street names are never used.

What a job for a mailman, you might ask. Indeed. And therefore we don’t have many of those. Only recently did I see one walking, and that was the first time in 16 years that I saw one.

Some years ago, the Canadian Postal Services tried to give their Lebanese counterpart a facelift. I’m afraid that endeavor was well meant, but not completely successful. Granted, the post offices are the cleanest and best organized public offices in town. They even have ropes that sort of try to coax the Lebanese to line up. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it is the thought that counts. What they also tried to do is to get people to use proper addresses, so mail could be delivered to your house. The Lebanese didn’t buy that one; they only use postal boxes. It is not a nation of letter senders; they prefer to operate by telephone.

My housekeeper is from the Philippines, and unfamiliar with such an archaic system. So she adheres to the postal system, and wrote her family how her letters should be addresses. She is the only one in the entire building that gets mail delivered to the building. I, on the other hand, need to go to post office to open my mailbox every week.
Rue Gouraud, a.k.a. Gemazye main street

1 comment:

Theo said...

Je hebt gelijk Sietske. Post is een drama. Ik ontvang hier wel post, trouwens. Dat gaat dan naar de Rue des 3 docteurs, gebouwnaam, verdieping en wijk en stad. Bezorgd wordt het dan bij de groentehandel beneden, dan kunnen ze het rustig bekijken voor ze het aan me doorspelen.