September 29, 2009

On Code-Switching and Trilingual Competence

Halleluja, praise whoever needs to be praised for this one! All the money we have spent on Arabic tutors for my son is finally paying off. His sister came home today with her very first Arabic homework ever. And he is helping her! There is hope.
It is cute to see a 15 year old man-child helping a struggling first grader so seriously. He displays more patience than I do.

Which brings me to the matter of tri-lingualism. The Dutch often pride themselves for speaking so many foreign languages. Besides Dutch of course. I wonder where we got that reputation, because if you see Lebanese children in action, they’re about seven notches above the Dutch.

It is incredible to see how easily these youngsters flip between Arabic, English. Or Arabic and French. Or all three of them. Some of them may even speak Armenian on the side. And sometimes all at the same time.

We call that code-switching. In Lebanon we don’t just use code-switching between sentences, we even do it in single sentences (Intra-sentential switching.) “Kifak, ca va? Did you go to the piscine mbere7?” is a well known example.
My son had to write mbrere7 for me. Sound like ‘muberegh’ in Dutch. It seems that the ‘h’ becomes a 7 when you translate from street Arabic to English phonics.
Code-switching is currently keeping sociolinguists, psycholinguists and general linguists quite busy. How in depth these tri-linguists can communicate varies, but then again we also use a fourth language over here, our hands, which will straighten out any misconceptions that may rise during a conversation.

Right now I’m just happy I’ve got someone who can help my daughter with her Arabic homework.


No, I'm not about to start a new business, but some of my Dutch friends are, and since this blog does feature the movements of the Dutch in Lebanon (at times), I thought I'd do my part. You're invited too!

September 28, 2009

I Love You (Not)

I saw this little movie at M and The Inner Circle. It is Beirut, I Love You (I Love You Not), a short film by "An Orange Dog Productions" about (fleeting) love & the little pleasures in life, all set and in relation with the very inspiring city of Beirut...

It’s quite cute & has a very Lebanese feel to it. Enjoy!

September 27, 2009

Slow Sunday

A nice, slow Sunday. I spent the day in a place somewhere under Deir el Kalaa. I’m not sure if the place has a name. It didn’t show up on my GPS (what else is new?). I found a better map, but am not sure how to download it onto my old GPS. I’m afraid I’m not THAT technically inclined. It doesn’t’ matter; there’s always someone who knows the way.
I had a picnic in Deir el Kalaa. We didn't rough it for a change, and actually had a chair and a table. They’ve got horses in Deir el Kalaa. I myself am more into donkeys, but in Lebanon they like the Arabian horses. Tiny and slender horses, but very skittish too, and playful. One of the horses was busy trying to chase the local farm dog of the field. You’d be surprised, but at some $600, you’ve got yourself already an Arabian horse, but maybe not a thoroughbred. They’re one of the oldest horse breeds in the world (I am told).
It is fun to see how everyone spends the day outside Beirut, and as the evening falls, everyone comes down the mountains surrounding Beirut, and heads back home. A bit like in medieval times, when everyone made sure to be back within the city walls at night fall.

September 26, 2009

Going Postal

On Saturday, I run errands. I leave the house with a list of some 9 ‘things-to-do’, and if I’m lucky, I manage to get to #6 on the list by 5 o’clock.
Today I did not make it past #2.
# 1 was ‘fill up gas’. I got that one done. # 2 involved, whom else, the Ministry of Education. This time it was for an Arabic Exemption paper. And that’s where it ended.

The reason why I need an Arabic Exemption paper is because my son has reached grade 9 this year; the year when Lebanese students must sit for their ‘Brevet’; a very demanding Arabic state exam. My son speaks Arabic well, but that is the ‘lougha ammi ( العامية), or what we call the ‘street Arabic’. As far as I know, it does not really have an (official) written version, it is spoken, or colloquial Arabic only. It is the Arabic we use in our daily lives. The exam however, is in (and about) classical Arabic, or (الفصحى) fushah; The Arabic that is used for official documents, newspapers, books etc. Now although both languages overlap each other in some areas, they are totally different in many others. The Arabic program in school, or its teachers, or its methodology/pedagogy, or all of the above are however, horrendously outdated, and as such, not a very appealing/child-friendly subject matter. It entails for instance that parents sit with their children every evening and wrestle their way through vast amounts of homework. My Arabic is pitiful, and hubbie’s classical Arabic is, well, let’s say it’s been a while since he was in school.

As a result, there is no way on Earth my son is ever going to be able to pass that Arabic exam. However, if you don’t pass that exam, you are not allowed to enter High school. And thus I need to get an exemption. This will allow him to continue his schooling, without the Arabic state exam. You get that exemption form from . . . . . . . . . yes, the Ministry of Education.

But as I am about to shoot everyone in that particular building over other paperwork that still hasn’t been processed yet for reasons that will elude anyone with an IQ over 12 (the IQ needed to work at that Ministry), I decided to work my way around it, and go postal. In order to avoid going postal. Through Libanpost. It is the well organized Lebanese postal system that will provide all kinds of services as an in-between between citizen and government. This way you don’t have to set one foot in a ministry, but the local post office will organize everything for you at a very decent fee.

And so I went to the post office with the paperwork. The lady behind the counter got to work. And soon stopped. There was a catch: if you are a foreigner, you get automatic exemption. You only need to show you residency permit, and you’re done. If you are Lebanese, you get exemptions if show records of school attendance outside Lebanon for a minimum of 3 years. My son has neither a residency permit, as he is Lebanese, nor outside school attendance, as he has always lived in Beirut. She called and called and called, but the answer was the same everywhere.

“Sorry Mam, but I cannot take you request, because I need either one of these documents. This is what the Ministry of Education stipulates.”

And thus I will need to move my sorry ass personally to that Ministry of Education.

Yet again. I’ll try and avoid ‘going postal’.

September 24, 2009

One of the Last Beach Days

Five Dutch Girls on the beach in Lebanon

The weather is fantastically mellow; it’s the best season of the year, the time between summer and fall. Although fall is pretty good too. And spring. And now that I think about it, winter is good too when you like skiing. Summer’s the only season when I escape Beirut. Too hot. Too sticky. Too humid. Too crowded. Too much of everything.

The traffic is a bit off though. I’ve been standing in traffic jams for the past 3 days. A trip from Hamra to Sassine (East Beirut) takes a good hour if you are lucky. I think if I’d walk, I’d probably get their faster.

I thought it was because many schools had started again. My friend blames the traffic lights. He believes the Lebanese are becoming ‘passive’ drivers, now that they have lights doing the job for them. Hubbie says it’s because all the ‘khaliji’ (Gulf Arabs) are in town for the Eid (feast).

I don’t know what it is, but I’m looking at buying a scooter.

In the meantime, a picture of one of the last beach days of the season. It is not that we have a large Dutch community in town. Quite the opposite. One of the former Dutch ambassadors described the Dutch community jokingly as “70 unhappily married women and 1 man.” I don’t think that’s quite accurate, but if you’d have gone to the beach last Tuesday, you’d have thought you were in Holland. There must have been over 12 Dutchies, with kids. And we recently lost another blogger. Gone back to the motherland. We don’t know for how long.

Ah well.

You’ll be stuck with just me for a while.

September 21, 2009

On a Good Party and Civil Marriage

You’ve got weddings and you’ve got Weddings. Last night was one of the latter, with a capital W. I left right after they started serving breakfast to the guests, and the party was by no means over then.
Three Dutch bridesmaids

By that time our Dutch Sharif had gotten lost somewhere on the parking lot (but we know better; the local ladies just could not resist this Dutch & Egyptian mixture), Theo tried to leave with someone else’s dinner jacket, Andre was raiding the bathrooms for the lovely towels, Morticia had appropriated a case of Chablis that no one was allowed to touch, Deb lost her shoes and received worried phone calls from her son ("Mom, where ARE you? Do you know what time it is?"), Tamara finally got her picture with Nancy Ajram, Rick was steaming on the dance floor (so was his Dad, by the way), and Fester confessed that he’d love to eat a biscuit with me (Dutch expression).

The lovely couple, Sarah & Hisham, and the 3 Dutch bridesmaids.

Yes, the Dutch were out in force, thanks to the lovely mother of the bride, a fellow Dutchie. Of course no one can party like the Lebanese, but we showed them last night that you can’t ignore the Dutch either.

The mother of the bride; A Dutchie (of course)

A busload of Dutch came over all the way from Holland, as this was the wedding of the daughter of one of our Dutch in Lebanon. And I think that after tonight they are all going to stay. They’re all figuring out ways to rent an apartment here, so they can live the way the Lebanese live. Or the way they think the Lebanese live. Because all of this glitter and glam is of course just a layer of gild on top of a not so beautiful society.

Some of theDutch mail contingent, Rick, Sharif & Theo

A not-so-beautiful society because the absolutely lovely couple, who have been together now for a long time, was not allowed to marry inside Lebanon, because of their different religion. They had to fly abroad (Cyprus it is these days, for most Lebanese civil marriages. You get a complete package deal these days for under $900), to tie the knot, because our own government does not recognize them as a couple within their own religions.

The bride & groom with a certain Nancy something

Both of them – luckily – couldn’t care less, but it is sad to see that so many of our most beautiful and brightest, who couldn’t care less about the confessional divide(s) that slowly but surely wrecks this society, have to go abroad in order to get married.

Morticia Addams & Uncle Fester also showed up.

But who cared last night? The ladies came out in force with their fantastic hairdos and dresses and jewelry and dainty little handbags, and the men in dark suits made it look like a regular Mafioso convention. A totally star-studded event. .
The Addams family & friend (Fester, being quite the ladies man, was kept in check by an ever watchful Morticia who, I might add, apparently forgot to wax. Tsk tsk tsk.)

Lebanese weddings usually are star-studded events. They spent amounts on weddings that in Holland we'd spent on the down-payment of a house for the new couple. Or the whole house. Not over here. Weddings come complete with the ‘zaffeh’, the band, the singer and the flower arrangements. I’ve been to weddings in Holland, and they are usually very proper and meek affairs. Uhuh, not over here.
Another lovely double Dutch & Lebanese mixture (still single, but you’ve got to be fast)
Thank you guys, for showing the Dutch that this IS the place to be! There isn’t much coherence to this post, but I’m afraid I only slept 3 hours, I’ve got a lunch date somewhere in town in 4 hours, I've got people coming over for dinner and I lost my voice. Joke, thank you for an absolutely lovely evening! You still have 3 daughters; so when’s the next wedding?

September 19, 2009

Beginning of the End of Summer

This afternoon I had lunch outside in the sun with friends, but halfway during dinner tonight, we had to scramble inside. We’re running around to get the cushions in on time, but by the time we’re done, the wine glasses are already half-filled with rain water. We sit down inside, and comment on the tremendous lightning, when we realize that the windows in the ENTIRE house are all open. Just then, the main power plant stops operating and there’s a massive black-out in my part of town. It takes a minute for the building’s generator to kick in, in the meantime it rains in, but we cannot find the windows. Lunch with Dutchies

It’s a good way to start the beginning of the end of the summer. The weather forecast predicts rain till Tuesday. The beaches are empty now, only the Dutch, and other half-wit foreigners still go. It was a good summer.

It may, or may not, be the end of Ramadan. It seems that these days the shia and the sunni can’t even agree on that anymore.

I’ve got a wedding tomorrow. It’s a mixed marriage; the best, in my humble opinion. Or at least the best for this country. I must say that the Dutch have done a great job in mixing up the confessional divide here in Lebanon. This particular marriage is actually of a half-Dutch-half Lebanese girl, but the Mom is Dutch, and so the Dutch come out in force to celebrate this. We’ll try and behave.

"Miss, Amsterdam is mispelled; it should be an m, not an n," says a gentleman.
"No," says Anne, "I'm Anne, from Ansterdam."

September 17, 2009

Nothing New Happening

I don’t have much to say, but I don’t want you to think I’m not blogging. I’m just too busy. So I'll go for Beirut scenery.It looks almost like the grocery store of a dollhouse.

P.S. Liliane asked what kind of camera I use. Well, I have a fantastic professional Sony. However, the things weighs a ton, and is a hassle to schlepp around, so all these blog pictures are made with my very simple & ultra-light from-the-hip-shooting Sony Cybershot (DSC-W200). I have dropped it more times than I can remember, it's got dents and scratches all over, but it works. Do't know for how long. Got my eyes longingly on a new one.

September 13, 2009


In order to ‘decontract from the tasks you try to accomplish during the week but at which you in general do not completely succeed due to the wheels of bureaucracy, we went for a swim in the Chouf.
It looks like something out of a tourist brochure. It could be part of a tourist brochure, if it weren’t for the fact you’ve got to go to special places (like this eco-village in the Chouf) where people do not dump their trash all over.
There were quite a few people this time; some French, some Italians, a few Americans and Canadians, some Dutch (but you encounter those just about everywhere) and of course Lebanese.
But once you get there, it’s quite beautiful. You can rent tents and cabins in the woods, it is very quiet, you can see a million stars at night (no light pollution whatsoever), they serve a decent (albeit vegetarian) meal and they don’t mind if you bring your dog along. And all this for a very decent price. Admitted, I’m plugging them a bit, and no, I have no shares in the project, but they are always so nice to us, that's why.

September 12, 2009

Going Nowhere Part II

I have to pay my son’s school fee, but the admin offices are open when I work, and closed when I am free. I don’t have a checkbook, and to send my son out the door with a thick bundle of dollars is – for everyone who is familiar with my son – not a good idea.
In Holland (and many other countries), I could send it electronically, from my account to the school’s account, in a matter of seconds. Here in Lebanon, online banking means that you can only look at your bank account over the internet, but that is all you can do; look. You can also do things like:
Define 'meaningful' to me, please.

But yesterday, when I was ‘looking’ at my virtual money, I noticed a new item in the sidebar Money Transfer. NEW!
Aha, I thought, problem solved. I’ll transfer the school fee online. And so I clicked. I got to the next window. Now who would want to transfer money to himself, I was wondering, and I clicked on the 'another account outside' link. And what do I get?
It seemed that in order to transfer money online, I’d actually have to come to the bank and get permission to do so. Well, what did I expect, that things would go that simple? And so, this morning, I got up early, went to the bank to get this money transfer business set up.

At the bank, the lady asks me;
"Do you have the bank account of the beneficiary? "
“What do you mean?”
I ask.
Well, we need the account number of who you are going to send it to.”
“Well, I might send money to lots of different people,”
I say.
"Oh, well, we’d need the accounts of the beneficiaries, which we send to the main office, and then when we get it back, you can pick up the papers, and transfer the money to those beneficiaries.”

The lady was either void of any sense of humor, or totally oblivious to the absolute ridiculousness of her request, as she said this with an absolutely straight face.

So there really is no online money transfer, if first you’d have to go in person to the bank to give the account number of the person you're going to send it to. I might as well get the money from my account (in person), and walk to the school in person, and I would get the money there faster than I would with my bank’s ‘Online Banking’ system. This is positively archaic.
Can anyone advise me of a bank in Lebanon that does have an ACTUAL online banking system, rather than the virtual system of my bank?

We are not going anywhere this way.

September 09, 2009

“But Miss, you are not a Pilipino!”

Heard at my daughter’s school.

”Miss, are you fasting?” a child asks her teacher.
No dear, I am not,” replies the teacher.
“Why not?” enquires the child.
I am not a muslim,” replies the teacher.
“You’re not a muslim? Then what are you, Miss?” asks the child.
“I am a christian,” replies the teacher.

A puzzled look appears on the child’s face.

But Miss, you are not a Pilipino!”

Are we going somewhere?

September 05, 2009

Going Nowhere

We’re going places, I remember thinking when I just got back to Beirut, some two weeks ago. I suddenly spotted traffic lights in my neighborhood, and pedestrian crossings, and drivers heeding the red lights. It was a bit of fresh air. And although we don’t have a government yet, we don’t really fight about it either, and the elections went so nice and civilized, so I was thinking, yes, we’re definitely going places.
Lazy B., a beach some 17 km south of Beirut, at sunset today
A visit to the Ministry of Education (of all places) this morning, brought me back to reality. I needed to get a Dutch BA legalized, for reasons that still elude me, but fine, whatever, I’ll do it. I have never seen so many uneducated people gathered in one place. And they’re all working at the Ministry of Education. The Directorate of Higher Education, to be precise. HIGHER Education, did you get that?
And I am thinking, if these people are deciding on the Higher Education in this place, I’d rather not know about the regular education. Or any education at all, because with this bunch, we’re not going anywhere.

And it dawned on me why they search your bag when you go inside the Ministry. They’re afraid upset customers will come back with a vengeance. I sure felt like that after a while. But you have to keep smiling, never ever show you’re annoyed with their rudeness/incompetence/illogic,or they’ll just send you down and across the street for another copy, or another tawabeh (stamp), or another paper that they forgot to mention, or would like to see signed differently.

And so I went to the beach instead.
And I stayed there until sunset.

And I’ll try again next week.

Sister in law at the beach; 8.5 months pregnant.

September 02, 2009


I am back in Beirut, after a wonderful holiday, and congratulate my housekeeper on the fact that both our dogs are so beautifully white. I’ve had one of them for some 15 years, and he hasn’t been so white since he was a puppy. I’ve tried all kinds of dog shampoos, and even Baby Johnson shampoo, but to no avail.

Is there a special way that you wash them or rinse them?” I ask .
No,” she replies.“
Well, what dog shampoo did you use then?”
Oh, I ran out of dog shampoo. I’m using Persil now.”

Don’t complain,” says my son when he sees my face, “Be glad she didn’t put them in the dryer.”

Indeed. But they are beautifully white