May 26, 2014

On Cultural Differences

A sail boat on the Mediterranean Sea
An interesting anthropological experiment took place this Saturday. It took place on a sail boat. 
Owning a boat in Lebanon is an expensive business. And the price of the boat is not the most expensive part of it. Due to a sharp imbalance between the number of mooring spaces and boats, the price to moor your boat is ridiculously high. All marinas on the coast around Beirut are full, and have waiting lists. As such, mooring fees are sky-high. Getting a place can cost you as much as the price of a small apartment, and then you still have your yearly rental fees, which can go as high as $2,000 per meter per year  in the more posh marinas. Therefore, many boat owners rent out their yachts in order to help out in the costs.
"Uh, where can I sit?"
So last Saturday, the owner of a sailing yacht gracefully rented his vessel to a few of my Dutch friends and their (mainly) Lebanese spouses.
But the boat was a lot (stress on ‘a lot’) smaller than we had anticipated, and so we were packed rather tightly. There was also no wind, and the engine stalled frequently.
"Where's the wind?"
Actually, we looked more like a bunch of north African refugees on a floating expedition in front of the coast of Italy, rather than the glamorous jet setters we had envisioned we’d look like.
But all this didn’t really matter, because we were among friends, the sun was shining (something you will always be thankful for when you’re a Dutch), the vessels didn’t sink and we had fun.
But the experience highlighted an interesting cultural difference between Dutch and Lebanese.  
Rather cramped
 You see, the Dutch are in general raised in rather modest financial conditions. Although the European countries have the reputation among the Lebanese as being ‘rich’ countries, this being ‘rich’ should not be translated as ‘living a luxurious life’. We tend to be frugal people who do not spend money frivolously on pleasures that are not tangible. Part of our Calvinistic heritage, I assume.
As such, being stuck for an entire day on a cramped sailboat that throttles along the coast at a snail pace, with no real comfortable place to sit down or lie, is no problem for a Dutch. Heck, we enjoy it.

Lebanon is a country that is infinitely poorer than Holland. Lebanon’s GNP in 2012 was 9,140$ versus $45,960  for Holland (source), and if you look at the Social Progress Index , we do even better. Holland features on the 4th place, whereas Lebanon is somewhere down at the bottom; 83rd (out of a total 126 countries ).
But for some reason, the Lebanese know how to live well. Spending over $150 on a day on the beach or a dinner on a weekday is more of a norm than an exception. You may argue that I am generalizing, but I have seen people who make half of what I make, spent $275 for a pair of summer sandals! I
 have never in my entire life spent $275 on a pair of shoes, let alone flimsy summer sandals.
Almost falling overboard
Give a Dutch the option of a speed boat ride on a Riva for $500 or a Seadoo Sportster for $100, and they will inevitable go for the Sportster. The Lebanese will take the Riva.
As such, the Lebanese contingency was not amused by our cramped quarters, the lack of soft and fluffy pillows, the uncomfortable seating arrangements, the excruciatingly slow cruising speed and the fact that our drinks had to be fished out of the cooler.
The coast line
The moment they could get ashore, they arranged for a cab ride back to Beirut, and left us, the hardy Dutch, on our mere wooden refugee boat, on the shores of Jbeil. “I like my comfort,” the Lebanese said, “Just because you paid for it, you are going to suffer all the way back to Beirut, 3 hours long?” And off they were.

And so we had this discussion: Would Dutch men do the same?  Apparently not, because the Dutch men stayed on board. And so did the Lebanese men who had lived in Holland.  What about your husband, I was asked?  Would he have abandoned ship? Well, my hubbie had already decided in advance - when he heard the number of participants and the length of the ship - not to join. You see, he is Lebanese, and he likes his comfort.
And it as getting colder . . .
The difference in culture was clear. We (the Dutch) had paid for our boat, and we were going to stay on our boat! Till the bitter end.  Till the bitter end’ turned out to be pretty accurate. At 9:35 PM, in the dark and in the cold, we were still throttling along the Lebanese coats in search for our port. One of us had invited people for dinner at 9. A bit of a dilemma, as you can imagine.
. . .  and darker (still on that boat)
But I tell you: I’d do it again. 


Anonymous said...

plz can u give me ur mail to contact u regarding the Garden Show.

Pierre. K said...

That is so true and amusing to read. Thanks for the story. ...

Anonymous said...

Nice Pix . Thanks for sharing.

Eloy said...

mix a lebanese and a dutch and you'll get a spaniard

Anonymous said...

I thought the reference to the refugee boats from North Africa were a tad bit insensitive. People lose their lives, trying to make that arduous journey. Just my thoughts.