March 14, 2011

The Only Bitch in Line

I had one of my finer moments today. In Rue Jeanne d’Arc, West-Beirut. I guess now I will have to avoid this street for several months to come.
But this time I blame it on you, the Lebanese.
What is it with you people? Why do you accept treatment like this? Why do you allow yourselves to get shoved around like that? Why don’t you know your rights, and claim them? You’re normally an assertive people, so why is it always that I have to be the bitch in order to claim something that you all should be doing? Need some explanation? Here it goes.

I have to go and buy some flowers for a friend. I am in the car and I pass by Jeanne d’Arc street (known for its large number of flower and plant shops). It is rush hour, so it is difficult to find a parking. And indeed, most parking spots are taken, except for one that has these orange pillars on it, the kind you use when you’re working on the road.
There are some cars in front in me that obviously are also looking for a spot. They try to turn into that public parking spot with the orange pillars, but they are being turned away by a gentleman in a yellow plastic gillet.

When I get near that spot, I roll down my window, and ask, “I’d like to park here, what’s the problem.”
Oh, this is for the restaurant.”
Excuse me?”
“This place is reserved for the restaurant.”

Oh really? Well, it has one of those digital parking machines right next to it, so I sincerely doubt it. A restaurant is now claiming public parking spots, for which you have to pay, as their own? A public parking spot, on a public road? I don’t think so.

Well, remove them please, because I need to park here, and it is a public spot.”
“No, I cannot do that.”
“Yes, you must. This is not your parking. It is a public road. You cannot claim public road as your own. Move.”
“The owner has a permit.”

Now really? Does he? We’ll see about that. I run over the orange pillars, and barge into the restaurant.

Who’s the manager?”
“ I am.”
“You claim public parking as your own?”
“It is after four, I can do that.”
“You can do no such thing.”
“Maybe I have a license.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Whatever you say Madam.”
You bet your sorry ass it is whatever I say.
By this time, all his clientele is turning around to see what foreign bitch is making such a ruckus.
But what really gets me is that several cars in front of me all tried to park there, and each one of them accepted to be send away by some silly guy in a plastic orange jacket with the incredible claim that this is ‘his’ private spot, while you all know very well it is on a public road.

When I walk back, the valet guy says indignantly, “You could just have asked me nicely.”

Come again? I have to ask you nicely? Nicely? I have to ask a valet guy ‘nicely’ if I please can park in a public parking spot? It’s a good thing I’m not a black belt, because he’d be picking up his teeth all over the place.
But why do you Lebanese do that? Why do you let yourself be treated like that? Don’t you know the law? This is a public road. You cannot just ‘claim’ a public road as being your own for whatever purpose. Yet three cars in front of me all accepted that absolute ridiculous argument.
Of course, I’m the one complaining about it, so who gets the blame? Yep. The stupid foreigner.

Same thing happened last week in the ski lift. Most people line up reasonably well. There is some showing and pushing, but overall it is a very decent affair. Until last week. There was this one older gentleman – someone who should really know better - who really pushed ever possible button there is to push. He shoved, he pushed, he wiggled, he jabbed, and he’s so bad that he almost make me fall out of the line, and separates me from my daughter. And this is not a young man either, this is a (seemingly) respectable gentleman in his fifties. Expensive outfit, fancy sun glasses, clean shaven, sharp hair cut. Everyone gets pushed out of line, and he keeps shoving and wiggling.

Excuse me sir, maybe it is better if you step on top of me, because somehow I see no way around me. So go ahead.”
No, I’m fine,”
“No, you’re not, because you’re totally shoving me away, so if you could move backwards, I can stand up straight again.”

I get this dumb look, a bit of a sheepish smile. He tries to look the other way as if he hasn’t heard me. That is all right by me, pretending you don’t hear me, because I’ll just speak a little louder then.

At that point in time, other people in line agree. “Welcome to Lebanon, this is how they are here,” says a young man. A woman with child adds: “This is how they always do it here, it is terrible. Like a zoo. No discipline.” Other people nod in unison.

What do you mean; this is how they are here? This is not at all how most people here are. Only some people are like this. So say something! Get this old fart back in line, push him away, take some action. But no, everyone gets shoved and pushed around, and they shut up.

As always, I’m the only bitch in line.

Oh Lebanese from all corners of the country, please unite and claim your rights, don’t just mope around like meek sheep. Well, I guess I’m done with my diatribe. Got it out of my system again. You may now leave some nasty comment of how uptight I am. I'm keeping track of all your IP addresses.


Danielle said...

You go girl! I'm going to post this on twitter. Why don't you have twitter btw? Get it!

M. said...

I've been wanting to write about valet parking for a long time... it's no longer the law of the jungle, it's the law of the valet parkings on the streets of Beirut

yasmine said...

I have to say - good for you. We had the problem with the exact same restaurant. Our office is a bit inward on the side road - after a good row with them, we got our spots back.

I think it is this thing with Lebanese that they tend to bend over when things happen because they tend to do the same thing. That odd guilt factor which truly annoys me.

Thank Dani or the link to the blog ;)

John O'Sullivan said...

reminds me of a similar situation last summer during my visit. I was in Geant Shopping mall in Dora, about to go to virgin megastores. at the entrance, i was asked to hand in the bags i was carrying, which, is understandable as it is done everywhere in lebanon (paranoid much?). Fine, then so i give the security guy my bags and begin to walk, when i remember i forgot something in them. so i turn back and ask him if i could pull something out. He gives me my bag, and i pull out a small moleskine notebook and a pen. he looks at me and says "you're not allowed to use these in the shop" .. i look at him confused and say "what reall? i can't carry a pen and notebook in the shop?" .
"yea, you're not allowed, its against the policy"
by then, the guy at the cashier overhears the conversation and adds his bit of insight: "yea, its against the shop policy, you can't use these in the shop, because you might copy down the names of things."
straight away i say " send me the manager"
who comes straight away and says the same thing. I was in complete shock. taking my bags from me upon arrival is one thing, but not being allowed to carry a pen and paper is crossing the limit.
the manager says "you might write down the names of books and titles and then go buy them on the internet" . which is entirely true, that was the point of me carrying a pen and paper, but say i didn't, couldnt i simply write the titles on my phone?

so i tell him "yea, thats what i plan to do, because prices are cheaper on the internet. and i highly doubt that its against the law to carry these things in the shop" .
the "manager" with his made up rule, shuts up and says "yea, i'm just telling you that its against the policy, but whatever".


poshlemon said...

I am *sometimes* guilty of being one of these Lebanese who accept it when some idiot claims a public parking spot as theirs. However, this has only happened in Hamra, and particularly in Rue Makdissi, Jeanne d'Arc and their extensions, because of the traffic and the stress of having so many cars honking at me.

But I remember an incident a few years back in 2008 when I was on fieldwork outside Beirut. After driving around in circles looking for parking space, I basically arrived in a street that had one parking spot left with a parking meter. The only problem was that it was in front of a shop, whose owner claimed that it was his spot and he had a white plastic chair to prove it.

Oh, he hit a nerve with me. There were no cars were behind me, so I shifted my gear to N, pressed the hand break, got out of my car, moved his chair away, got back in my car, parked in that spot and put money into the meter.

This did not happen without a challenge from the shop owner but he could not convince me or intimidate me. I just walked away to do my thing with fingers crossed that I don't come back to see scratches all over my silver car lol.

nicolien said...

Haha! The number of times Walid and/or I had that EXACT same discussion (including the talk with the manager who "may" have a permit - yeah right), living in a side-street of Jeanne d'Arc... doesn't make me miss Beirut at all.
(Eventually we developed a system where one of use would jump out of the car to remove the orange cones / tires / signs / chairs and the other one would put the car in the spot. The we would walk off, ignoring the valet guys. At some point they knew us and stopped screaming, but every morning I was glad to see the car was not completely scratched up with a key or something!)

khalil said...

it is generally my way to avoid the conflict as I don't want the hassle of coming back and finding my car damaged and I've been fortunate to find other parking spots that have been more convenient. I did challenge a man trying to hold parking spots in front of a small convenience store once and he backed down when he saw I wasn't going to.

Joseph said...

does that mean the orange cones and steel poles used by the valet guys in Gemmayze should not actually be there and we can park anywhere we want?!?

ginger beirut said...

Some Lebanese back down because they are just not used to the idea of state-owned facilities - everything is the domain of either the army or some rich family or some other private individual.
But others back down because when they go to the restaurant they want to be able to park right in front, regardless of whether it is public or not. So they view it as normal, though they make a big fuss over some other things that we view as normal!

Mano said...

First, you are absolutely right.

Second, some analysis is needed on a larger scale concerning parking spaces.

A decade ago there were less cars in Lebanon. Each family had one car instead of each family member having one now. The government only made compulsory the need for each building to have its own parking place underground or whatnot only in the 90s. There are millions of unused cars parked on our roads for 10 years which are taking up space. We Lebanese don't like public transportations like buses because they're unclean, takes too long to get to place, sexual harassment, and add some elitism onto the mix as its dressing.

I wait for the day when cars would become obsolete, valet waiters a commodity of the past, and people would laugh together remembering the days when they used to fight and bicker over a parking lot.

Until that time don't expect for the Lebanese to bitch about their rights because we don't want to make an enemy and, thinking business, we never know when that wrongdoer would be a client of ours or be useful to us in the future.

Anonymous said...

Hahahaha one of your best posts Sietske !!! But ARE Lebanese right ;-) So there's no need to be agressive :P

Katarzyna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Katarzyna said...

lol! Awesome post :)
I totally agree and I've made a few of those comments to my 'fellow' Lebanese myself. In fact, I wrote a whole book about it! Check it out, it's called 'Life as a Leb-neh Lover' and it's being sold in Virgin these days.

P.S. You can see a preview at
Sorry, plug for the book added!!!

htj said...

absolutely awesome. I love it. I laughed my ass off. After you become all Zen again, you'll probably see the humor.

I would have done the exact same thing.

Unknown said...

My name is Robert & I live in metropolitan Detroit .
Last moth I went to visit a friend of mine who Owens a store on martin Luther king blvd .when I got there. there was this only spot to park my car .but the problem was that I couldn't park my car because one man double parked and took a little more space then needed .so I honked the horn so he would move his car a little but instead he kept on talking on the phone disregarding me so I blow the horn again this time a little bit more louder then before . Now the man gets out of his car and approaches me and said what are you blowing the horn for you mother f..r .i said there is no need for the foul language ser all I need is to park my car & go on with my business .then he goes don’t f..n disrespect me you moth#$%^r
so I parked at a different spot a little far away .i went to the store and I said to my self I am not going to let an ignorant man ruin my day .while I was inside the store e a customer comes in and said that someone broke my driver side window I rushed outside to see my window glass was chattered all over the street & amazingly that man still sitting in his car looking at me with a sarcastic smile .so I called Detroit police and as usual it took them forever to come . I told them the story and told them that this guy did it .now they went toward him to question him .at the end they came up to me saying that there is no evidence that he did it do you have any prove that he did it I said no. they said that there is nothing that we can do . It was like gather whatever left from your pride and leave. & this is right here in the united states of America the land of the free where no one can take your rights away . So don’t feel bad about what happened to you these thinks happened everywhere ..

Anonymous said...

Now wait a minute... First of all, Sietske, you begin to behave like your brother in public. That is not a good idea, so be smart, grow up. Don't act like that again, ok?

Secondly: did the guy have a permit or not? You say he didn't, but the guy said he did. So who is right here? Maybe he has a permit all right, and he can claim the parking space after 4? Go back to the guy and apologise, with flowers ok?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Ginger Beirut, every inch of the land in Lebanon seems to be somebody's something, be it beach, parking, green space, etc.

Sami O said...

We need more people like you! Otherwise nothing will change! Thank you!

Sietske said...

Thank you everyone, for your kind and supportive words. I'm all Zen again. Until the next outburst. I've had only 2 since last June, so am doing quite well. And as far as Tweet goes, Danielle, I have an account, but I'm afraid my phone is too old.

Anonymous said...

No it is not the phone that is too old.

Life with Subtitles said...

Really cool post :)
The thing about valet parking is (or any other like the Virgin people mentioned in the comments), that they don't really use logic. They are told something as a rule and they follow it.
It's actually quite similar to the teddy bear christmas tree incident. The only way to win with them is to make an issue of it, get all angry and "punch" (figuratively !) your way through. It might even be easier for you to get away with that as a foreign woman. If you were a short skinny Lebanese guy, it might be your own teeth that would end up on the sidewalk by the end of it (trust me on this one).

For the rest of us, or at least as far as I'm concerned, we don't walk away from the parking spot because we're bending to the valet's will, we're just saving ourselves the headache and thinking "This ain't worth the trouble".
Cheers !

Unknown said...

i just stumbled upon your blog and read this awesome post.
first of all i want to salute you on what you did. I live in the mentioned area and everyday when i come back from work i have to go around looking for a parking spot, but whenever i find an asshole like this, I usually run over the orange pillars and park(usually that ends with a fight, but this is my right and i take it by force :) )

Unknown said...

Sietske, I don´t understand what you mean by Lebanese are assertive. Please introduce me to those. Because what about a pushing customer at the supermarket who is even threatening to kick your ass (in Arabic, tough that somebody translated) and nobody cares?
What about a waiting line in the parking and somebody goes first - and you saying something about it, although you paid already?
What about a Kuwaiti taking a parking place of a Lebanese, while you gave it away to the Lebanese because he was 1 second earlier; and the Lebanese just driving away but you commenting the behaviour?
What about shouting to all customers that the credit card connection doesn´t work after you got packed your 10 bags of grocery and NOBODY reacts but only gives you stupid looks?
I don´t get it...

Francine said...

Saw this blog thru twitter and I use twitter without phone :)