Tag Archives: Zeina el Khalil

French Nails…Lebanese style

“My new social environment in Beirut demanded that I be more feminine-looking. It demanded that girls look like girls and boys like boys. It demanded that I style my hair weekly at the hairdresser. Adorn my fingernails with bright polish. Speak softly and giggle often. Wear clothes that hugged my body, to show off my childbearing hips. No one knew how to deal with my tomboyish personality. My aunt would sigh every time I walked in with dirty sandals. My grandmother would shrug her shoulders when she saw me in torn-up jeans. And my cousins believed I was a hopeless case and that no one would ever marry me. How could anyone marry someone who only wore white baggy T-shirts?” – Zeina el Khalil (Beirut, I Love You)

A few weeks ago, I read this paragraph in Beirut, I Love You, and started cracking up. I had to write it down. I could relate to every single word. And here I was thinking that I was the only one thrown by the stark contrast between the ultra feminine and ultra masculine looks women and men sport here in Beirut. How arrogant and naïve of me. A whole series of conversations with my ex-pat and Lebanese friends followed as we all bonded over our recognition of this cultural trend.

Take my Arabic teacher for example. Nadia would come to class every day with her hair perfectly crimped, curled or straightened, an adorable, color-coordinated outfit, matching heels (almost always adorned with sparkling jewels or sequins). Even her eye shadow and nail polish would be colored to match her blouse. It was amazing. She looked like she’d just stepped out of a teen magazine.

And then I would enter. Panting and sweaty, 20 minutes late. Wrinkled clothes that I had worn the day before. Tangled hair, sloppily pulled back into a twisted bun, with long, curly wisps sticking out from all sides of my head, making me look a bit insane. What little makeup I’d hurridly painted on, visibly melting off. Yeah guys, I’m a catch 😉

Once, just as I was walking in the room at 9:20, Nadia, glancing at the clock on the wall, asked me playfully, “Colette, ayya seeya fiati leeom?” (Colette, what time did you wake up today?)

Me: Ummm…Seeya tmanee wah khumsah… (Ummm…9:05…)

Nadia: (looking completely perplexed) Shou??? (What???)

Me: (More assuredly) Seeya tmanee wah khumsah.

Nadia: (staring at me blankly)

Me: (whispering to Omar, my friend and classmate) Wait, did I not say that correctly??

Omar: (also whispering) No, no. Your Arabic is fine. Colette, she doesn’t understand how a girl could get dressed and to class in only 15 minutes.

Me: Oh. Can’t she tell just by looking at me?

Omar: (Laughing) Habibti, I think she’s processing that now.

Lebanese pop star Elissa, all dressed up

Lebanese pop star Elissa, on a normal day

So yeah, I don’t fit the stereotype of the typical Lebanese girl. In case I hadn’t already made that clear.

Me, all "dressed-up"

Me, all "dressed-up"

In my experience, at least in the States and even in Spain, little things like shoes that match your dress or newly manicured nails are things that girls notice, not guys. But here in Beirut, guys comment if you don’t have your hair done just so or your outfit perfectly accessorized. They’re not necessarily insulting about it, more often than not, they just want to know why. Why don’t you care about your hair? Why do you have dirt under your fingernails?? You should take better care of yourself!

And in an appearance obsessed, knife happy culture where nose jobs are the norm, I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised by the fact that letting a little thing like my hair or nails go untended, sparks curiosity. Okay okay, I’m exaggerating a bit – of course not everyone is so appearance obsessed, but there is a large trend towards this among women here. Enough so, that it’s made me a bit self-conscious to the point that I’ve become hyper-aware of other women’s style and my obvious lack of it.

So, today I decided to give in a bit and treat myself to a manicure and a pedicure. All of my friends here in Hamra frequent one particular beauty salon called Cherry. It’s right in front of the lower gate of Lebanese American University (LAU), near the intersection with Sadat Street, just in case you’re wondering.

When I sat down with my manicurist, before I’d even spoken a single word, she glanced at my hands and looked up at me and said, “Habibti, you’re not Lebanese. Where are you from?”

Me: I’m from California. But, my Mom’s Lebanese! I just moved here.

Manicurist: Ha! I knew it! You look Lebanese, but you don’t have Lebanese nails.

Wait. What? Lebanese nails?

And it continued.

Manicurist: (as she was cutting my cuticles and doing all that stuff that manicurists do) Yeeeee! Hiyati! Do you see this?? (Holding up a napkin holding all the crud she’d cut off and dug out from underneath my fingernails) When was the last time you did your nails?? And they’re kteer short! So short! Do you bite them?? Ya haram. Hiyati you shouldn’t do that!

Me: (Mixture of laughter at the absurdity of the conversation and blushing from embarrassment) I’m sorry! I don’t take care of them like I should, thank you for helping me.

Oh, and then we moved onto my feet. I had a French manicure on my fingers and I asked if she could paint my toes red.

Manicurist: (clicking her tongue on the top of her mouth and raising her chin slightly – a gesture that means ‘No’) La! Habibti, I can’t! Your nails have to match.

Me: (smiling) Oh, that’s okay, I don’t care if they match. I think red would be fun!

Manicurist: Habibti you have to care! You’re in Lebanon! I can’t paint them different colors! I can’t.

Me: Um…okay. French toes it is then!

Manicurist: Yeeeeeeeee! Look at your feet! They’re worse than your hands! So dirty! And your nails! Yeeee! Hiyati, promise me you’ll come back soon?

Oh brother….

Woman sitting next to me: Habibti, you look Lebanese. I thought you were Lebanese…but you don’t speak Arabic and you don’t have Lebanese nails…

Manicurist: (to the woman, as she (the manicurist) spent 10 minutes PER TOE, scrubbing, clipping, painting and perfecting) La (no), she’s American, but her mother is Lebanese. (Winking at me) we’ll fix the nails and she’ll learn Arabic.

Woman: Yes! You have to learn, an-  yeeee! Look at your feet! So dirty!

My beautifully manicured nails

My beautifully manicured nails

I have to admit though, that my nails do look beautiful and very clean. And for only $15, it’s not a bad deal. So maybe I’ll embrace my inner Lebanese beauty queen and get my nails done every so often. Cause come on, if I don’t speak Arabic and have Lebanese nails, no one will believe that I’m really Lebanese ;).


Broccoli and Beers

Today, it was 31 degrees Celsius, 86 Fahrenheit – HOT and HUMID.  But whatever, I’m in a good mood! It’s Friday! My internship with ‘Time Out Beirut’ is going really well and I may have found a new apartment (they’re tearing down our beautiful building to build a parking lot – sucks.).

Beirut I Love YouRight now, I’m reading this book called ‘Beirut, I Love You,’ by the Lebanese writer Zeina el Khalil. It’s a memoir, written about her time in Beirut – friends, family, war, cultural trends, food, sex, love, etc. It’s a very quick read, but it’s well written and doubly entertaining given that I’m actually living in the city that she’s describing.  It’s like reading ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ in Prague, or ‘Like Water for Chocolate’ in Mexico – it somehow makes a brilliant book even better.  Anyway, I brought the book up because as I melted on my walk over to Café Younes today, I laughed to myself as I thought about a line from the book – “Arabian afternoons are like chocolate ice cream stains on the corner of your mouth. They are sweet and sticky.” So true! Although, I have to admit, chocolate ice cream smells a lot better than BO…

I spent a relaxed afternoon at Younes today writing and researching for Time Out, and just when I was beginning to crave good company and conversation Rianne showed up, followed soon after by Farah.  Michael joined us a bit later, Tara stopped by to say hello. I know that Hamra is a small neighborhood, and I know that after some time my opinion of it may change, but for now the small size doesn’t feel claustrophobic at all – just cozy, familiar and homey.  I love that everywhere I go now I run into people I know. Plus, I’m constantly meeting new people – the friend you ran into randomly at Younes introduces you to an acquaintance of theirs, who you randomly bump into at Ta Marbuta, where he or she introduces you to someone else new. Everyone here is just so friendly and open, and I love them for that.

Working with Rianne and Michael at Younes

Working with Rianne and Michael at Younes

Around 6pm, hungry and ready for a change of scenery, Farah and I headed back to the apartment to cook ourselves some dinner. I always know it’s time to go grocery shopping when the only thing I have left in the house is broccoli….yeah, it’s time to go grocery shopping. So while Farah got dressed to meet her dad, who flew in tonight, I boiled up some broccoli and heated up some Maklouta, a kind of mixed bean stew.

Farah and I!

Farah and I!


Albert Broccoli

Albert Broccoli

As I stood over the steamy stove top, waiting for my watch pot to boil and wishing for a fan, I started laughing to myself. About a year ago I had a random conversation with a friend about Albert Broccoli, the producer of the original James Bond films. At the 1981 Oscars, Roger Moore presented Broccoli with the Irving G. Thalberg award (given to creative producers), and commented that Broccoli’s Italian grandfather had introduced the vegetable to America when he immigrated to the States in the early 1800s. I don’t know if it’s true, but the conversation was a crack up and now every time I boil broccoli I can’t help but smile 🙂 Nerdy, and admittedly a little weird, but if it makes you happy, it can’t be all that bad.

Fausto and Rianne

Fausto and Rianne

After dinner, I chatted with Cagil, read for a bit and then made plans to meet up with Rianne and some of her friends at Dany’s for some beers. Rianne and her friend Fausto had just been to an Arab Tango show at a theater on Rue Hamra. It sounded fantastic – I’ll have to see if I can get tickets for next weekend…

In case you hadn't noticed that the wall moved...

In case you hadn't noticed that the wall moved...

I really love Dany’s. My friend Ali is a DJ there and he introduced me to the bar a few weeks ago. It’s cozy and small – actually used to be a lot smaller – about a month ago they broke down one of the walls and added an extra room to the bar. Dany’s is a meeting place for the young, liberal, intellectual crowd in Beirut, and it has a devoted group of regulars. The walls are covered with writing and doodles, there are rotating DJs, so the music is constantly changing, tasty food, cheap beers and plenty of good company. A really chill place and always a good time.

Fausto, Rianne, me and Leila at Dany's

Fausto, Rianne, me and Leila at Dany's

Chatting with Leila

Chatting with Leila

Later in the evening we were joined by my flatmates Michael and Nadim, Rianne’s friend Leila, Nadim’s friend Jenny, Ali stopped in for a bit – it was a great mix of people and a fantastic night, complete with a grilled ham, cheese and tomato sandwich (yes, they have food at Dany’s – I need nothing more from a bar ;)). I love what an international bunch we are too – I’m Lebanese/Irish American, Rianne is Dutch, Fausto is Indian/Italian, Leila is Iranian American, Michael is Lebanese/Palestinian Dutch, Nadim is Lebanese but grew up in the UAE. Everyone speaks a mix of languages and has traveled to so many interesting places. Ah! So amazing!! We all chatted, laughed, danced, snacked on chick peas and olives, and sipped Almazas till 3:30am when I finally had to turn in for the night. Life is gooooood!

And one last photo from tonight, just to make you smile:

Jenny and her amazing shirt!

Jenny and her amazing shirt! I instantly loved this girl!