Stories from Afar & Up Close

On pride and ignoring me

When you’ve lived in a country for quite a while, there comes a point at which you think you pretty much know it. You’ve learned how to behave, what is considered polite and what offensive, you know what you can talk about with strangers and what is better left unasked, you even use the right expressions when someone is recovering from sickness, is getting married or has a new haircut.If, like me, you are an anthropologist, you have also come up with theories as to why some things are rude and others appreciated; you have figured out the cultural conventions, taboos and ‘implicit social knowledge’ that guide people and societies.

But then, all of a sudden, something happens that turns all this upside down. Something that, on first sight, goes completely against what you would expect, considering your experience with the people of that society. Like today.

As so many nights before, I went for a run on the Corniche. Now today, it wasn’t exactly cold – on the contrary, it was superb weather, considering the near-freezing temperatures of the past days (or even weeks), and so the sea-side boulevard was packed. There were all the usual suspects: children on little bicycles and skeelers, old men eating beans and corn, drinking coffee on the benches, entire families going for a stroll, young guys hanging around the parked cars with the stereo on 10, lovey-dovey couples sneaking a kiss against the railing. It wasn’t easy finding space to run, so I was swerving around the slowly advancing pedestrians, trying not to step on dogs or kicking over arguilehs on the way.

Suddenly, a little kid appeared from behind his father who was walking towards me. I side-stepped to avoid the boy, hitting the side of a hole where a palm-tree used to be and fell smack! on my face. Both my hands and my knees were chafed, some drops of blood started to form, and my mp3-player had flown out of my hands on to the pavement. As I was lying there, feeling like a stupid 4-year old, everybody averted their eyes and looked away. Where normally people can’t stop staring when I run by, now it was as if I didn’t exist. Not even so much as a ‘are you ok?’ from the father of the boy.

I got back up and walked the rest of the way home, trying to find an explanation. I have gotten to know the Lebanese people as being extremely helpful, especially to strangers. They go out of their way to help you when you are lost, hungry or generally in need of something. Yet right there, lying on the sidewalk – nothing.

As I am sitting here with band-aids on my knees, I still don’t understand. I surely hope that turning away from me was done to save my pride – after all, if you ignore it, it hasn’t really happened. Otherwise it’s time for a major overhaul of my Lebanese code of conduct…