Customs & Traditions in Lebanon
Updated: May 5
It is considered rude or bad manners to give someone an object to hold while you are doing something else, this way of non-verbally declaring another person to be a servant.
Objects should be received and passed with the right hand only or with both hands together.
Avoid sitting crossing your legs with your ankle on your knee as it is rude to point one’s foot at another person.
In the Lebanese culture, it is considered an honor to host guests, so you can find them to invite you to attend dinner or events at Lebanese homes even if you are new friends.
Punctuality is not strict in Lebanon. People are commonly late about 20 minutes to appointments and meetings.
Displaying affection in public between people of the opposite gender may be disapproved in some places.
The family people belong to can define their reputation, status, and honor.
The act of an individual can impact the attitude of the entire family by others.
Wealthy individuals are expected to financially assist less fortunate family members.
In traditional Arab society, children typically live in their parents’ house until they are married or ready to have children of their own.
Therefore, parental control extends beyond the age of 18 and continues to influence a person’s decision-making well into adulthood.
Women from very conservative families may come under the disciplinary control of their in-laws when they marry; however, this depends on religion and class.
Within the household hierarchy, elders are deeply respected.
The father or oldest male is the main earner source of the family. and his opinion will often win.
The mother’s role is largely to fulfill domestic duties and take care of the children.
Though gender roles are changing and women’s rights to education and equal pay are improving, women still do not have as much power as men.
Meeting & Greeting:
A smile with a handshake is generally appropriate as a greeting in Lebanon.
It is common for close friends to kiss one another three times on alternating cheeks.
Muslim men or women may prefer not to salute with hands with members of the opposite gender. Therefore, when greeting someone displaying an Islamic dress code, it is best to greet him or her verbally and let them choose to extend their hand first.
Take time when greeting a person and be sure to ask about their family, health, etc.
You might receive an invitation to be someone’s guest during your first encounter with them. You may politely decline with an excuse unless they strongly insist.
Lebanese people often address one another as 'Habibi', meaning “my love” in Arabic. This is an affectionate way to address friends and family and is used very often and casually.
Visiting a home
When invited to a Lebanese home, it is customary to bring a gift such as cakes, sweets, or flowers.
On arrival, greet people in order of their age, beginning at the oldest.
You will likely be offered tea or coffee. It is good manners to accept this as it shows the esteem in their friendship as well as their hospitality.
When at dinner, try to taste all the dishes offered as a sign of respect and gratefulness.
It is common for the host or hostess to urge their guests to have multiple servings. Having second servings shows that you are enjoying their hospitality and food.
Therefore, serve yourself less on the first helping so you don’t fill up and are able to show the good gesture of accepting multiple.
The closer you are to a person, the more acceptable it is to decline their offers of tea, coffee, food, etc.
The Lebanese socialize around meals for long periods of time. If invited for lunch, guests usually stay past 4 pm. Those invited for dinner are expected to remain all evening, and it would be inappropriate to leave directly after the meal.
Gifts represent friendship in the Lebanese culture, and therefore they care little about the gift and the time of giving the gift.
Offer gifts with either the right hand only or with both hands, and receive them in the same way.
Appropriate gifts to bring a host are flowers, sweets, small gifts for their children, or alcohol (however, be aware that Lebanese Muslims may not drink alcohol).
Gifts are part of the culture and are not only for birthdays and special occasions.
Gifts may be given to someone who has provided a favor, to someone returning from a trip overseas, or simply out of want.
The cost of the gift is not as important as what it represents.
If invited for a meal, you may bring sweets or pastries.
If visiting a Muslim family, it is a good idea to say that the gift is for the host rather than the hostess.
Dining & Food:
If you are invited to a Lebanese house for dinner:
You should dress well.
Avoid sensitive topics of conversation such as politics, religion, or the civil war unless you know the hosts are comfortable talking about it.
Lebanese table manners are relatively formal.
Wait to be told where to sit.
Table manners are Continental, i.e. the fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating.
You will be expected to try all kinds of food at the table.
You may notice that Lebanese may speak with a loud voice, these loud voices are not always a sign of anger but rather an expression of a certain feeling or to prove their point of view.
When you find a Lebanese keeping silent or quiet for a while this is an indication that they are seriously upset than when they argue at loud volumes.
The Lebanese are very generous people and do not like to let others down. Some who are very conscious of being polite may respond to a request with “I’ll see what I can do” (or something to that effect) no matter how impossible the task may be. After the person has been asked several times concerning that topic, an answer of “I’m still checking” or something similar means “no”.
Tilting the head back while raising the eyebrows can also indicate “no”, sometimes accompanied by a “tsk”. This is not meant to sound rude but is simply part of the gesture.
The Lebanese are quite animated communicators in that they generally use many expressions and gestures in order to prove a point.
In Lebanon, people often sit and stand very close to each other.
The Lebanese are generally very tactile people when surrounded by their friends and family.
People often hug and kiss one another and walk hand in hand or with linked arms.
The Lebanese maintain eye contact during interactions, but not for long durations of time. It is important to meet their gaze in order to indicate sincerity and engagement.
It is rude to point at someone with one’s the index finger. Instead, the whole hand should be used to gesture.
Take note that sometimes the servers get less pay because it is assumed that they will be making tips.
The usual recommendation is to pay 10-15% of the bill.
Normal Service is 10% of the bill.
It is recommended tipping more, around 15% or more of the following occurs:
You spent a lot of time.
You were part of a big group.
You keep asking them to take pics for you.