Culture has always affected an individual, using his/her life as a carrier of certain values and traditions. Human experience is also an opportunity for cross-cultural interactions between different generations, which eventually form a unique communicative field inside one culture. Lebanese culture is my background to which I had belonged all my life before I finished school. In fact, it is a specific country because it is located at the crossroads of different cultures and religions from the whole world, resulting in the eclectic lifestyle. My life is an example of how both Western and Eastern social practices can exist in one person. In this essay, I will describe how my cultural background, namely Islam and democratic values, identifies and distinguishes myself among other cultures, pushing me to rethink my national stereotypes.
I grew up in a Muslim family like most Lebanese, but it did not affect me negatively. Ironically, the Muslim values were combined with democratic ideas in my family. For example, we often drank wine at dinner though Islam does not allow alcohol in any shape. In fact, it was a part of French culture that had a huge impact on the Lebanese culture. Nevertheless, alcohol contributed to a friendly atmosphere and a collective way of solving problems, namely relating to my professional career. Unlike other Arab countries, Lebanon does not strictly relate to females in the culture, considering them a burden for the family budget. Nevertheless, Lebanese women have a less social impact than men. For example, in my country women always work as teachers and secretaries, while there are even male teachers in kindergartens in Great Britain. After the recent reforms, the situation has changed because I belong to a new generation with a less categorical view of the social status of women. In fact, it has helped me in communication with other individuals, especially from the European cultural context where the issue of gender equality is fundamental. For example, I respectfully treat those girls who decide to build a career, but my culture mostly has a negative attitude to this, especially within the Muslim politics and the old generation.
Nevertheless, the patriarchal rules have always dominated in my family and defined the relationships between its members, which is why I cannot completely remove these ideas from my worldview. On the one hand, my father was a respectful man and he decided what decision should be taken in the family. I understand that it goes from the Islamic tradition where Allah controls His believers as a man controls his family. I grew up in that culture and I did not know any alternatives since other cultures had not influenced me in Lebanon. However, the Lebanese law supports the absolute equality of religions and, thus, it uses the principle of equal religious representation in election processes. Communicating with other cultures, I have repeatedly said that members of different religions should be in the parliament, but my friends often saw a potential danger from Islam.
On the other hand, my father allowed my mother to solve different cases and did not consider her as the second grade. I have discussed with friends from other cultures what they think about the Islamic women. Most of them say that they are unhappy in such cultural circumstances since men always beat and discriminate them. I have always tried to dismiss such stereotypes because the Lebanese culture does not accept a dismissive attitude to a woman. However, both Lebanese men and women depend on its religious laws and they do not cross the line because of the cultural tradition and values and they even often think otherwise. Obviously, the orthodox Islam has very strict laws for women, but modern Islam has changed many rules under the influence of modern civilization, especially in Lebanon. Therefore, I have rarely seen cases of aggressive behavior towards women both in Islam and Christianity.
Generally, European women behave themselves more freely than in Lebanon: they wear a free clothing and communicate with men as with peers; they clearly know their rights; and they can also hold executive positions as men. If they were in my country, they would probably be treated at both ethical and cultural levels because Lebanon still proposes the orthodox view on a woman. In fact, I have felt uncomfortable with such type of behavior, but then I have rethought my principles since it is absolutely another culture and I should respect it in any case. Therefore, sexual culture in Europe is different than in Lebanon because there are no taboos about sex or marital relationships. Although Lebanon is a free and democratic Arab country with many progressive trends and shifts, women should not have intimate relationships before marriage. There was no such control in my family although my father sometimes reminded me of the Quran. Modern Lebanon is not like Iran or Saudi Arabia in their freedoms and it is much easier to live for females there although they are under the influence of the Islamic law.
As a result, the Lebanese culture always pressures single women, proposing them different ways of getting married. I have a cousin who is 25 and she feels unhappy because she is still alone and her parents always remind her that she should think more carefully about her situation. Furthermore, religion affects all other laws in the family, including divorce. As for me, this idea has influenced my communication with other individuals because many people do not understand how religion could be so powerful. It is hard to explain to them that religion and politics in Lebanon are the same thing and a violation of religious norms can lead to prison. Therefore, I am very careful about religious taboos, especially the Quran because for me it is not a book, but the law of life.
Although Lebanon is one of the most democratic Arab countries in the context of media education and freedom of opinion, but it is still a traditional culture. For me, it has been hard to integrate into the European cultural background because I have always felt that I was doing something wrong. It means that I grew up in a culture with many norms and regulations that everyone should obey every day. For example, I used to think that every meeting should be accompanied with a handshake, expressing respect to another person with such word as Marhaba. One more significant element is that a person should ask about one’s family and health. Moreover, I often give presents to other people because this practice is the cultural norm in Lebanon, especially among Muslims. In my culture, I used to give a gift with my left hand, but not with the right one. The price is less significant than its symbolic value because it is an expression of respect for another person. In fact, my friends did not understand this at the first time, but then they decided to present little trinkets as well, engaging in the cultural dialogue. Therefore, these simple things helped me to get closer to other cultures because I noticed that they also had the same cultural practices. Due to the everyday etiquette, I have been involved in a cross-cultural dialogue because respectfulness is also a fundamental element of many European and other cultures.
The Lebanese education is one more significant part of my cultural background that has formed my worldview and communicative skills. I was in so-called traditional school, which was founded by Christians in the 19th century. The curriculum has become increasingly changed according to the state standards, which is my school is a typical example of the early education in Lebanon. The main objective of these schools is assimilation into the Muslim culture where everyone has to serve God and country. Despite this, Lebanese pupils also study English and French as well as other arts, which is why I did not feel biased during my studying period. Nevertheless, the difference in education is obvious because European students are not too concerned with the national goals since they are interested only in their own interests, mostly enjoying life. In contrast, the task of the Lebanese education is to form a citizen who will serve public purposes. In this sense, it was easy to find a common language with foreign students, particularly from the Middle East, considering education as a way of building their country.
In conclusion, my cultural background distinguishes me from the European cultural background due to its Islamic orientation. In fact, it does not always help in communication because of stereotypes about Muslims and, thus, I try to ignore this theme in my life. On the other side, Lebanese culture respects different cultures and beliefs on both public and private spheres, directing me to tolerate others. There are also many cultural norms in communication that have helped me be closer to other cultures. The main principle of my culture is a balance of tradition and civilization, the individual and the collective, but there are still many rules. Despite this, I have rethought the role of a woman in the society because I see that many Lebanese single women suffer from cultural stereotypes. Furthermore, religion must be separated from the state although the Lebanese culture does not follow this idea. My cultural experience is not good or bad, but simply different and it can help to see the same thing from several perspectives.