Have you ever heard the expression "it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, but isn't a duck"?
That is kinda like Lebanon. Take our apartment. This place is INCREDIBLE. I'm talking $1500 a week styles at home. Huge, brand new (we are the first people to live here) three bedroom, three bathroom, gas kitchen, a/c in all bedrooms and living room, two balconies... the list goes on. BUT... its not quite what it seems.
The finish just isn't. It looks like the landlord went out and bought the most expensive materials (including marble bench-tops and fully tiled bathrooms) then got my six month old sons to install it all.
The power in Lebanon is provided by the government for 6 hours a day only. The rest of the time you're on a generator (if you're rich enough to afford to run one), and there are always power cuts. Power cuts when the power switches from one system to another. Power cuts when it fails to switch. Power cuts when the Government power browns out - which it does a lot at the moment because its so freaking cold and everyone is trying to get warm... and then there's the power cuts when you use too much power. Our landlord has put 15amp circuit breakers in all the apartments (fairly typical practice)... which means you can run 'two big things' as well as the lights. i.e. two a/c units, OR an a/c and a water heater, OR both water heaters... you get the picture. We have chosen to have no hot water in the kitchen to help get around this problem.
You have to put the toilet paper in the bin rather than flush it.
People park on the road. I don't mean, there aren't garages so they park on the road. I mean, they just pull over and stop the car to do their shopping. Often in a one way street where no one can get past them, or, my favorite, next to another car, blocking them in and meaning there are now double parked cars blocking the main street. Its incredible. Also, the speed limit, one way street signs, road marking of any kind, the correct direction on round-abouts, and seat belts for children are suggestions rather than the law here. Most times I see the kids sitting on their parents lap in the front seat - usually more than one child at a time.
Shia women believe that Allah wills everything. As a result, they have kind of fatalistic attitude towards life. They walk on the road (which is understandable actually, seeing everyone parks on the footpath), they cross the road, seemingly without looking, and they also drive their cars like there is no one else on the road. My defensive driving classes have never been so useful. Its quite an arrogant attitude, but I guess if you believe that god will take you when he wants you it does take away some of the responsibility of looking after your own safety.
There is a whole (massive) section of the population that doesn't exist. The Palestinians arrived here after the war in '78 in such large numbers that the government was too scared to give them legal recognition. Not even refugee status. They live in ghettos and do menial work that couldn't even be considered under the table - because they don't exist they can't get taxed anyway. Its astonishing. And really sad.
And those, my friends, are my observations from being here less than a week. No doubt there will be more.