Skandar Keynes: Week 7
SKANDAR finds that there’s a fine line between truth and lies in Lebanon.
In my role as an Orientalist on a mission to discover the East, I’m always asking those around me to explain anything alien to my western sensibilities.
It seems, however, that the Lebanese have a fierce passion for distorting the truth in numerous ways, ranging from a light sprinkling of embellishment to downright lying. While such fibbery is by no means exclusive to the Lebanese, it does somewhat complicate my mission.
Superlatives are flung around without qualification. I’m losing track of how many villages and towns supposedly have “the most beautiful women in Lebanon and thus the world!”
Potentially embarrassing acknowledgments are avoided like the plague. I couldn’t help but laugh when I walked past piles of freshly cut marijuana drying out in the garden of a farmer, having earlier sworn to me that nobody in the area grew it. He later conceded that a few people “may grow just a little bit”.
Numbers and figures are also vulnerable to gross exaggeration. I’m in the process of working out what I shall call the Lebanese Bullshit Coefficient, or LBC for short. This being my first autumn and winter in Lebanon, I was looking forward to seeing the literally millions of promised migrating birds. As it happened, they must have all been shot on the way.
As I have navigated my way through the foggy mists separating fact and fancy, I have learnt not to despair when the journey is obscured. There is often more to learn from analysing how people chose to stretch the truth, or conceal it altogether, than there is to be gained from getting to the bottom of every mystery.
Appearance is more openly valued by Lebanese society as a whole than it is, say, in the UK. Both men and women seem to dress up more often than their British counterparts – whether it be to attend a university lecture at 9am, or broadcast the news. While marijuana is cultivated with relative impunity, those who grow it aren’t truly comfortable with what they do, preferring to conceal their illicit activities.
So now when I hear exaggerations and porkies, I let them slide without worry – unless of course it’s a taxi driver claiming that what should have been a $2 journey is in fact $20.
I won’t let him get away with that.