No matter how much I may have chafed at the fact that the Lebanese are “so appearance-obsessed”, these are some of the things I miss about being surrounded by them:
- Extravagant compliments several times a week on the lines of “gorgeous hair day” or “stunning shoes”, making the effort not only worthwhile but necessary.
- Hairdressers who can tell from one glance out of the corner of their eyes what is very, very wrong with your look. And the fact that a) they understand fully that this is not a mere concern but a life-altering tragedy and b) they can fix it.
- The perfect manicure. India wins hands down on the pedicure but you really wouldn’t want to put those hands down where someone might see them.
- The nicest clothes in all sizes – because no matter how big a Lebanese woman is she will not brook compromise in the matter of dressing. You won’t catch her hiding in a large kurta and stretch pants.
- Shoe salesmen who understand completely that you will never, ever be able to buy the 2000-dollar Manolos but would like to try on five different ones anyway.
- The cuisine. I have to admit they are right – there is nothing in the world to touch Lebanese food. To any Bangaloreans reading this I have to say that the stuff being sold here is an abomination.
- The Mediterranean ethos – Give them a plate of hummous, a pot of coffee and two packs of cigarettes, and they can make a little corner of mellow sunshine anywhere, any time. They carry it within them.
- Elaborate, impeccable chivalry in lifts, doorways, parking lots. This used to make me laugh, but the truth is that you could be looking your absolute worst and still end up feeling like a visiting supermodel.
- The fact that a mass of curls and too-high heels do not merit staring. You would actually have to be a visiting supermodel to get this.
I complimented my boss on her bangle today and also remarked that it was unusual to see her wearing one. She said that she’d noticed someone touching up make-up in the loo and remembered that she was a woman too and should really make more of an effort. We laughed and I said that that went for me as well. I laughed again later that day when I caught sight of myself in a window – the Lebanese colleague and friend who used to share my office would have been seriously worried, assuming he even recognized me in my unfinished state.
As I came to the end of this post, I heard, with a rush of startled sentiment, someone talking Arabic in that familiar dialect. At the table behind us, three Levantine boys were lounging elegantly with their shishas in the way that only they can do.
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