History and Geography are the most important factors that shape a given society’s culture; In Lebanon, religions are of great influence on the adopted values and assumptions; some will be discussed in the following to make the point about how history and geography have interfered to shape the Lebanese society as such, and then a comparison with the American values and their historical backgrounds will follow;
-Family: being at the heart of the Arab world, where Christianity and Islam were born and spread later to the entire world, Lebanese people practice their religious believes in their different aspects, including those related to the family bounds and relations.
Lebanese families have strong tights: the Respect to the Older, the extended kinship networks, the dependence of the Weak on the Strong (when youngsters depend on their parents until they become able to take responsibility of themselves, and then the dependence of the parents on their sons –and girls- when they become old and in need for their assistance); all these are the “normal” Lebanese expectations and values regarding the family.
– History: Lebanese people give big importance to their history and they keep it in mind to learn from the mistakes of the past that cost them hundreds of thousands of souls; in Lebanon the term “we paid blood for this cause” is widely used.
The Lebanese flag has two red bands at its top and bottom sides, to symbolize for the blood that has been shed for the sake of the country and all those martyrs who sacrificed their lives throughout the history.
Lebanese history is very rich and full of invasions and struggles to freedom time after time, and this has left pride in Lebanese people of their past and determination to continue the same path in moralities and values regarding the country and their freedom. – Food: Conservation of Food that the Lebanese used to prepare each summer for the winter (called Mooneh), has its origins both from the cold winters where no food would be available, and from the famous WWI’s famine that stroke Lebanon, where only rich people and some farmers were able to survive since they had some food stored in their warehouses.
In addition, meat has to be Halal; that is the animal has to be slaughtered according to the Islamic way, even for Lebanese Christians who consider Halal meat healthier and more hygienic. In the Islamic regions of Lebanon, it’s not acceptable to request alcohol or to drink or be drunk when visiting a Muslim, as alcohol is forbidden in Islam. As it is offensive to request for food or to eat, drink or smoke in public during the day in Ramadan, where Muslims will be fasting by that time.
While in the American context, history has also shaped the values of the American people, but obviously in different direction as the historical events and circumstances was far different from those experienced in Lebanon. Taking the above tackled examples, in the following is an analysis of these in the American context as compared to the Lebanese one.
– Family: the social tissue of the American society is made up of immigrants from different parts of the world, and according to their origin, families have different values and social practices. Accordingly, families living in Michigan are similar in their family bounds and values to the Lebanese, as there is a big Lebanese Diaspora living in this state. While in other regions where most of the immigrants originate from North-Western Europe, families don’t have as strong bounds as the oriental people, and young adults’ dependence on their parents is considered as a shame and regarded to as immaturity.
– History: in spite of the short history of the United States as compared to other countries – here to Lebanon- history has had great deal with shaping the American culture and its people’s values, and Americans as the Lebanese are proud of their history and show great respect for those who contributed to the nowadays constitutional laws and values. For instance, the famous war between the North and the South had its important footprints on the American values regarding the racial discrimination and the respect to the individual regardless his color or race.
On the other hand, the interventions of President Roosevelt during the Great Economical Depression in order to create job opportunities and boost the economy, is being nowadays highly appreciated and appraised by the Americans. – Food: the American culinary culture seems to have no relation with that found in the Lebanese food. Americans depend mostly on “Fast Food”, with little time needed to prepare; this might have its origins the shortage in time when women and men had both to work during the industrial revolution at the beginning of the 20th century. In addition, no religious restrictions regarding the meat or alcohol, but rather a respect to some nutritional preferences like vegetarian and vegan food for some.
Although each society has its own peculiarities, values and cultural distinction, globalization is now invading most societies in the world and shaping them into a new, more homogeneous society having pretty much the same Global Culture; the nature of that culture will be that of the most powerful societies’ who invade the weak ones culturally and prevail over them; only the strongest values will persist and this is another form of struggle.
The most aspect of the American values I’ve adopted is independence as a woman coming from a Lebanese family. Although I was born and raised here, technically I am American; my family likes to think otherwise. My family is into the Lebanese culture very much. My father came to America when he was really young, maybe in his early 20s. He would visit Lebanon just about every summer and in 1983 he married my mother who was his neighbor. Soon after that my parents had my older brother, than my twin brother and I. My mother came to this country at the age of 22 (I think) and she started to bring over my uncles and grandmother. So, basically all of my family was here on my mother’s side except two of her sisters and one brother. We are very family oriented and I was the only girl so everyone was basically looking after me because they thought if I was to take the American way of things I would be wild and do whatever it is I wanted.
That’s not how it works in the old country. The sister or daughter of the family is supposed to stay home, take care of the house, clean, cook, and cater to the father and/or brothers of her family. Since we lived in America and grew up here, I kind of had it the easy way, for a little while. I got away with almost everything. I was “daddy’s little girl,” whatever I wanted, I got. I think it was because I was the only girl, for the most part. My father would get me any and everything I wanted. If my brothers were bothering me and I wanted to get them away from me, all I would do is scream “daddy, they’re hurting me” he would come running and they were the ones in trouble not me. Most of the time I would start the fight, so it was supposed to be my fault that we ended up fighting, but my father never knew that. He never wanted to see me cry or get hurt by my brothers who were rough and always play fighting. My biological father died when I was 7 years old of a heart attack and so my mother was left as a single parent taking care of two 7 year olds and a 12 year old.
It was devastating, heart breaking; nothing has been the same since of course. My mom was extremely strict on us after the passing of my father, that was the only way she knew how to protect us from this “evil and cruel world” she would tell us. My mom had her mother and three brothers here; my father’s sister lived on the second floor of our house, so she wasn’t alone taking care of us. Of course mothers have their own way of taking care of their kids and she didn’t want anyone to change the way she was raising us or taking care of us. She made our lives very difficult at times because most of the kids we went to school with or lived around were always outside on the street playing but we weren’t allowed outside of the driveway because she always wanted her eye on us or someone always had to watch us. There was never a time where we were alone, especially me since I’m the girl of the family. My brothers had more privileges than I did because of course they were boys and I wasn’t.
In 2001 that’s when things got a lot easier for my mother and us. She got remarried to a Lebanese man who was from the same city in Lebanon where we were from. She was happy and of course we were happy for her and as a family in general. A lot more freedom and independence came upon us. He is a very open-minded individual. He wasn’t living in America when my mother met him. He was visiting and ended up staying because him and my mom fell in love and got married. He sort of opened my mother’s mind up A LOT, for me. My brothers always had their freedom for the most part. My mom started letting me go to the park with my girlfriends, she let me go to birthday parties at friends houses. The option of sleeping over someone’s house was never there. I was very happy and thankful that God brought this man into our family.
I am very close to him; he is my step-father, of course. My father will never be replaced but a part of me always sits and thinks maybe my father brought this man into our lives; maybe he picked him out for my mom. He and my father are very similar people. When I was going into my junior year of high school my parents thought of this brilliant idea to move out of the city. It wasn’t so brilliant for us. We were living in Hyde Park. We left our childhood home, street, friends, parks, etc. It was a very sad thing to do. Our new home was in Attleboro, Ma. A very suburb area as oppose to Hyde Park. That’s where most of my independence and freedom took part. I’m thinking my mom was more lenient to letting me do things and go places because we were now living in the suburbs. I would go to my friend’s house, sometimes stay there until really late at night. When I turned 17 I learned how to drive, I got my permit and soon after my license.
The most freedom a teenager has is when they’re able to drive themselves around and not depend on other people or their parents for a ride anywhere. My freedom and independence began here. It was the most wonderful time of my life. I would drive from Attleboro to Boston almost every other day. My mom knew where I would be going, to my best friend’s house in Boston or to visit my grandmother and uncles who still live in Hyde Park. The fact that my mother was letting me or allowing me to do all of these things defines where I have adopted the American “teenage” lifestyle in that point of my life. My religion is very important to my family and to me as well. I grew up in the Orthodox Christian church. I will always have this value from my native culture. I don’t think I’ll ever forget my religion or where my beliefs come from. I went to church every Sunday every since I was a little girl. As for now, I don’t go to church so much anymore.
I live a busy life, like most Americans and especially Bostonians. I always have time for religion, there’s nothing wrong with prayer at home or wherever you are. My brothers and I went to a church camp out in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania called Antiochian Village. The mission of the Antiochian Village is to present to young people a living experience of the Holy Orthodox Faith, in their relationship with God and other campers in an uncluttered, natural environment. We were there for two weeks every summer. It was probably the best two weeks out of the whole year. I started going there when I was 12 years old until I was 17. I learned a lot about my religion, met life-long friends who I call family now, and learned how to live without electronics attached to me every second of the day. It was a big challenge for me because I was so used to watching TV every day and using the phone to talk to friends, and playing video games. Our trips to the Village have taught self-awareness. It’s a big aspect of my life. I think to accomplish the mission of the Village was to bring young people: * Awareness of self and fellow man
* A broadening of their Orthodox life
* A greater awareness of their religion
* Good sportsmanship
* Growth in personal relationships and personal responsibility * An appreciation of nature and a concern for the environment In Lebanon I see that religion is very powerful. When I go there for the summer there are always feasts and Saints days. There are huge celebrations for these feasts and Saints days. The whole town/city/village is a part of these celebrations. The churches are decorated with lights and candles and flowers. It’s beautiful. When I see these churches decorated like this, it makes me realize that there is a God. Without God there would be nothing. I wear jewelry to represent that I am religious; like a cross on my neck or sometimes prayer beads around my wrist. I make it very clear to people that I’m a big part of Christianity. Lebanese people can tell right away what religion you are. There are different crosses for the Catholic and Orthodox Christians. The Orthodox cross has a slightly different look than the Catholic one.
For me — melting pot/salad bowl — it’s about a country of immigrants becoming stronger by both embracing the diversity of its cultures but also all feeling they do belong to one nation as well. I’m more of a melting pot. I’m more ethnic but have been combined with the American culture. I live my life more of the American lifestyle in some ways more than others apposes to the Lebanese lifestyle. I’m big into the equality of opportunity whereas in Lebanon the man is in charge of the household, most women are stay at home wives who take care of the household, cooking and cleaning. I’m more independent that the cousins I have in Lebanon. The only women in my family who work are the ones who have gone to University and have found good jobs that are actually worth it. In America even if one doesn’t have a college degree there is a high possibility that they can be successful.
It could be from knowing someone in a certain type of job or business where they can receive better privileges and get promoted easily with higher paying jobs and not even having to step foot in a college level course. Those are the perks of living in America and having opportunity. In Lebanon there are not many options. Middle class or very wealthy families put their children in college or universities. Some of the people in my family were very fortunate to go to college because their parents had to give up their dreams or sell a piece of land that was handed down to them from their fathers or grandfathers in order to pay for their college tuitions. As I said before independence is my number one turnover from the Lebanese culture to the American culture. Only the bravest women in my culture stand up to their families or husbands and choose to be independent. I have that opportunity without a doubt or without anyone having to tell me “No.” Of course I still have my values that come from my culture. These values are what make me who I am and best represent me as independent.
In Lebanon the people are always giving a helping hand, Americans are the same way. I take that value very much inconsideration because I always try to help the less fortunate. I have so much to be thankful and grateful by the help of my parents and God that I try and give out a helping hand even if it’s a dollar. There are millions of charities to help the less fortunate in Lebanon and there are a million charities that I have contributed my money, clothes, shoes, jackets, etc. to. It gives me great pleasure to do so, it’s very frowned upon if you know someone who is less fortunate and doesn’t help them out with whatever it is possible that you can give in Lebanon and I’m sure in America as well. Some Americans are greedy or cheap and don’t like to give their belongings or money away to homeless or less fortunate people but for the most part I see a very large amount of contributors to these people.
Happiness is a great value that I’ve inherited from both cultures; Lebanese and American. My mother always tells me “it is better to be poor and happy than to be wealthy and unhappy,” meaning no matter how big or deep your pocket it is, it will not give you happiness. I always surround myself with the things that make me the most happy. It is of course my family, my best friends, etc. When I finish school, I plan on opening my own business it may or may not be successful either way that is my goal. It is what’s going to make me happy.
Whether I become very wealthy or very poor that is what will make me the most happiest. The thought of my goal and dream to be my own boss will give me great pleasure in saying to someone “I am my own boss,” finally. I hope to be as successful as some of the people in my family are. Some own their own business, some have very high paying jobs at very well known corporations/businesses. Even if I become a manager at a business or corporation it will still make me very happy to say that I’ve accomplished my dreams in becoming “wealthy,” because that is how I define wealthy; rising from the very bottom to the very top in my life. I want to show my parents that I have accomplished my dreams because I have more opportunities than my mother and father did from when they first arrived in this country. It will make me happy just seeing my mother happy. It’s a great thing to be, happy. Lebanese people are happy whether they are very poor, middle-class, and wealthy sometimes. Americans don’t see the economic status the same as us Lebanese, but I have seen a number of people say the same who are Americans.
Having good health is the number one priority in a Lebanese family. My mother also has always said “without health you have nothing.” If my father wasn’t healthy he may be still alive. I know my father’s side of the family has a history of heart disease and he was also under a lot of stress at the time. But he wasn’t healthy at all. If a person isn’t healthy, there would be no way a person can go to school to get an education, go to work to earn their money, not even get up out of their beds. Health is a big issue in Lebanon and in America. Obesity is growing and growing in America every day. I’m concerned for myself and family. But with the help of God and us there is no way being unhealthy is an option in my book.
In conclusion, independence, a helping hand, and health have best described my melting pot and shape me to be the person I am today. There is no better way to explaining myself in any other way than I already have. Thank you.