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Onely Overseas: On the Things We (Americans) Take for Granted September 18, 2011

Posted by Onely in Food for Thought, single and happy.
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I’ve been in Beirut for more than a week now, and here my marital/relationship status is of utmost importance.

Interested strangers include: The plumber; the neighbors on the fourth floor of my building; all taxi drivers; the life insurance company; my employer; and the shirtless guy on the Corniche who stopped me and my dog for a brief conversation.

And, if I happen to get pregnant, I’d better have already registered my marriage with the health insurance providers because otherwise I’m not covered.

To the plumber, my employers, one of the taxi drivers, and my neighbors, I told the truth (I am not married, have no children); to one taxi driver I lied for inexplicable reasons – blame it on the jetlag? – (In’shallah, I hope to be married and have children someday); and I also lied to the shirtless guy (I have an American fiancée).

All of the inquiries have taken me by surprise, and my various (sometimes embarrassing) responses reflect my desire to be left alone. But my surprise, and my uncertainty about how to respond, underline just how much I have taken for granted as a single American woman writing about “being Onely” from an American perspective. I am not Lebanese and cannot claim any real expertise on what it might be like to be an unmarried woman here (though at least one of our readers has already shared some valuable insight in this regard), but even as an outsider who’s only been here a short while, it’s clear that cultural pressures are much stronger and less easy to negotiate than in the U.S.

I am sure I will be fine as an unmarried American woman living alone in Beirut. But I am also certain that the inquiries will not stop, and the longer I live here alone – especially if I don’t end up with a boyfriend or express an interest in getting married – the more of a curiosity I will be to some.

At the same time, I look forward to the moments when my superficial impressions of this country and this culture are disrupted – such as when I told my neighbors (who have a recently divorced daughter) that I’d never been married, and the man replied, “It’s better that way.”

— Lisa

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Comments»

1. sarasvati3 - September 18, 2011

yay!! A new Onely post! Great to hear about the beginnings of your new adventures in Beirut, Lisa! Very interesting cultural observations, can’t wait to hear more!

Onely - September 21, 2011

Thanks sarasvati!

2. clofa - September 19, 2011

LOL, I can’t believe you’re already experiencing it! Don’t worry though, you guessed right; because you’re American, people will mostly be asking out of curiosity (so hopefully you won’t be pressured or unknowingly be invited on a double-date where your friends, who are “looking out for your happiness,” will try & hook you up). Yep, here, you’re either in a relationship (or even relationships) or looking; you cannot possibly be not interested, that doesn’t exist. Thank God, my close friends and family believe me and accept me (as an exceptional, abnormal alien, but hey, at least they don’t try to change me anymore). But don’t let that frustrate you because there are more frustrating stuff still (how are you managing with our electricity and Internet connection so far? :p)

Onely - September 21, 2011

HAHA Clofa, thank you for your response. Yes, I agree I could get upset/angry but it’s totally not worth it in relation to other issues, such as when my water stopped working last week and trying to get Ogero to hook me up with internet (and avoid my neighbors who all want me to buy the illegal connection from someone’s friend/son/nephew). I love it here so far though — everyone is incredibly nice!

clofa - September 21, 2011

Unfortunately, the infrastructure here is related to politics and I have little hope of it ever being fixed (although I pay for the water company, I have to buy water from cisterns 😦 and if I stopped paying for the company I’d be fined and they don’t deserve any extra cent).

I also forgot to mention that I was surprised you noticed that about the people here because I expected Beirut and its population to be more diverse, but what do I know? I only go there when I really have to, I prefer a more quiet life in a village-like town. Anyway, I’m glad you’re having a positive experience otherwise, I hope it stays that way 🙂

3. April - September 19, 2011

So glad you can virtually celebrate with us. I’ll be honest, I hadn’t thought about how much different it must be over there. I’m sure you’ll be very inspiring to many you meet.

Onely - September 21, 2011

April, you are too kind. We’ll see how inspiring I am — first I have to stop automatically lying 🙂


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