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This is a question everyone asks when they arrive to Lebanon. Giving a tip, or bakhshish in Spoken Lebanese Arabic, is pretty common here, but the amount you tip depends on the situation. Let’s go through the most common situations you will find yourself in:
Let’s say you are at a restaurant with a waiter. It’s common to leave about 8 to 10 percent as a tip on the table. You’ll usually see on your bill a line that shows 10% being included in your total – that is not the tip. It’s the tax and usually in Lebanon the tax is included in the price of what you purchased but is displayed on its own in the bill.
In Beirut you can get just about anything delivered – including your groceries. Sometimes there is a small delivery charge, but most of the time delivery is free. A tip of alfein or tleit taleif (2,000 to 3,000 Lebanese Lira) would be good. If there was a lot to be delivered or it was pouring down rain you could give more.
at the grocery store
When you go to a grocery store here it’s normal for someone to bag your groceries, push the cart for you to your car and load them. A tip of alfein or tleit taleif (2,000 to 3,000 Lebanese Lira) would be good in this case too and this is most likely the only salary this person gets.
valet parking and car work
If the parking is free but crowded, such as Starbuck’s or Abd Tahhan at Mansourieh, it’s usually good to give the parking attendant what it would have cost me for an hour if it weren’t free, such as LBP 3000. Most places such as near Virgin or le Gray hotel downtown have valet parking with a know fee, such as 5USD.
For the guy who washes the window at the gas station, it’s 2000 liras if I have them, otherwise he’s also happy for 1000 liras.
If you need to go to a car repair shop, and it’s not the m3allem (shop owner) who takes care of the repairs, but one of his workers. So it is good to leave 20.000LBP for each 100$ invoiced to the guy who actually did the repair work. But to do so, ask permission from the owner, the m3allem, because some do not like it in order to keep their helpers from having “preferential” clients.
For a haircut, the tip is typically only for the shampoo person, and it is usually good to leave 2000-3000 liras, depending how “fancy” the hairdresser shop is.
the naTuur for your building
This one is less straightforward. Most apartment buildings have someone who lives in the building, called a naTuur – from the verb naTar – to wait. The naTuur does things like keep an eye on who goes in and out of the building, makes sure every apartment has enough water, cleans and maintains the common areas, takes out the garbage and lets a neighbor know if they are bothering another neighbor. NaTuurs usually get a fixed amount per month from the building to do their basic responsibilities. What your naTuur is expected to do depends on your building so ask your neighbor about what is expected of him and when it would be appropriate to tip.
Also, depending on how nashiiT your naTuur is he might offer to help you fix something that is broken, carry up your groceries, wash your car or get you things from the dikkeineh. If your naTuur brings you a new gas bottle for your oven, or does something else to go out of his way for you, you could give him 2,000 to 3,000 Lebanese Lira at that time. If he fixes your toilet he will probably insist that you do not give him a bakhshish but it is always good to insist that you want to and both sides will keep insisting as a way of honoring each other until one prevails. You could also just give him a bit extra next time he is collecting money for your electricity bills or something else if you don’t have change or if that is easier. It’s also good to give your naTuur a monetary gift for the holidays but that’s another post 🙂
Can Uber work in Lebanon?
Before we begin, you should know that this post is based on personal experience and is not endorsed by ALPS or sponsored by Uber. Also Uber in Lebanon may have changed after the date of this post.
In Beirut, Uber is a bit different. First of all you can pay with cash which is really nice! You have the same Uber experience with using the app to share your location, your destination and a car will come to you. However, there are a few times and situations where we have found a service or taxi to be better than Uber.
A service is best when…
- you want to go somewhere quick and relatively close. It is hard to beat LL2,000 and if you are in Beirut and not going too far you can find a service ready to take you in less than a minute. In this situation, a service beats Uber in price and in speed.
A taxi is best when…
- you are going to or from places that are hard to find or more out of the way. In these places it can be more difficult to find a driver who knows how to get there and he will rely on you or people along the way to help him figure it out. Also, if you are leaving somewhere out of the city it can be hard to find a service quickly. Every neighborhood has a local taxi company and you or the person you are going to visit can call them and arrange a pick up at a certain time. This way the driver should know where you want to go and you will know the price ahead of time. A taxi can beat Uber here because the Uber maps don’t seem to reflect Beirut roads. You can drop a pin, and when you do, the driver will usually use the directions given in his Uber app and follow those. But because drivers in Lebanon use landmarks, and not maps, a pin isn’t the most helpful way for him to figure out where you are or where you want to go. Besides streets also usually have multiple names. The maps in the Uber App for drivers don’t seem to take into account one way streets or be able to consistently know the best route.
- Depending on how reliable the taxi company is if you want to be picked up at 10:30 or in 15 minutes this can be more accurate than the Uber estimates. This comes back to the Uber app seems to have a hard time giving the best route and accurate time for pick up and arrival. We had multiple times when we saw “10 minutes to pick up” last over 20 minutes and watched the driver move around like he was stuck in a maze.
An Uber is best when…
- you are visiting Lebanon for a short trip and don’t know Arabic. This is a great and easy way to get around.
- you want to go somewhere across Beirut or out of Beirut. We found that often times Uber is cheaper than a taxi.
No matter how long you are in Lebanon we can help you quickly lear the most practical words and phrases in Spoken Lebanese Arabic to help you get around town and more. If you are only here for a short trip, make sure to check out our Skype options for when you are back home.
Tell us what you are looking for:
You don’t need to bring too much cash with you when you come to Lebanon. If you have an ATM card that works internationally you can get cash here when you arrive. Bigger stores accept credit and debit cards, but for many transactions it’s easier to use cash – including paying your rent.
There are ATMs in every neighborhood and you are able to withdraw either US Dollars or Lebanese Lira at most ATMs. You can shop or eat at a restaurant with either currency and you will get your change back in US Dollars, Lira, or both.
Note: One US Dollar is fixed at 1,500 Lira.
Technically, Beirut is an expensive city. Ranking 44th on the Mercer’s list for most expensive cities in the world, Beirut comes in at number four in the Middle East. And yet, as with most things having to do with Lebanon, there’s more than meets the eye.
So what does it cost to live here and to study Arabic?
Housing cost varies a lot based on the type of housing and where it is located. To get a feel for what you can expect to pay and what neighborhood is best for you check out these posts:
Food and Toiletries
Per diem expenses will of course vary widely depending on taste and budget. You can eat very cheaply in Beirut. Look for the mana’iish stands that pop up on every corner, and try to find the less-common but no-less-tasty falafel and hummus shops ($1 to $3 per meal). Instead of buying fruits and vegetable at Spinney’s or TSC, look for produce in شعبي neighborhoods. (In other words, buy your apples from the men with carts not from the stores with parking lots.) Stay away from anything that looks trendier than your home country, and you should be okay. Here’s a rough estimate: you could make it in Lebanon on as little as $10 to $15/day for your food if you make wise, very disciplined choices. For a mid-term budget, plan on $15 to $20/day for food. And for a high-end budget, plan about $50/day. It’s important to note: I separated out “Going Out” money from your weekly “Food and Toiletries” budget.
Depending on where you live, your transportation costs will vary tremendously. If you live in Hamra and study in Hamra, you can potentially pay a few dollars a week for transportation. If you live in Beirut, but outside of Hamra, you’ll have to pay anywhere from 1,000 lira for a seat on a bus, 2,000 lira for a service and about 10,000 lira for a taxi to get into Hamra and the same amount to get back home. We highly recommend the bus and van system, as the price is fixed (1,000 lira) and it provides generally kind people with whom to practice your spoken Arabic. So remember: don’t look at transportation as an annoyance; view it as an opportunity to do what you came to Lebanon to do—learn the Arabic language.
Cell Phone and Internet
Telecom in Lebanon is famously slow and notoriously expensive. We recommend staying completely away from internet cafes if you can manage. Go instead to Cafe Younnes (in Hamra) or Starbucks (in Hamra, Sassine, and Downtown), buy yourself a $4 drink, and enjoy a faster (but not very fast) internet connection than most Internet cafe’s offer. Or you can get a larger data plan on your mobile phone and make a personal hotspot.
To get a cell phone line, you’ll need to buy a SIM card with MTC Touch or Alpha. It costs about $25 to get a Lebanese phone number and you can use your unlocked GSM cell phone from home. Currently you can pay $14 a month for 440 MB of data, 60 minutes to talk time and 440 text messages.
Going out is where you’re going to burn a hole in your wallet. A beer can cost $10; a cocktail $15 or $20. Eating out can be unnecessarily expensive, too. Sure, you can do it on a moderate budget, but you have to be careful.
Electricity in Beirut
Lebanon uses 220 and most plugs are like the European plug. Adapters and converters are available in local shops. Lebanon is dealing with a shortage in electricity and every part of the country is out without power for at least 3 hours a day. However life and business carry on as usual through local power generators. For the hours there is no electricity from the government you can get electricity from a generator either in your building or in your neighborhood through ishtirak. With 5 Amps on a generator you can use most things in your house except for your AC unit and a blow dryer etc. If you stay within central Beirut you will be on generator power 3 hours a day, if you are outside of central Beirut it is usually 4 hours of government power and then 4 hours of generator power throughout the day and into the night.
Check out this app to keep track of the schedule in your neighborhood.
Note: this post is by Andrew and is based off of his experience with airbnb. ALPS Beirut cannot endorse or guarantee airbnb listings.
Have you tried airbnb yet? This can be a great option if you are looking for short term lodging and are staying in Beirut for a month or less. There are also some renters who will give you a discount if you are staying longer. It can be a little intimidating to use airbnb the first time, but here are a few tips I have learned when using airbnb in different countries.
1. Decide if you want to share an apartment or have your own place
If you are looking to practice your Arabic by staying with someone Lebanese, sharing an apartment can be a good option. Make sure to look closely to see if you will be staying with other foreigners or with someone Lebanese.
Here I am looking for a private room in Beirut:
If you want more time and space to yourself you can easily search and rent an entire apartment in Beirut.
If you have any questions about neighborhoods or how long it would take to get to ALPS Beirut please email us. ALPS Beirut is a private Arabic Language Center located in Hamra near the American University of Beirut.
2. Look at the number of reviews
I personally never stay at a place with less than 5 reviews. If an option has only a few reviews it means they are either just getting started or for some reason no one is staying there. Either way, I don’t want to take the risk and that’s why I only book with people who have proven experience.
Which place would you rather stay at?
3. Read the comments carefully
Because airbnb is a personal experience most people are hesitant to give anyone lower than a 4 star review. In fact, about 95% of places listed on the site have 4.5 or 5 star raitings. It is true that airbnb does provide a consistently good experience, but I don’t think the star rating is the best signal that this is a good apartment for you. Instead, take a look at the comments.
Comments should be specific, long, and give details about a great experience. This means the host and the place are remarkable and you will have a better chance of getting what you expect. A lot of short and general comments can mean that the experience was less than expected and the reviewer is just being polite.
Safety: Lastly, it’s easy to use the airbnb app to chat with someone before you book a place to make sure you get a good vibe from them. No matter where you are staying, it’s aways smart to bring your mobile phone and get a data plan in Lebanon as soon as possible in case there are any emergencies.
If you want to book a place with airbnb make sure to go to the site from this link to get $25 off.
Want to become a host?
airbnb is still pretty new to the Middle East and hopefully each month there will be more listings. If you are Lebanese, and are interested in hosting with airbnb, use these tips, make sure to provide an accurate listing, and then do a little extra something to increase your chances of getting good feedback so that your listing can stand out.
How slow is the Internet in Lebanon?
Despite the recent improvements, be advised that the Internet speed is still slower than most of the world. All over the city there are coffee shops and restaurants where you can enjoy free internet when you purchase a coffee. This is usually good enough for checking your e-mail but too slow for most other tasks.
What are your internet options for in your apartment?
- ishtirak-Each neighborhood has someone who will install shared internet in your apartment. Just ask a neighbor or a local store owner for the person in your area. This is a small, local operation that is cost effective, but slower since one connection (and IP) is shared among your neighbors. You can get it started easily and be done in a day.
- 3G/4G – Just use 3G or 4G on your phone while you are here and as long as you don’t download or watch videos this can be a reasonably priced option. 3.9 G is Lebanese for “Sounds faster than 3G, but is actually slower than 3G.” Check out MTC Touch’s 3.9G pricing. If your phone and the type of SIM card you purchase can use 4G, then you will have access to 4G speeds at the same price. Check out Alfa’s 4G prices. If you want, you can also get a dongle to connect to your laptop or just make a Personal Hotspot. This option is quick and easy to get started, but is the most expensive.
- DSL-If you are planning on being in Lebanon for years, you could get DSL in your home. This will take 3-6 months to set up, especially if there isn’t already a phone line in your home. This is the fastest and cheapest option, but involves the most paperwork and you need to keep a local phone line as well. You can easily stream videos with DSL, but neighborhoods outside of Beirut can drop downloads due to poor wiring. Sodetel is one DSL provider in Lebanon.
In this audio post we asked two of our teachers, Nadia and Nevine, where they like to eat near ALPS in Hamra.
Nadia recommends the fatayer sbeinigh and fajita at Barbar
Check out the menu here: http://www.3albeit.com/Menus/Barbar.htm
Nevine likes the man2uusheh at Zaatar w Zeit
Here’s the menu: http://www.zaatarwzeit.net/#menu
Barbar and Zaatar w Zeit are some of the most well know chain restaurants in Lebanon each with multiple branches.Check out this google map for walking directions from ALPS to Bar Bar and how to get to Zaatar w Zeit in Hamra. They are a great option for a quick bite before or after class and offer take away, delivery and sit down dining.
What about you?
Do you have a favorite cheap place to eat in Beirut? Please share it with us below: