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Uber in Beirut? If and when you might want to take an Uber instead of a service or taxi in Lebanon

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.

Here’s more info on what a service is and how taxis work in Beirut.

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:

 

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Is Beirut safe?

Is it safe to study abroad in the Middle East? Chances are if you are studying Arabic this is a question you (or your parents) are asking.  We have helped thousands of students study abroad in Lebanon and their experience with safety has been overwhelmingly positive.

Here’s a few examples about traveling to Beirut that you might find surprising:

It’s comfortable for women

Our female students who have spent time in other Arab countries frequently comment on how life in Beirut as a single woman is a lot more hassle free than in other places they have been – not to name those countries.

In general, Lebanese are used to different styles, seeing more skin and interacting with members of the opposite sex. This means men won’t frequently stop what they are doing to stare at you or say things to you – if you don’t send the wrong signals.

What are the wrong signals? Honestly, the way you dress and how relationships look depends on where you in Lebanon and what you are doing and we will cover that in class. At ALPS Beirut we are passionate about helping you learn Arabic and build relationships here and a big part of that is being able to understand and relate to the people you are spending time with.

It’s a big city

Beirut is a dense urban city and even though the people are more welcoming and talkative than in large cities in Europe or America so you want to use the same, basic precautions you would use in any city. Things like:

  • Always have your cell phone
  • Don’t get in a stager’s car
  • Don’t go out alone at night
  • Have a trusted taxi company’s phone number on your phone before you go out
  • Call ALPS Beirut anytime if you get lost or in a tough situation – we are here to help.
  • Don’t try to break a $100 bill in a taxi – carry small bills

What about bombs?

Unfortunately terrorism is a global threat that can strike anywhere, anytime. We’ve seen this in Beirut, Paris and Boston – just to name a few.

We can’t promise that you will be safe studying abroad in Lebanon, another country or even at your home university. That’s just the reality about life. However, we can confirm that we’ve never closed ALPS for security reasons during the last 9 years, neither in Hamra nor in Mansourieh.

What Parents Say

We have had parents here when a bomb has gone off – and have been surprised by their reaction – cool, calm and not worried. However, those same parents when they saw something on the news 100 miles away got nervous and called. Once parents visit they are surprised by 1) the traffic and 2) how Beirut looks nothing like what they pictured from the news.

How to Decide if it is Right for You

Which brings us to our last point – it’s best to talk with people on the ground who have experience before you make a decision. Talk with students who have studied abroad, email a few places or give us a call.

If you have questions, doubts or concerns we can talk on the phone or Skype before you book your plane ticket. But, in the end, we like to tell students if you don’t feel comfortable, it’s best not to come.

The Lebanese Lira and the US Dollar

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.

 

 

Advice from Students Before You Study Arabic Abroad

I studied abroad in Jordan the summer after my sophomore year at OU. It was great and I feel like I learned a ton but there were definitely parts that could have been improved.

We had a class on MSA and a class on spoken Arabic. The majority of the class time was spent on MSA, which didn’t help as much as spoken Arabic would have. All of the people we met spoke to us in the local dialect and I learned the most interacting with people in the day-to-day activities. If we had spent more time going over common vocabulary and phrases, it would have been easier to practice and learn on my own.

I did feel like I learned a lot just living in Jordan though. I feel like the only way to learn a language like Arabic is to live in an Arabic-speaking country and try to use what you’ve learned as much as possible. The program you guys are running looks great. It sounds like you are focusing more on conversation skills and less on grammar and MSA vocabulary.

-Clint, University of Oklahoma

 

Three tips to successfully use airbnb to rent a room or apartment when traveling to Beirut, Lebanon

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:

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 12.18.22 PM

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.

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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.

 

What is the difference between Modern Standard Arabic and Spoken Arabic?

Arabic is the official language of 22 countries, stretching from the Arabian peninsula up to Syria, and across North Africa, and is spoken by over 200 million people. These peoples and countries use Modern Standard Arabic in news broadcasts, legal documents, official speeches, books and newspapers. Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is also taught at universities around the world because of its standardization and academic use.

However, no one in any of these 22 Arabic speaking countries uses Modern Standard Arabic in daily conversation. Instead they use the spoken dialect, the language of relationships, to communicate and connect with family and friends. The spoken dialect varies within countries and across the region. However, the countries of the Levant: Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine, share a common dialect of Spoken Arabic. When you study with us in Beirut you be learning the Levantine Arabic. This means within the Levant, people will say you sound Lebanese and everyone in the Arab World will be able to understand you.

However, once you get outside of the Levant the spoken dialects have a lot less similarities with Spoken Lebanese, as a result people in Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Morocco will be able to understand you, but you won’t be able to completely understand them at first. This is true even if you have studied MSA because the words and phrases that are used most often in conversation vary the most across countries. If you have a MSA background and want to learn the dialect, you’ll be able to use your knowledge of the Arabic alphabet as you adapt to the spoken dialect. Then, once you have a foundation in day to day conversations you’ll be able to use those bigger words you have learned in MSA (like United Nations and political science) because they are more often used in the spoken dialect as well.

The material for Lebanese Dialect does not overwhelm the student, and it is a good thing that I could learn practical things from my teachers Nadia and Rima.” — Satu

 

 

Distribution of Arabic as sole official language (green) and one of several official languages (blue)

Is Beirut, Lebanon a good place to study Arabic?

The answer is…it depends.

Yes if you are a lady
There is a consensus among our female students that it is more comfortable to live in Beirut and study Arabic compared to countries like Egypt or Jordan. In general, the men will take less notice of you here and there is such a variety of styles in Beirut that you won’t have to change your wardrobe to fit in. Since Beirutis are used to interacting with the West, foreigners are less of an attraction here. 

Yes if you like variety
Lebanon is the most colorful country in the Middle East with a spectrum of religious confessions, styles and opinions and this means getting to know people here will usually have a few surprises. In Lebanon, when you meet someone new you have no idea about his or her religious beliefs, opinions, family life or values. In addition to the diversity of the Lebanese, Beirut also has Palestinians, Syrians, Kurds living and working in the city and welcomes Gulf visitors for the summer.

Yes if you are coming to the Middle East for the first time
When you are in a new country, especially a country that is much different from your own, there are a lot of things to get used to. It takes more energy learning a new language and living in a new culture and because of that your brain can never be in auto pilot. The stress that comes from this varies significantly from student to student. Since Beirut has always been a middle ground between the East and the West when you need to take a break and find people and places that feel a little closer to home you can.  
 

No if you only want to hear Arabic 24/7
Like we mentioned, Beirutis are comfortable with foreigners and they are even more comfortable with foreign languages. In general, Lebanese speak English and French more frequently and better than other parts of the Middle East. This means that if you are in certain neighborhoods or restaurants, people will most likely begin talking to you in English first. There are a lot of people here who would like to speak Arabic with you and it just takes a little motivation and intentionality to find them.