LEBANESE SOUL : my book-in-progress about that « miracle » of still feeling Lebanese, despite decades out of Lebanon !

Chapter 3 : 



My young neighbor in Paris and her husband just had a baby and the only word I can think of, and tell them, is : « Mabrouk ! ». Which  means « May that event be blessed » :  « Mabrouk » (blessed) comes from the Arabic word « baraka » (blessing or chance), and in Lebanon we say «  Mabrouk », for any happy event : a birth, a wedding, a diploma,  a new house - and even a new dress ! 

I have been living in France for more than 40 years but I still use - if not orally - a whole collection of Lebanese phrases which are the necessary verbal expressions of various situations : 

      - Smessalib ! (« In the name of the Cross ! » ) - to mark a positive event - for example when I see my fridge full of food after I have returned from the market, a manner of being graceful ; 

     - Smallah ! (« In the name of God ! » - Smallah being the phonetical, contracted version of « Be - ism - Allah : a way for us Lebanese to aknowledge that whether Christians or Muslims we share the same God ; 

     - B’eed ech-charr ! (« God forbid ») ; 

     - Inchallah ! -  a phrase understood by many Westerners (In chah Allah) : God willing ; 

     - Rabbena yostor ! (May God protect us !) : for example when witnessing a car accident, or any sad situation ; 

My grand mother, Salma Jreissati, used many more phrases such as these. For example : « Allah maaki » (« God be with you »), whether we went for a day trip picnicking or fled for a one-month travel abroad) ; or « Tekkli aalallah » (« Rely on God »), a courage-giving sentence to somebody facing any difficult situation, from an exam to pass to a surgical operation. 

This daily use of phrases which include « God » does not mean we are an excessively religious people : non-believers and people who hardly ever go to a church or a mosque, also use them. Spirituality is different from religion, and these phrases, which have been used for centuries as Arab texts tell us, are here to remind us « how fragile we are », like Sting once put it in a song, and how grateful we must be for any happy accomplishment in our life. 

« Positive thinking » and « Gratefulness exercices » were not invented in Los Angeles in the XX° century : they have been a traditional philosophy of life among various peoples and cultures - among them we Lebanese. 



In Lebanon we also have a collection of kind or poetic phrases that we use in our daily conversations : 

     - « Sallem dayyatek » ( I salute your hands), i.e. « Thank you », for example after a lunch at a friend’s place who cooked for you - or just when he/she handles a cup of coffee to you ! ;

     - « Sahhtein » (« Double-health to you ») : told to you when you eat something, by an adult if you are a child, or by your host if you are invited for dinner or lunch ;  

     - « Tekram ouyonak » (« May your eyes be honoured»), to the person who told you « thank you » (a kind of « you’re welcome ») ;

      - « Na’eeman » («Blessings») to a person who just had a bath or a haircut - because corporal hygiene is very important in Arab cultures ; 


And it is this collection of traditional Lebanese phrases, heard and used in our French-speaking Paris-based family (example : the answer to « C’était très bon !» after a lunch at my auntie’s, would be her : « Tekram oyounek !» ),  and revived during visits of our cousins and relatives coming from Lebanon, it is these little words which have, in their way, been keeping up the fire of my Lebanese identity over the past decades…


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