Sunday, June 14, 2020

Common sense would be popular in Lebanon - if it was imported

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly from the series "History of Lebanon"

Next to our house in Beirut (Achrafieh) in the 80s there was something called "Al Ma'amal" (the factory), which as the name indicated would manufacture and sell clothing. That place was not unique, I also remember Anitex and Jonitex and other such labels.
I reveal no secret that Lebanon is importing much more than it is exporting, making the economy dangerously lopsided. Here's a story: My nephews came today and said that a bag of chickpeas costs 4500 Liras today, when it was 3000 when the Dollar was back at 1500 liras (the current value of the Dollar is all over the place but let us estimate it at 4000 Liras), so they said that the hummus was now cheaper than it was even if it was more expensive. I probed them as to why? They constructed the answer and discovered that it was because it was "made in Lebanon" ergo, not imported.
Lebanese have always been cosmopolitan. Story goes that major corporations would give their products to ambulant merchants on pushcarts in Beirut in the 50s and 60s and if the product did not sell they would not bother export it to the region because the Beirutis were the barometers of taste. But not only Lebanese had taste, they also love brands - or if they cannot get the original then made a good local copy.
Long before we had any McDonalds or Burger King, we had our own Winners and Juicy Burger. No points for guessing where the Winners logo got its red and yellow colors. But we also had our own Adams Chicklets factory, our own Gada shaving cream (which was infinitely more popular than Gilette), our own Amatoury (I am one of those who still use their shower gel religiously and still think their original perfume smells incredibly nice - though when I revealed that to someone who complimented my smell, he retorted: "What? You never heard the joke, "you still wear Amatoury?" as imply someone is too retro in their taste" and I replied "well, you just said I smelled nice.").
Lest I be called a hypocrite, I too wear imported branded items - but there is nothing wrong with consuming Cortas jam, Al Wadi Al Akhdar hummus or chickpea dip, Sanita products, and the list goes on. But there is a national complex that "franji branji" (foreign items) are nicer, sleeker, better-made, more socially-boosting and status-elevating than their local counterparts.
Actually, common sense would be popular in Lebanon - if it was imported.