Parking in Lebanon

Here are two parking stories, both of which I encountered today within a few hours of each other.


While getting my head shaved at my favorite barber, H., this evening in Beirut, I learned that he had just been in a fight with the owner of the shop next door. The fight began as an argument over a parking spot, but soon escalated into a brawl. The local neighborhood boys quickly came out of the woodwork, hustling to H’s defense, but by then he had already gotten the better of his adversary and sent him packing.

As I sat in the chair, my head covered in shaving foam, H. received one phone call after another from people who had heard about the fight and were trying to mediate between the two men. My barber, who is typically a very mild-mannered man, spent half an hour shouting into the telephone, vowing to bring the world down upon the guy’s head if he dared to say a word about parking ever again. There were threats veiled and direct, and mentions of aquaintances with itchy trigger-fingers.

As he fumed and spouted, the phone tucked into the crook of his shoulder, H continued shaving. His hands remained as steady as ever and the straight blade didn’t so much as tremble as he scraped it over my scalp. I sat still and sipped my coffee.


Earlier in the day, my grandmother told me that she’d gotten a call from a police officer a few months back. My aunt was visiting at the time, and she answered the phone. Here’s the conversation, as my grandmother told it:

Aunt: Allo?

Officer: Marhaba.

Aunt: Marhabtein.

Officer: May I please speak with Umm Ibrahim?  

Aunt: Who’s speaking?

Officer: I’m calling from Maghfar Hbeish.

Aunt: I’m her daughter. Can I help you?

Officer: Yes, it seems your mother hasn’t paid a parking ticket in Hamra for six months.

Aunt: That’s impossible. She never travels to Hamra.

Officer: Well, we have a record here of a ticket for a car registered in her name. The license plate is 1234567.

Aunt: Oh, I see. There’s been a mistake. She sold that car five years ago. The current owner is responsible, not my mother.

Officer: Well, I’m afraid she’ll have to come down to the station to clear it up.

Aunt: What? She’s an old woman! And she lives in the mountains! She can’t come all the way down to the police station in Beirut.

Officer: She’s an old woman? What year was she born?

Aunt: 1932.

Officer: 1932?! Let me speak to her.

Aunt: Hold on. Mama! Come speak to the police.

(My grandmother shuffles to the phone)

Grandmother: Hello?

Officer: What are you still doing driving at your age?

Grandmother: Well, I…

Officer: Stop driving! You’re too old!

Grandmother: Ok, I’ll stop. But what about the ticket?

Officer: Don’t worry about it. I’m tearing it up, and I’m going to write down that the owner of the car is dead.

Grandmother: Thanks, ya habibi. I appreciate it.

Officer: Wa law, ya Sittna? Have a nice day.

Grandmother: Thanks. Goodbye.
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12 thoughts on “Parking in Lebanon

  1. The parking frenzy (Mafia!) has taken Beirut by storm, I guess..
    Last week I had to go to Beirut for an appointment, and the first parking attendant (facing Buddha Bar) asked me: how long are you staying?
    I said: about an hour.
    He replied: sorry, you can’t stay for more than 15-30 mins, with the keys inside the car!
    Muttering under my breath, I went to the other parking facing Virgin. It was 9.20, my appointment (an exam, rather!) was at 9.30. The attendant asked me: are you a subscriber here?
    Of course, I said no.
    His reply: Then go out and come back at 9.30. (!!!)
    Muttering and cursing, I finally went to a parking next to the mosque, facing the Beirut municipality. It is a valet parking service that charge you per hour.
    And that’s how I ended up paying 10$ for parking fees for 6 hours 🙂

    In other news, check this out:

    Posted by Delirious | January 23, 2010, 3:29 pm
  2. I just love these typical Lebanese stories! Of course, I hate it when I’m in the middle of a typical Lebanese story which seems to happen on a daily basis when I’m in Beirut, but that’s another story 😉

    Your grand-mother’s conversation with this absolutely delightful and very helpful officer (who ended up doing everything and anything but his job) is just so good! 🙂

    Funny how when we’re in Lebanon, we don’t find anything unusual about all that 🙂 It’s when we travel and come back for a few days that everything typically Lebanese becomes so… what should we call it, well… “Typically Lebanese” 🙂

    Hope you’re enjoying your stay in Lebanon! 🙂

    Posted by rouba | January 23, 2010, 5:25 pm
  3. It is true that parking is a baroque matter in Beirut…but I have to admit that I NEVER ever lost anything from my car in years and years of leaving it in parkings with the key on.

    Actually, in Hamra at least, the new system with the ticket delivering machines seems to work just right, and has brought an improvement. It is also cheaper than leaving the car in the other parkings which are becoming scarce, and are now charging more or less as they wish. And that’s why I find it a miracle that one can still find empty places in them!

    Sometimes you find a place in front of a shop ( don’t even TRY with restaurants or fast food vendors), it is vital for you to park at that precise moment (or so it seems at that precise moment) and the guy comes out and sends you away with manners that admit no negotiations at all. With what is left from your western souvenirs you ask where is the sign that says that it is HIS parking lot…the sign is never there, of course. It last happen to me in Place Sassine, late in the afternoon, it was pouring cats and dogs and ABC’s parking was not taking anyone in anymore. Now that I read your story at the barber’s, I understand that he was probably “defending” “his” lot from the other shop owners in that street…making sure that only his costumers park in that place.

    But none of the above compares to the RAGE it takes me when I find that I cannot park (this applies mainly to supermarket parkings, specially the underground ones), because at least a dozen places have been made unusable by people that find it fashionable to park their beloved engines ACROSS the lines painted on the floor…

    Posted by mj | January 24, 2010, 4:11 am
  4. LOL! The story with your grandmother is sketch material, absolutely hilarious! Good health and long life to her.

    Posted by Rime | January 24, 2010, 7:04 pm
  5. I agree with Rime that the grandmother episode is hilarious but there is a sad element of ageism in it isn’t there. Those who are 77 should not drive? hell half of the faculty is that age:-)

    Posted by ghassan karam | January 24, 2010, 7:42 pm
  6. Ghassan, you are absolutely right, I didn’t comment on it but I don’t agree that age in itself should be a factor. What I find much more astonishing, however, is the official’s cavalier way in finding a rather creative explanation for why the driver couldn’t pay the ticket! Truly, I worry about the region when this can happen even in Lebanon.

    Posted by Rime | January 24, 2010, 7:59 pm
  7. Thanks, guys. The attitude in Lebanon is probably no different than anywhere else in the region (i.e. yindabbo)

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | January 25, 2010, 8:16 am
  8. My condoleances to all who lost somebody in this black monday in Lebanon. May the dead rest in peace and may the living find the strenght to go on with life.

    Posted by mj | January 25, 2010, 11:35 am
  9. Very funny!

    Here’s my parking story: I once parked in front of Hotel Cavalier in Hamra. The guy there asked me how long Im staying. I told him for about 2-3 hours. He said well in that time, I could fix the dents in your car if you want me to!!!

    This is the first parking that doubles as a repair shop too 🙂

    Posted by haytham | January 25, 2010, 12:40 pm
  10. Love it QN.

    At least your Grandma was able to beat the poor record keeping of the Beirut parking bureaucracy.

    I’m also glad that Barber H kept a steady hand. Typical Beirut. I love it.

    Now, as a born and raised Hamra boy, I can attest that parking in Hamra was problematic even in the early seventies, even for the locals, let alone the weekend warriors.

    Sunday morning, was a Godsend for the locals in those days, as the district got some relief from the weekend stampede.

    Really happy that Hamra is coming back. I might be partial, but I think Hamra will always be a jewel.

    Posted by Ras Beirut | January 26, 2010, 12:10 am
  11. Your blog is very interesting.It makes me want to share my experience!!
    Yesterday I tried to park on Bliss str.
    My child was ill and the doctor was waiting for us.I found a place in the prepaid parking category. I have a prepaid card!!!
    | went to th machine, the screen wasn’t functionning…I tried to insert a coin (500LL)it didn’t take it…I told myself: “so if it’s not active…I can let my car where it is”. My child was waiting for me…
    When I came back 30 minutes later…I had a 10000LL ticket. The security guy responsible for it saw my prepaid card, confirmed that the machine has technical problems…but couldn’t retrieve the ticket…THAT SYSTEM WAS FUNCTIONNING!

    Posted by Garine Zohrabian | January 27, 2010, 10:58 am
  12. lol that is very funny …. how fast she was thinking to get rid of the ticket

    Posted by Simon | February 14, 2010, 2:59 am

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