Two years ago Nasri Atallah left his banking job in London for his native Lebanon, and decided to try his hand at blogging, writing a satirical post about Lebanese tourism clichés – such as skiing and swimming in the same day.
After that first post received a positive response and gained him a small following, he continued with regular monthly pieces, routinely criticizing Lebanese society, himself included, for its vanity, clichés and poseurs.
Two years on, his blog, “Our Man in Beirut,” has reached some 130,000 visitors, and with the encouragement of friends, a book of the same name will be available on bookshelves starting Sunday. It will feature highlights from his blog in which he often in pokes fun at Lebanese for their excess – be it overdressing, overspending, over-the-top glamorous Facebook profile pictures or overdone plastic surgery.
“I tend not to be nuanced in my writing,” Atallah acknowledges. “Some people think I’m too negative, or that I’m not doing anything [constructive] by nagging.”
In fact, it was perhaps that very negativity, expressed in witty blog posts, which struck a chord with young Lebanese, aware of the problems in their own society and eager for someone who could articulate them pithily.
One of his most popular entries was “Nation Blanding: Hedonism and the Underselling of Beirut,” a criticism of the CNN video report made by Richard Quest on Lebanon’s rooftop bars, and an indictment of Lebanon’s promotion of its hedonistic nightlife.
“I’m sorry but I have yet to see a genuine example of someone loving life when I go out in Lebanon,” he writes in the Sept. 5 post. “We go to clubs with 3,000 people, but hang out with the 20 we already know. We all look inward at our table. People stare into their BlackBerrys and iPhones trying to figure out if something more exciting is happening elsewhere, because they’re under the impression that they are in no way contributing to the complete lack of an atmosphere here, and it’s everyone else’s fault.”
He concludes: “Not caring about tomorrow isn’t something to be proud of... I’m sorry, but I don’t want that to be the brand my country brandishes to the world.”
In his other most popular post, “Sex, but no sex,” published June 16, Atallah criticizes the hypocrisy of the culture in Lebanon producing ultrasexualised images of women while frowning upon casual or even pre-marital sex.
“Much like the oversexualized women in Arab pop videos, Lebanese women are expected to be alluring and seductive, yet remain virginal,” he writes. “Men then go on to embrace this concept of the ‘Western Whore’ and consider anyone remotely blonde that they meet ripe for the taking. Like unevolved cavemen, they whistle and gawk and grope. It’s an embarrassing sight.”
Atallah adds, “Even if they had someone they’d have nowhere to do it, with 30-year-old men still living in their childhood rooms, surrounded by high school memorabilia and a maid that makes their bed before they head off to act like adults for the day.”
Even while ranting about very commonplace issues in everyday life in Lebanon, Atallah’s voice is unique. He recalls one instance when he was at a café, complaining to friends, when a fellow customer turned to him and asked, “Are you that blogger?”
But he notes that not all of his observations on the peculiarity of Lebanon are negative, and has noted the generosity of spirit of the Lebanese. He recalls one time when he went to the local pharmacy when sick. The pharmacist told him he should have stayed home, and he would have delivered the medicine had he known he was sick, an offer he’s sure he wouldn’t have gotten had he stayed in London.Never feeling quite at home in Lebanon or the U.K., through his blog Atallah found that he had the luxury of being an insider as well as an outside observer.
In fact, he says he often feels that he has more in common with so called “third culture kids,” those brought up by expatriate parents abroad.
He says that his next book, which he intends to be fiction, will explore the theme of third culture kids.
The blog that started it all, which has served as a springboard for his writing career, has been featured in Commerce du Levant and Time Out magazines, and has even become part of the reading list for a class in the international affairs program at the New School in New York.
Starting Sunday, readers can find them all in one place, when they will become available at bookshops following a launch at 6 p.m., at Secteur 75 bar in Mar Mikhael.
By Brooke Anderson