In this respect, it would be wrong to dismiss Lebanon's mosaic culture as merely Arab when it is clear that it is a blend of indigenous and invading or foreign cultures that have given it the title of the crossroads between east and west for centuries. This picture is seen most clearly in Lebanon, a land of complete contrasts, and a land that cannot be defined by one culture alone, except if one were to bring them altogether and classify them as 'Lebanese'.
Over the centuries, Maronites formed a bond with the Pope and in the French period Maronites eagerly took part in France's mission civilisatrice. There is also an old Maronite standard, dating from the early 19th century writings of Tannus al Shidyaq, that the Maronites are the direct descendants of the Phoenicians. In the 1920s Michel Chiha expanded this idea of Phoenicianism.
In a concession to Lebanon's Arab and indigenous pre-Arab heritage, some Lebanese prefer to see Lebanon and its culture as part of a "Mediterranean" or "Levantine" civilization. Arab influence, nevertheless, applies to virtually all aspects of the modern Lebanese culture.
Practically everyone born and raised in Lebanon, communicate and have the Lebanese dialect of Arabic as their mother tongue, to the exception of the Kurdish and Armenian minority, though even these use it as a lingua franca when to communicate with those outside their ethnic groups. This universality of Lebanese Arabic applies to all Lebanese, be they Muslim, Christian, Druze, Jews or other religious groups. Some words in use are Turkish remnants of the Ottoman rule which lasted up until WWI. Some Christian chanting in a few churches, and on Easter and Christmas holidays, is performed in the liturgically reserved Syriac, but even this is also a largely dying practice.
As mentioned, some minorities like Kurds (most of whom are Muslims) and Armenians (most of whom are Christians) retain the use of their traditional languages (Kurdish and Armenian) in everyday speak and cultural interactions. Though, as would be expected, they also communicate in Arabic when conversing with those outside their communities. These minorities are estimated at around 2-3%.
Language, food, music, arts and various cultural facets are local Lebanese and performed practically all in Arabic. In the globalized world today, Lebanese youth of all faiths are quite westernized in outlook, breaking away with traditions like most other people of larger cities around the world who previosuly adhered to their traditional cultures in areas such as dating, music, food, etc.
Compared to most other larger cities of the Arab World, Lebanese cities, particularly Beirut, are more westernized and tolerant. Against Damascus, Cairo, and Baghdad, and especially in contrast to cities such as Riyadh, the views of the Lebanese tend to be more lax towards men-women relations, and even an opening tolerance towards homosexuality.
Food and music overlap greatly with those of Egypt, Greece, Syria, Palestine and Turkey, since all were Ottoman provinces for some 521 years. Dress was historically similar to the Ottoman's, but remains only as part of the folk culture. Today, everyday dress has been replaced by western standards, an occurrence that has been seen in other countries around the world, such as Japan.
Due to the importance of the Lebanese diaspora and business interests of Lebanese worldwide, it has always been important to master languages other than Arabic. Many of Lebanon's best educational institutions have primary instruction in French, or English depending on whether the school, university, or college follows the French or American education systems. These have strict rules that the students are taught in the language of the school's origin.
In the Christian communities, until the Lebanese Civil War, it was seen as a mark of status to not speak Arabic. The reason for this could possibly be that Christians generally were educated in many of the French educational institutions and so a general Francophonic class emerged in their communities. In some places French still is preferred to Arabic, and English has been making significant headway in the past 15-20 years. However, as the Muslim population increased in previously Christian areas, Arabic in public is omnipresent, not merely commonplace.
Lebanese music is known around the world for its soothing rhythms and wild beats. Traditional and folk music are extremely popular as are western rhythms. Perhaps the best-known and listened to Lebanese singer is Fairuz. Her songs are broadcast every morning on most radio stations and many TV channels, both in Lebanon and other countries in the Middle East and the Arab world in general. Other artists are also well known and loved like Majida El Roumi, Marcel Khalife who is also a composer, oud player, and Julia Boutros. Some Lebanese artists like Najwa Karam and Assi Hellani remain loyal to a traditional type of music known as 'Jabali' (from the mountains), while many other artists incorporate western style into their songs. Lebanese artists are perhaps the most popular in the Middle East alongside Egyptian performers, and the star scene includes prominent figures like Najwa Karam, Nancy Ajram, Elissa (singer), Haifa Wehbe, Ragheb Alame, Myriam Fares, Wael Kfoury, Nawal al Zoghbi, Carole Samaha, Julia Boutros, Marwan Khouri, Waleed Tawfeek, Amal Hijazi and Majida El Roumi. The Non-Arabness previously cited allows a perfect tolerance for foreign or western music too . One could easily experience any kind of music in downtown Beirut or peripherals; for example: rock fans could visit "Nova" pub ; for blues and jazz fans , "the blue note" ; techno and trance fans , "basement" and " B.O. 18" .... Lebanese artist and Lebanese music is sometimes influenced by foreign music too ... For instance , "Lebanese rock" (Ghassan rahbani) or "Lebanese rap"(Aaks El seir") and "French rap" (RAmez)
The Lebanese national dish is the kibbe, a meat pie made from finely minced lamb and burghul wheat. The national drink is arak, a strong anise-flavored liquor made from fermented grape juice. It is usually drunk with water and ice, which turns the clear liquid milky-white, and always accompanies food.
Traditional Lebanese meals begin with a wide array of mezze-- small savoury dishes, such as dips, salads, pastries, and vegetables. The mezze are typically followed by a selection of grilled meats and fish. In general, meals are finished with Arabic coffee and fresh fruit, though sometimes a selection of sweets will be offered as well.
M'Juhdara, a thick stew of onions, rice and lentils, is often considered a poor man's food and is eaten around Lent by Lebanese immigrants to the United States.
Foreign cuisines -- especially French, Italian, American, and East Asian -- are all easily available at restaurants of internationally-renowned wineries, which are mostly located in the fertile Bekaa Valley. These include Chateau Ksara, Chateau Kefraya, Chateau Musar, and many others. The most common Lebanese beer is Almaza, which is often enjoyed at the beach on a hot summer day.
Lebanon boasts six ski resorts, with slopes suitable for skiers and snowboarders of all ages and levels of experience. Off-slope, there are many opportunities for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling.
In the summer, skilifts can be used to access some of Lebanon's best hiking trails, with panoramic views stretching as far as Cyprus to the west and Syria to the east on clear days. Canoeing, cycling, rafting, climbing, swimming, sailing and spelunking are among the other common leisure sports in Lebanon. Adventure and extreme sports are also possible throughout the country.
At the competitive level, basketball and football are among Lebanon's most popular sports. In recent years, Lebanon has hosted the Asian Cup and the Pan-Arab Games. The Lebanese Basketball team also participated in the Olympic games twice. To meet the needs of these international competitions, Lebanon maintains state-of-the-art athletic facilities, which in turn encourage local sporting activities. Lebanon sends athletes to both the winter and summer games of the Olympics and Special Olympics.
Lebanon has a national rugby league team that competed in the 2000 World Cup but was knocked out in the group stage. They are currently in the process of qualifying for the 2008 World Cup. The national team also competes in the annual Mediterranean Cup where it has been quite successful. The Lebanese Rugby League has its headquarters in Biakout in Lebanon. They are associate members of the Rugby League European Federation and run a domestic competition comprising five clubs, who play in two seasons a year - spring and winter.
The most famous Lebanese rugby league player is Hazem El Masri who currently plays in Australia with the National Rugby League and holds the point scoring record in a season. He is highly respected in Australia for his social work.
The Beirut International Marathon is held every fall, drawing top runners from Lebanon and abroad. Shorter races are also held for youth and less serious competitors. Race day is promoted as a fun, family event, and it has become a tradition for many to participate in costumes or outlandish clothing.
Lebanon’s primary religious groups, very roughly, are Shia Muslim (the largest group),Christian, Sunni Muslim and Druze. Muslims represent roughly 60% of the total population, while Christians make up the other 40%. Of the Muslims, the predominant Shi'a make up 40%, while the Sunni make up most of the remainder. Druze and Alawis are minorities.
The division of power between the religious groups is an interesting problem. The Lebanese have solved this by making different high ranking government positions represented by the different religious groups, as per the Taif accord (1989). The President must be Maronite, the Prime Minister must be Sunni, and the Speaker of the Parliament must be Shi'a. The patron saint of Lebanon is St.Maron, founder of the Maronite church which is a dominate sect in Lebanon.