A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

muscle-shirts and big wheels: Tatari culture in Beirut

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on September 30, 2007

Ah, another Sunday afternoon in Beirut. The power just came back on, after a long three hours off, and I am typing away to the sound of gunfire. Some others in the neighborhood must share my love of shopping – and they have obviously been on quite an arms buying spree.

Usually people around here wait until dusk to start firing their pistols, rifles, and semi-automatics, but this weekend they’ve been starting around 2:00. (They fire up, so its not too alarming.) Who knows – maybe they’re as annoyed about the power outages as I am. And – my goodness, did someone just fire a cannon? – its been very educational for me. I can now distinguish between any number of weapon discharge noises.

Anyway – on to today’s post. G has expanded my Arabic vocabulary greatly, but the first and certainly most frequently-used term I learned from him is “tatari”.

Yes, “tatari” as in “Tatar-like” – but not exactly like the Crimea’s Tatars of old, who tended to look like this:


(Thanks to the Crimean Tatar Home Page for this image.)

In Lebanese Arabic, “tatari” describes what an older generation in the US might call greaser culture: gel-slicked hair, tight shirts on men (and teased hair on women). G and friends use it to describe anyone behaving tackily, whether ordering from Barbar or calling a girl “2ashta”. And like in the US, tatari culture comes complete with wheels: mopeds with extra-loud mufflers; beater sedans with spoilers and booming stereos; and customized muscle cars – like this one:


This guy used to park on a side street in my neighborhood, but obviously he prefers to have a higher profile. Now he parks his mega-jeep (even when standing on the sidewalk, the tops of its tires come to my sternum) on a major artery leading to AUB. Yes, he wants to get noticed.

And on days that he doesn’t feel like driving the whole jeep around, he has another option: a customized motorbike, decorated in the same orange tiger-stripe pattern and housed in the trunk space of the jeep.

Its a bit much for me, although I do like his exuberance. And – looking on the bright side – I’m happy to say that his jeep has no gunrack :).


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