Looks Like Beirut No More

Jad's Looks Like Beirut Certificate

As you might be aware, I (snail) mail out “Looks Like Beirut” Certificates to people around the world that use the term to describe destruction, damage and despair in their communities. On some rare occasions, I receive a response back from these people:

Here are the collections of responses received to date:

Claire Allan – Derry, UK

From: Claire Allan: Home Reorganization Leads to State of Beirut

Response via Email:


I wanted to follow up on a Twitter exchange we had earlier this year over what wasa throwaway comment  ‘looks like Beirut’ in a tweet about the state of my house.
The comment was not meant to offend anyone –  but having taken time today to educate myself on what you are trying to achieve I realise that whether or not it was my intention that it was offensive.
Coming from Northern Ireland and living in a city itself transformed over the last 20 years I realise the inappropriate nature of  my words and the importance of accepting how cities can move on.

Claire Allan
Follow me on Twitter @claireallan

Church Street Mc – Isle of Wight, UK

From: Twitter

Response via Twitter:

David Carson – Durham, UK

From: Twitter

Response via Twitter:


Angus Young – Hull, UK

From: Hull’s Beirut Appears Again Despite Certificate

Response via this article: Angus Young: I’ve won an award for my ‘looks Like Beirut’ cliché

Paula Spencer – Canterbury, UK

From: Another “Little Beirut” – Thanington, UK

Response: Via Email

Thank you so much for the award it was a real surprise! I apologies for the very tired cliché, your point is well made and well received. I wasn’t personally responsible for the quote, which came from a newspaper in 1996- well before my time, but the perpetuation of the phrase is entirely unnecessary and I will endeavor to eradicate its use, wherever possible in future. Unfortunately for some reason newspapers still like these over-used analogies though! I will pass on your comments to the journalist who wrote the article, keep up the good work, kind regards, Paula

Katherine Rizk-Watson – Melton Mowbray, UK

From: Katherine is a supporter of the Looks Like Beirut campaign

Response: Via Facebook

I’ve just been introduced to your blog ‘Looks like Beirut’ (due to an article in The Independent) and thought I’d drop you a line to say how much I agree and appreciate your work. I try my best here in the UK to correct people who,sadly, frequently use the phrase – they are usually taken aback by the offense they have given by using the phrase. Keep up your fantastic work! I lived in Lebanon for many years, from 74 to 2006. Believe me, some of the things you see here in the UK are worse than what I saw in Lebanon.

Lizzie McCarthy – Somerset, UK

From: How to un-Beirut your closet

Response: Via Email

Point taken and post removed. Thanks for the totally damning praise of my little blog. Have a good day.

Colin Johnson – Blackpool, UK

From: UK Hotelier: Blackpool looks like Beirut

Response: Via Email

Sorry for the undeserved slam: I was caught with a camera in my face on a sleepy morning. Beirut is clearly a dynamic wonder and a good example to look to for inspiration. I did some checking and will re-set my metaphors or just run when somebody importunes.

All best, tb

Terry Betteridge – Connecticut, USA

From: “It Looks Like Lebanon to Me”

Response: via a Comment

a remark made in the heat of the moment and said without malice i can see great improvements have been made apologies

Craig Shagin – Pennsylvania, USA

From: “It’s like Beirut. Bullets are flying”

Response: via a Comment

I humbly and sincerely apologize. You are absolutely right.
The reference was unfair to Beirut and I should have known better.

Guy Ordway – Medran, Switzerland

From: Wonderbar now looks like Beirut

Response: via Twitter

@ArabBrands You’re right – too easy to use old clichés. And I hear there’s some great skiing a couple of hours away too…

Roger Krohn – Mapleton, USA

From: “Mapleton looks like downtown Beirut”

Response: Via Email

I was really surprised…pleasantly to get snail mail from you. What an ingenious idea…using this site as a means to communicate to the world on the beauty of Beirut. I stand corrected, and you have my word I will never use that cliché again. By the way, I will frame the award, if only as a reminder to myself to be more appropriately descriptive in the future. After Mapleton recovers, I truly hope that it does look like Beirut. Thanks for the reminder. Take care. Roger

[name removed] – Berkshire, UK

Response: Via Email

I apologise for using this cliché,the statement made to the press was the first thing that came to mind. I would like to say that my sister has visited Beirut and was full of praise for the country and intends to return shortly with friends to celebrate getting married.

Please accept my sincere apologies once again.

Kevin Wilson – Tiverton, UK

From: “Road Like Those in Beirut”

Response via this article: Cyber crusader says Beirut isn’t like it used to be

Brittany Wallman – Fort Lauderdale, USA

From: A “Beirut” in Fort Lauderdale

Response via this article: Bloggers in Lebanon angry over Broward Politics blog post

Jamie Macaskill – East Riding, UK

From: “Woodcock Street as Once Notorious ‘Little Beirut’ Transformed”

Response: Via Email

Many thanks for your letter regarding our recent coverage of a new housing development which attracted your attention. I’m delighted our readership now extends to the Middle East.

I would also thank you for your good humoured “award” which I have passed to the newsdesk. The point you make is a valid one and is duly noted. Perhaps one day we can organise a cultural exchange between our two fine cities, both of which are badly maligned by the ignorance of others. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4136342.stm)

Keep it up.

Adam Gabbatt – London, UK

From: Lancashire Town Compared to Beirut – The Saga Continues

Response: Via Email

I received your certificate recently, with a mixture of embarrassment and shame.

The blogpost I wrote in November was meant to poke fun at Mayor Hothersall for criticising what is essentially a small, peaceful village (Penwortham – where I grew up), but when I looked back at the blog I realised the opening paragraph in particular was offensive towards Beirut, and could indeed be seen to perpetuate a negative image of the city.

I can only offer my apologies for for any offence caused – I did not properly consider the impact of what I was writing. There was certainly no intent to slight Beirut, even if that was the outcome.

Steven Uhles – Georgia, USA

From: “Looked and Felt a Little Like Bombed-Out Beirut”

Response: Beirooting out cliches

I am theoretically supposed to be spending this afternoon looking over my work from 2009 for entries in to various journalism contests. It’s an annual task I dislike under the best of circumstances, but I’m even less motivated this year.

The reason?

I’ve already gotten an award.

Today I received, in response to a piece I wrote about Black Friday, a ‘Looks Like Beirut’ award. The certificate, along with a printout of my story and blogger Jad Aoun’s entry (http://jadaoun.com/blog/2009/11/28/looked-and-felt-a-little-like-bombed-out-beirut) regarding my story arrived in the morning mail from, of all places, Dubai.

The award, evidently, is given to journalists who use Beirut as a metaphor the destruction, decay or other unenviable urban environs. His argument is that the comparison has been made so many times, it has become a cliché.

He’s probably right. He’s also correct that as a writer, I should be in the habit of side-stepping clichés – most of the time.

In the case of the Black Friday story, which was a humorous first-person recounting of my own Black Friday adventures, the cliché worked because it offered a familiar foundation for a slight gag. Here’s the line in question, exactly as it appeared in the story.

“Although insanely crowded, Target managed to keep things on an even keel. Shelves were stocked, aisles clear and traffic, though tight, continued to flow.Toys “R” Us was another story.It was a plaything apocalypse that looked and felt a little like bombed-out Beirut, had Beirut been bombed out by the LEGO patrol.”

So while I agree with Mr. Aoun in principle, I stand by my use of a threadbare illustration in this particular case. Mr. Aoun also seemed confused by the term Black Friday, which is certainly a uniquely American term and experience. I assure you Mr. Aoun, I did not invent Black Friday. I was merely its victim.

So, in the good-natured spirit with which the award was given, I’d like to thank Mr. Aoun for spending the equivalent of $3 American to send me this cherished keepsake, for giving me my first-ever piece of mail from Dubai (It’s a place I’ve always wanted to visit. Does Jad have a couch I can crash on?) and for reminding me that although I write locally, I’m read – every once in a while – globally.

P.S. – LEGO folks, I’m still waiting on my certificate from you.

Mayank Tewari – Mumbai, India

From: “Now Resembles a Bombed-out Joint in Beirut or Baghdad”

Response: Via Email

May I begin by saying how cool you are!

Thank you for the “Looks Like Beirut Award”. Makes me feel like Pipik, a character from a Philip Roth novel! As someone who hates clichés and stereotypes I think you are bang on. Absolutely! In future I will be more careful about what I write. In fact I am going to write a piece on this specifically. Nothing like an egg on the face to wake you up!! Thank you very much!!

Tyler Hanley – California, USA

From: “More Shouting and Explosions than a Super Bowl in Beirut”

Response: Via comment

I received my “Looks Like Beirut” Award in the mail today, and I’ll
admit, it was an eye-opener. Not only did it make me re-think the
Beirut stereotype so many of us Americans were essentially raised
with, but it also made me appreciate the Internet and how seas and
sand no longer block people in Lebanon from reading one of my movie
reviews, or from someone in Palo Alto from reading your thoughtful
blog. So, although I know the award was meant to be insulting (likely
akin to how you perceived my review of the movie “Terminator
Salvation”), I actually appreciated it.

From this moment forward, I will no longer use Beirut as an example
of an area with heavy explosions. I will avoid that cliche as much as
I would a sadistic dentist. And thank you for introducing me to your
insightful blog. Please continue your effort to inspire creative
writing and put an end to the “looks like Beirut” cliche too many of
us writers use thoughtlessly.


  1. Wonderful stuff man! So glad you’re making a tangible effect on people 🙂

  2. Impressive how one person can change, if not the world at least a bit of it !

  3. As a reply to “Tyler Hanley – California, USA”;

    I think using the term “sadistic dentist” is also an overused cliché… I m a dentist and I feel offended! 😉

    • Maybe we should have a cliche certificate sent out.

  4. rock on!

  5. Great work :). My parents used to say my room looked like Beirut in the 80’s cus of the mess…

    • Send me their names and I’ll send them a certificate 😉

  6. This is really nice! I’m just wondering, though, what expression could be used as a replacement to “looks like Beirut”? Something that would pack the same punch…
    It might be a good idea to research and offer an alternative…
    In any way, kudos for your work!

    • Thanks for the idea. Will look into it.

  7. Cool Job dude ! way to go

    • Thanks for the support!

  8. I find it funny how Lebanese try so hard to portray an image of Beirut that only once was and has yet to return. I live in Beirut. The word on most people’s lips is tht it’s like a forest (ghabeh), where chaos is the only order of the day. From traffic, to restaurants, to rule of law, to corruption, etc etc it’s all happening here.. And the more we try to hide it, the more it perpetuates. I’ll give you an example. Earlier this year, there was a rotten food crisis. In fact hundreds of restaurants and supermarkets throughout Lebanon were selling expired food at supermarkets. There is weak consumer protection and even when there is a fine, the inspectors are bribed. Expiry dates would be forged, people would get sick (including the wife of the Speaker of Parliament). Incidents happened like this before. But, for the sake of Lebanon’s reputation, it was decided that these incidents would be swept under the rug, until the situation exploded. For weeks, we were bombarded with images of tons of expired meats and other food…you can show the photos of downtown and zaitunay bay, but that’s only a sliver of the city. So please stop spreading the propaganda.

    • Thanks for your comment Alex but I am unconvinced. Does Lebanon have a collapsing infrastructure with little or no improvements expected in the near future? Absolutely. Now I do not live in Lebanon, but if I did, I would take matters in my own hands to change it. From a distance, I can help to educate people that using a 20+ year old cliche is pathetic especially when they have no idea where Beirut is on a map, let alone what actually the city is like. My question to you is, you live in Lebanon which is “like a forest (ghabeh), where chaos is the only order of the day”, what are you doing to improve it?

    • I 100% agree with you. Unfortunately many of our migrant compatriots are too desperate to enforce the image of the imaginary Lebanon they fantasize about. Beirut was and remains a jungle. Maybe not visibly, but in ways that are less decipherable and less likely to be captured. something, in my opinion, which is way more dangerous. But how do you convince privileged people? There’s no easy answer, unless they’ve been in the same dreadful situation we real Beirutis know.

  9. Great work Jad!!

  10. wonderfull jad proud off you i wish if alex reads what kind of corruption in the rest of the world ,as you know it happens every where

    • Thanks Frank for your support.



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