Culture Shock in the Parking Lot

Oct 14, 2019 9:28:58 AM Sarah Rymer

Lebanon is a small country, and I used to live on the outskirts of Beirut, which is overpopulated. People were friendly and curious about others, especially when their new neighbor was the only Asian-American in that area. 

Jae Blog pic 2 - edited

Being new to the Middle East and to the culture, I encountered many challenges and opportunities for change and growth. Even with an open mind and a willingness to learn, I was deeply confronted with a reality that revealed my limits.

I was a professional engineer in the U.S., which forced me to be logical and pursue excellence in well-organized planning and execution while cooperating with other multi-disciplined engineers and architects. I love when things go according to plan and when things make sense. On the other hand, I struggle when things don’t go according to plan and don’t make sense or when I feel as though my rights are being questioned or denied. These weaknesses of mine were tested with the purchase of a car in Lebanon.

I lived in a 10-unit apartment building with a tiny attached parking lot that was not big enough to accommodate 10 cars. Although lines were drawn to divide the tiny parking lot into 10 car spaces, the side where my space was assigned along the exterior wall had lines for 3 cars but, realistically, could only fit 2 cars.

When I purchased my car, I knew the parking situation at my apartment building would be an issue. In a city overcrowded with people and cars, a designated and secure parking space was a high commodity. I had to find a way to peacefully resolve the parking space situation, which seemed doable since the parking lot was usually less than half full. Therefore, the situation needed careful and logical planning that required multiple steps to ensure both success and minimal conflict with my neighbors.

For days I observed the models of each car, where they parked, and when they came and went. Interestingly, the parking schedule was irregular. After I purchased a car, I purposely parked my car, not in my tiny assigned space, but where normally no one else would park. As I expected, it didn’t take long before I was told to move my car. Suddenly, the normally empty spaces were occupied by cars that I never saw before.

A confrontation finally evolved with the building manager who resided in one of the lower units. My goal was to find a parking space that was not being used. However, the building manager angrily explained to me that I parked in someone else’s space but refused to tell me who the empty assigned space belonged to. I could not resolve the situation. 

I was later told by others in our building that the building manager didn't even own a car, yet used 3 of the 10 spaces for her family and friends, including a son who worked nearby and wanted a space for his car. I instantly became furious and frustrated by this injustice. Justice must be served, and my rights to a parking space must be claimed! As I was seeking ways to defend my parking rights, I put on the brakes when I asked myself two crucial game-changing questions:

  1. What is your gain? Of course, my gain would be to secure my rightful parking space, which meant gaining peace of mind, comfort, and time.
  2. What is your loss? I knew that the locals around me were watching and observing and wanted to see what would come out of this situation and how I, being a foreigner and a Christian, would handle it. Ultimately, I gave up my so-called “rights” that are deeply embedded in me in an effort to gain the hearts of the people, which is the very reason why I moved to Lebanon in the first place.

I am still a work in progress. Are you?


 About the Author: Jae is the IDEAS Director of Project Operations for Jordan and is a licensed professional engineer and a math and science teacher. He speaks Korean, English, and Arabic. Jae and his wife have been IDEAS Associates since 2014 and currently reside in Jordan with their 2-year-old son. Click here to read more about IDEAS work in Lebanon.


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