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    Sunday, November 9, 2008

    Checkpoint etiquette

    Zahlé, Lebanon - Monday, Nov. 3, 2008

    A snippet of conversation from a military checkpoint that my car was stopped at:

    Lebanese soldier: Documents, please. (He has a black M-16 assault rifle slung around his shoulder. With him standing and me sitting, the business end of the gun is pointed right at my face. I hand over my passport.)

    Me: Can I ask a question?

    LS: Go ahead.

    Me: I've heard that in the Arab world it's very impolite to point the sole of your foot at someone. Is this true? (Arabs do indeed hate this. The bottom of your foot is considered unclean. Hence all the slapping of Saddam Hussein's fallen statues with sandals back in 2003.)

    LS: Yes. It's very bad. (He smiles, and seems pleased by my interest in the local culture.)

    Me: I understand. In Canada we consider it very rude to point your rifle at someone.

    (The soldier understands and swings his rifle behind his back. He returns my passport with a sharp salute. Perhaps a small victory for civility has been won this fine day in Lebanon.)

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