Sunday, March 4, 2012

Child-friendly Applebees on Hamra street in Beirut, Lebanon

We don’t go out to dinner very often, or when we do, we’ve tended to stick to the same trusted places where the food is decent, we’ve never got sick, and our kids are welcome. Last night we went out of our comfort zone and tried a new place: Applebee's on Hamra Street. As soon as we walked in, the waiter/host handed Abraham a balloon, one that had been inflated with helium, and I thought, “this looks very promising.” We were told to go upstairs where we would find a waiter and a table waiting for us, and just as we were starting to climb the stairs, our host said, “Wait! I’ve got something for the children!” I thought, “Classic American custom to provide the children with crayons and coloring paper, which will keep Abraham happy while we wait for the food. I like this place already!” The guy walked over to his hosting table where he had a box with toy sets – the Made In China kind with a set of toys placed on a cardboard background covered in plastic. “Wow, not crayons, but actual favors: toys!” When he handed one set to each of the boys my smile froze and their eyes lit up, “Awesome!”

Here’s what the toy set contained: A real-looking gun with plastic orange bullets – the kind that sticks on a window, a bullet holder that conveniently clips onto your clothing, a badge with some kind of bird on it, and a hand grenade.

It’s hard to say how you should react in a situation like this. The fact that an American restaurant, Applebee's, hands out toy weapons to children is already, well, quite tasteless (I doubt the American management would be very happy if they knew), and in LEBANON! At-war-with-Israel Lebanon. AND while just a few miles away, in neighboring Syria, people are being hurt with weapons that look just like these, right this moment, fighting for their own Arab Spring. 

For a start.

It’s so incredibly inappropriate, Courtney and I reacted the only way we could: we laughed out loud and shook out heads, “Oh, Lebanon…” Since we had just watched the news together earlier with footage from Homs (the broadcaster was reporting from Beirut, not far from us), even the boys got the irony.

How was the meal experience in general? Standard American Applebee's. The food was not extraordinary, but not too bad. Chewy steaks, good wings, great milkshakes. Good service. We left with full tummies and very happy kids, not sure if we should be laughing or crying. Mind reeling.

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