There are many non-verbal cues that have completely different meanings in different cultures. One of the most important means of nonverbal communication in any culture is eye contact, or lack thereof. The eyes are the windows to the soul. That is why we ask people to look us in the eye and tell us the truth. Or why we get worried when someone gives us the evil eye or has a wandering eye. Our language is full of expressions that refer to where people are looking, particularly if they happen to be looking in our direction.
Eye contact, which simply denotes one person looking directly at another person’s eyes, seems to have strong implications in almost every culture, although what these implications are vary extensively across the globe. In many Middle Eastern cultures, intense eye contact, especially between men, can mean, “I am telling you the truth”. Eye contact, in our culture, is a sign of respect and a lack of eye contact indicates that other people are unimportant and is considered a rude gesture. In a sense the eyes seems to represent the emotions and character of the person, rather the unemotional and hidden.
“The eyes are the window to the soul” they say, which may explain why the symbolic meaning of eyes tends to be of a spiritual nature and carry a certain kind of importance to them.
In Lebanon, the importance of the eye is very obvious by the many expressions we use that are correlated with it. The eyes are considered to be the messengers of the soul, and hence just like the head is given much importance, the eyes play a crucial role in our every day life and expressions.
- “Bi kel 3ein wi2ha” (with the most shameless eye): when we are expressing how one person impudently asks for something when they really shouldn’t or lies to us boldly.
- Bi Ayya 3en 3am Te7ke Ma3e? (In which eye are you talking to me?): how do you have the audacity to talk to me right now, after what happened?
- Hott a3la a3yno (put it on his eye): show him that he is lying or being dishonest to his face.
- Il 3ein bio 3ein eel sin bil sin (the eye in the eye and the tooth in the tooth): let the wars begins! (I love that one, I always have a vision in my head of the person wearing a black ninja outfit with a killer sword and preparing for war, Kill Bill style)
- Wehyet 3younka (to your eyes’ life): I swear to your eyes life that I am telling the truth, or that I’ll be doing that thing I promised I would.
- Khamsseh bi 3younon (five in their eyes): used to deter the evil eye, with the five fingers of Fatima’s hand.
My favorite ones though are the ones that carry in them love and respect to the person we are addressing. They mirror our socio-cultural interactions with each other and highlight everything that is beautiful about us as a community.
- Tekram 3aynak (Your eye is welcome) is another way to say you’re welcome. The emphasis on the eye though gives it a more profound meaning. What it really implies is that our eyes are always honest. They will always be telling the truth as they are the windows to our soul and it’s that part of me that appreciates that part of you and is glad to help you on a more personal level. It’s a way of replying to someone who asks us for a favor or is thanking us for doing something for him or her. In short it means I’ll do it with pleasure.
- Min 3youne (From my eyes) This phrase basically means I’d be happy to help, but its true meaning is much more profound. It implies that you are so happy to do the task for that person that you are going to do it from the depth of your soul.
- ya 3youneh (my eyes) is a word of endearment that mostly parents use when addressing their kids. Again, one is referring to their loved one with what is considered the most precious part of the human body, the eyes.
There are many things that always remind me that living in Lebanon has its perks, but nothing quite like the expression we use on our daily basis. The threads of love, respect, and attention we give each other are the true richness of our land.
To my Lebanon and its crazy loving people …