Carrefour Lebanon’s Tough Path To Success?

Carrefour was one of the simple pleasures of my life in France. It was close to my apartment – a two minute walk. I would find everything that I needed among its not so numerous shelves: the place was as small as a mini-market in Lebanese standards.

Carrefour also represented an entire shift in my thinking paradigm when it comes to grocery shopping. For starters, they didn’t offer plastic bags for your purchases for free. I no longer needed hypermarkets to find mundane things I had come to believe only existed there. But most importantly, it made me deviate from buying the brands I had grown used to in favor of its own offering: the brand Carrefour.

Let’s take a simple example: fruit yoghurt. 12 Carrefour little packets of the substance cost €1.23 whereas half that amount of other brands such as Danone or Nestlé cost at least 3 times that much.
This quickly perpetuated to my purchases of my entire grocery: from cheese to bread to toilet paper. The amount of money I was saving up because of that kept me from thinking about any potential difference in quality which I frankly didn’t even encounter: the brand Carrefour offered stuff which were equal if not sometimes better than the more expensive alternatives.

Today, Carrefour is opening in Lebanon in Beirut’s City Center – a new mall in Hazmieh, because places outside of Beirut and its suburbs are not supposed to get malls. It has ads spreading all the way to Tripoli announcing the place. This is proof if you don’t believe me:

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Is Carrefour overdoing the marketing blitz? Definitely. How so? Well, ask yourself this simple question: regardless of how much money you’d be saving, would you be willing to drive 81km in Lebanon in order to buy grocery?

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But that’s not the major hurdle Carrefour will be facing in Lebanon: it’s getting an entire country to have the paradigm shift I had when I stayed in France, something that other brands tried to do and failed.

Spinneys, for instance, does the same thing Carrefour will be doing in a few days: it offers its own tissues, its own grains, soda, chips, etc…. But people rarely buy them because we, as Lebanese, have somehow associated the cheapness of the brand and the fact that it isn’t as trustworthy compared to others with it not being good enough.
Carrefour, which is sending text messages to almost everyone in Lebanon, will not be cheaper than any of their other already present alternatives if people refuse to buy its brand which begets the question: will it be any different and do we really need another chain in the country?

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Besides, will the Carrefour brand be cheaper than what the market currently offers? For instance, will Carrefour yoghurt be cheaper than the one Taanayel offers? Or will it feature a price hike because it’s “signé” and imported from “Paghis” à la Paul and Fauchon and other French outlets in Lebanon?

Moreover, the success of Carrefour in Europe stems from it being accessible to everyone through small shops like the one I described previously. Few are the Carrefour hypermarkets across France but many are the mini markets, which makes any customer’s shopping experience more personal and less hectic.
In fact, the entire city of Lille, France’s 4th in size, has only one major Carrefour store in the city’s main mall Euralille. However, it has dozens of smaller Carrefours spread around the city and its suburbs offering almost the same thing.

Will Carrefour adopt the same approach in Lebanon? Or will it be the same thing all over again: spreading across the country in huge chains that won’t offer anything different from what’s already present?
If Carrefour wants to spread in Lebanon and offer a true alternative to the Lebanese, shouldn’t it start differently from what others did and not follow up with the current trend of you finding everything you need in malls only?

If Carrefour moves to Tripoli for instance, it will have a very hard time battling it out for market share with the wildly popular Spinneys. But if it offered smaller shops around the city, then people might end up making it their go-to place.

Perhaps market research showed some room for an alternative. But I don’t think the alternative is necessarily another grocery chain but a whole new approach to what’s already here: to get people to buy cheaper and equally good products, make things more accessible and make them need driving from Achrafieh and nearby Spinneys or TSC to said alternative.

I don’t think Carrefour will do that in its present form.

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When Lebanese People Shine In Foreign Countries

As we listen to muftis issuing political stances against civil marriage (link) and await our politicians to agree on an electoral law that will bring them back to power, as a casual bomb explodes in Hay el Sellom and murders get turned into an issue of sect, as we try to  forget about some of the wrong in our country that we can’t fix awaiting our chance at a one way ticket with the occasional round-trip back, some Lebanese are actually making it big. Just not in Lebanon. Can you blame them?

One French afternoon, as my friend and I finished our rotation at the hospital, we were heading back to our apartment blabbing in Lebanese. There’s just so much French that you can take in a single day. We were stopped by a very professional-looking man, suitcase and all. He asked us: “are you Lebanese?”

We said yes. He then asked: “And you’re medical students in France?”

We replied: “No, we’re just exchange students. We’re medical students in Lebanon”

So before he left, he introduced himself as the head of neurosurgery at one of Europe’s leading neuro-hospitals and told us if we needed anything, he’d be more than glad to help.

My friend and I were beyond proud at that point. So we gushed about him the entire way home. That man wasn’t a politician. No one in Lebanon knew who he was. No one in Lebanon knew his accomplishments. But everyone in that hospital knew he was Lebanese and they all had nothing but good things to say about him and the image that he gives us – his people.

Fast forward to this afternoon when another friend of mine who happens to be doing her PhD degree in Lille (pictures), the city in which I spent a month back in August, sends me a picture of a book she found at the city’s main library – a mutliplex called “Furet du Nord.”

The book is among the top sellers in its section. It is part of the curriculum in the fields it discusses. And, as usual, we’ve never heard of it. This is a picture of the book’s front cover:

Neurology book France Lebanese author A Itani E Khayat

Thank you Rasha Dernaika for the picture

Both of the book’s authors are Lebanese. And we haven’t heard of them before. Both of them are helping shape French medical students and education – this is not their only book. Is their neurology book even used in Lebanon? Nope.

This isn’t about the Amin Maaloufs and Khalil Gebrans who are so famous they eventually become unescapable. This is about the regular Joes – like you and me – who won’t become super billionaires à la Carlos Helou or churn out international bestsellers in the dozen. This is about all those Lebanese that make us proud day in day out by them doing their job and excelling at it, by them finding a firm footstep in their society and giving a shining image about every single one of us, regardless of our sect or region. This is about those Lebanese we don’t know and who are doing a much greater job at bettering our image than every single person in Lebanon today. This is about those Lebanese that Lebanon doesn’t even care about.

It’s sad when you realize that all these accomplishments are very much feasible for you. Just not in your country. I could be the one writing neurology books that are used extensively. Just not in Lebanon. You could be that top architect, drawing buildings for the whole world to see. Just not in Lebanon. You could be that top advertising agent, coming up with catchy phrases and pictures. But not in Lebanon.

It’s sad when you know your full potential as an individual when it comes to productivity and self-fullfillment cannot be provided by the confines of the 10452 km² that everyone muses about. It’s laughable when you think about how silly the things that are holding back here are. It’s also depressing when you realize you can’t escape them. Not in this lifetime at least.

So what’s the solution for us? Well, you could be foolishly optimistic and persevere over here because, you know, this is our land. You could know people who know people who make life here much easier for you. Or you could become one of those who constitute one of the few reasons to make us proud about our country – one neurology book at a time.

Cheers to all our expats that are shining bright abroad.

Lille, France

I spent the month of August discovering the gorgeous city of Lille in Northern France. I went there for a clerkship at one of the city’s hospitals and I absolutely fell in love with its culture, its people and everything it had to offer. Lille is one of France’s biggest cities and yet it still has this rustic feel to it – especially in its older streets, aptly called Vieux Lille.

I made a lot of memories in that city. I won’t go down memory lane and enumerate them for you because I’m fairly certain you couldn’t care less. But I am thankful for getting the chance to go there and meet the people that I met and make those memories that I cherish now.

Xavier & Camille, our amazing French hosts and friends that made us feel at home – literally – for the entire month that we spent there, this is for you. Thank you for everything.

Here are some of the many pictures that I took of the beautiful city of Lille. I’m not a professional so these are not meant to be impeccable – but I do hope my love for the city comes across in them.

Palais des Beaux Arts

Palais des Beaux Arts

Another old street in the city

Another old street in the city

A parc bench in the city

A parc bench in the city

Rue de Bethune

Rue de Bethune

The city's opera house

The city’s opera house

Vieux Lille

Vieux Lille

The view from our apartment

The view from our apartment

A statue next to Palais des Beaux Arts

A statue next to Palais des Beaux Arts

A war monument

A war monument

One of the city's cathedrals

One of the city’s cathedrals

Lille France Street

Welch - one of the city's specialities

Welch – one of the city’s specialities

Lille France Restaurant Comptoir 44

Inside one of Lille's cathedrals

Inside one of Lille’s cathedrals

A mural found in one of Lille's subway and train stations: Lille Europe

A mural found in one of Lille’s subway and train stations: Lille Europe

One of the specialties of the North

One of the specialties of the North

Beer, another specialty

Beer, another specialty

Another street in the old parts of the city

Another street in the old parts of the city

One of the streets of Vieux Lile

One of the streets of Vieux Lile

The opera house

The opera house

Gargoyles

Gargoyles

The city's heart - place du General De Gaulle also known as Grand Place

The city’s heart – place du General De Gaulle also known as Grand Place

Lille doesn't like Sarkozy

Lille doesn’t like Sarkozy

Old Street Lille vieux Lille France

Another street in old Lille

These pictures were taken using a Nikon D5100 and edited using my iPhone 5’s Camera+ app.

22.

As my friends sat around me singing happy birthday to you on that cold Saturday night which wasn’t even technically my birthday, I felt happy. The rain glistened off the window in front of me, it was cold outside but I felt the warmth of the party that was celebrating me turning 22.

I wish I knew in that moment that some of those friends were not there to stay. I wish I knew in that moment what year awaited me as I blew off those candles and people applauded.

/Trust.

I was standing alone in a crowded room on a cold February night and I was just realizing I knew absolutely no one there even those people whom I thought I knew all too well. And they’re not speaking to me, pretending like they didn’t know me. The fake smiles, the fake truths, the fake nods, the contest of who’s acting like they could care less… I had gotten tired of them all. The amount of insecurity that people had was way too unacceptable for me to handle anymore. And as everyone smiled and hugged each other, I started wondering: what did I do wrong not to be the one being welcomed like this?

It took some time for me to realize that I had done nothing wrong at all. It took some time for me to realize that keeping your guard up is a necessity. Trusting people easily should never be a possibility because the amount of assholes in this world is way too high. I realized I shouldn’t be surprised to have been let down because your expectations out of others towards you are very rarely met. So you do your best because you hope that this would somehow return good upon you. But you expect nothing.

Even people whom you thought would never ever disappoint you end up doing so. And they throw around lame excuses to justify doing so but you would have reached a point where you couldn’t care less anymore.

The theory is easy. The practical aspect of it is still a work in progress.

The saddest part though is that for a while after that I had to fight the urge to pick up the phone and call.

Foreign Home.

Your home away from home where you are foreigner and yet you fit like a glove to your hand. The lack of complexity with people. The lack of the need to be two-faced in order to get ahead. I remember the great people I met all too well. I remember the good times I shared with them. I remember the places I went through. I remember standing in front of that Royal Palace and feeling infinitely happy. I remember sitting under the Eiffel Tower on a warm Paris night. I remember walking through a cemetery where people I could only dream of approaching were laid to rest. I remember being at the place where the world’s major decisions are taken. I remember Porte des Postes. I remember Cormontaigne. I remember the grey August clouds overcast on the city as I saw it from the ICU of the hospital where I had spent most of my time being treated like a colleague. I remember those walks I took just to be alone amid the greatness of the place whose air I breathed. And I remember her with her blond hair and red lips and that rainy night in the streets of Lille.

So Small.

It’s easy to get lost inside your own problems which always seem so big at the time they’re happening. It’s very easy to make them seem like they are the worst thing that could ever happen to a person. It’s very easy to over dramatize them: why me?

But on a Monday, in a waiting room at a hospital in France, I realized how pitiful it is of me to dwell on the friends that were no longer there, on the grades that weren’t that good, on the things that I could’ve done. I saw people trying to convince that twenty year old boy of the need to cling to life as much as possible as his body rejected the heart transplant he had spent the previous year undergoing. And I realized then, as I tried to get him to feel better, that my problems are just so small.

Diagnosed.

She’s not invincible. She’s not going to be here forever. She’s weak. Her own body is killing her. As you look upon the worried face of the woman who gave birth to you, it can’t but kill you inside to see her hurting and to know her thoughts are about the potentiality of her not being there for you anymore. And you go in with her to her surgery because you know that being there for her will make all the difference. And it almost kills you to see her there, a shell of the person that she is, because of the drugs they injected into her veins. But you know it’s all for the best. And your senses perk up when the surgeon is stunned to find the procedure he had thought would be fairly straightforward was not. And your worry increases when you find out that the cancer was not as localized as they thought it was. Then when she wakes up from the anesthesia and the first faint word upon her lips when she sees your face is “habibi,” and despite the severity of it all, your worries in the world subside for just one minute.

Even thought she might lose her hair. And even though she might lose her weight. You’d still do anything for her to be there for you. And it may be selfish but it’s really not because you know that there’s nothing more she’d want as well.

Life/

Despite your guard being up, some people roll Into your life who end up surprising you. And you feel happy about them being there. things end up getting better for you and you remember the good times you spent and you realize that you regret nothing at all. You find the family which you had taken for granted will always be there for you. You meet new family members who were taken away from you by life and and time space and you find more in common with them than you’ve thought possible. You grow, you become more critical, you stand up for what you believe in. You take things in and hope that your life isn’t going to waste.

At least now you know where the 13 in State of Mind comes from. And right now, I’m felling 22 one last time, one last day. And thank God for that. Hello November 13th. Hello year 23.