The reciprocal antipathy between “Jamhour” and “Lycée” students is an issue that I have always carried along with me during my childhood and teenage years. Let me first note that “Lycée” is Lebanese jargon for Grand Lycée Franco-Libanais (Ashrafieh, Beirut), and “Jamhour” an abbreviation for Notre Dame de Jamhour. Indeed, French readers might be confused, as aller au lycée in France does not mean the same thing as in Lebanon. In my country, the odds are that you won’t be asked about your religious sect or geographic origin only; you will oftentimes be asked about the (high)school you went to, and even the university. Your educational background is the third factor that will determine your “cultural” profile, if not your personality, in the eyes of your judgmental interlocutor. Lebanese are champions at preconceiving ideas, aren’t they.
In Lebanon or abroad, I often get asked the “school question”, and since I hate to answer any question related to my religious affiliation, political beliefs, and school curriculum, I systematically opt for evasiveness: “Guess”, I usually say. Almost 90% of the immediate answers are invariably: “Lycée, for sure”.
— “How did you know”, I usually ask.
— “I don’t know, you look like a Frenchie, you look emancipated”.
Emancipated?!… What kind of self-image do Lebanese have?! Anyway, until this day, I remain an easily identifiable former “Lycéen”. Much to my discontent because I have rejected most (but not all) of the education I received there. My children will definitly not be schooled in Lycée.
So why are Jamhour and Lycée sworn enemies? Both are private schools with relatively high tuition. Both are devoutly francophone and francophile. Both have an equal proportion of enfants gâtés and fils à papa. And half of their students emigrate after the prom. Until now, there are more common schemes than diverging issues.
In Lebanon, the pervasive ideas about Lycée are its laxity and nonchalance, in contrast to Jamhour’s perceived stringent rules. Lycée does not have uniform, Jamhour does. Of course, one has to admit that Jamhour students have better results than Lycée anywhere they apply. But these things do not inform us about the Jamhour/Lycée antagonism.
In my humble opinion, the answer is not to be found in Lebanon, but in France. Each school stands for a radically different concept. Jamhour is a Jesuit institution; it is emblematic of French (staunchly) Catholic education. Lycée is a non-religious institution; it symbolizes French Republican education (and rather anti-Catholic).
Even though both schools are private, I believe that the Lycée spirit is closer to that of public schools in France. Jamhour’s structure, on the other hand, is similar to that of private Catholic schools in Neuilly, for instance. Yes, Lycée is more liberal, but rather less efficient in terms of statistics. Jamhour is more conservative but rather more efficient.
In my humble opinion again, Jamhour has more successfully assimilated its French and Lebanese components. Despite its deeply French character, it remains first and foremost a Lebanese school. As Homi K. Bhabha would say, there is a “third space” in Jamhour; not really French, not caricaturally Lebanese, something “in-between”. In Lycée, however, there is no harmonious “in-between”. Of course, some of us, former Lycéens, reclaim our Lebanese identity; but in which case, we claim it later on, when we become adults, and I mean: when we leave the Lycée. For in Lycée itself, the dominant culture is French, the dominant trend is French, the dominant fashion is French, the dominant thought is French, the dominant paradigm is French, “coolness” is to be French… the dominant people are French, along with those French-Lebanese who are exempted from Arabic classes (this is an utterly crucial detail). And no matter what the percentage of the French in Lycée is, 10%, 20% or 25%, it has invariably been and will always remain the dominant population.