‘Lycée’ vs. ‘Jamhour’: An Interpretation.

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.

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5 Responses to ‘Lycée’ vs. ‘Jamhour’: An Interpretation.

  1. R.V. says:

    That made me laugh alot! I’ve never been to Lebanon but what I’m reading here seems to be the exact juxtaposition of what I’ve been experiencing in France. France is suffering from a persisting social divide. No matter how things might change, people will still hold the same preconceptions. And they might be true, and see at first sight that I’m from Catholic schools, they won’t think about religion but social crispations inherited from our not so glorious past. The question peoople ask me is whether I was at Saint Jacques or Saint Judes, the two lycées généraux in the area. Mentioning the name of my middle school, Immaculée Conception, makes people grin. It sounds like an ideological school of thoughts with a social status attached to it, highly pedantic and so on. They would never imagine was it was really like in a countryside collège ! I think the name, Immaculée Conception, since the random frenchman doesn’t know what it means, adds to the pedantic aspect. Too bad those divisions reached Lebanon!

    • a.s. says:

      I see what you mean. I think the Lycée/Jamhour divide is of a different nature. Immaculée Conception is an “overly” Catholic appellation for a society in which laïcité too often equates laïcisme. The reason of French laïcisme lies in history: Freemasonry and Freethought played an active role in molding French laïcité, a matter which is more substantiated in English-speaking than French-speaking studies where it is still a taboo.
      French laïcité stipulate the confinement of religion to the private sphere, therefore a name such as Immaculée Conception is perceived to be glaringly and shamelessly challenging to laïcité.

  2. Rse08 says:

    Excellent article. You should also compare various schools including Louise Wegman and Nazareth. It could be funny.

    • a.s. says:

      Thanks. That could be interesting indeed. Louise Wegmann is perceived as an ultra-elitistic institution while Nazareth follows the Jamhour model, except that it is held by nuns and is still stigmatized as a “girls’ school”.

  3. Mayssa says:

    What about the College Protestant Francais? I think it is the black sheep 🙂

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