Economic crisis, COVID-19 take toll on Lebanese couples

Jihad Tarhini, a young man in his 20s, stood in the middle of a perfumes store in the main street of Nabatieh, southern Lebanon, looking for an affordable perfume for his fiancee.

Tarhini gives his fiancee gifts every year on Valentines’ Day but now he was surprised to see the dramatic increase in prices.

Lebanon has plunged into its worst economic crisis in decades, which prompts the Lebanese pound to plummet and the prices of commodities to go through the roof.

While the official exchange rate remains at 1,515 Lebanese pounds per U.S. dollar, the black rate now stands above 8,800 Lebanese pounds per dollar. This means Tarhini now may need to spend 888,000 Lebanese pounds for a 100-dollar bottle of perfume, five times more expensive than what he used to pay.

“In times of economic crisis, it has become difficult to buy a gift. What’s worse, we also miss intimate moments with our loved ones after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Tarhini told Xinhua.

Battered by the economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, love birds across the country now have to celebrate a “frugal” Valentine’s Day and change their traditions.

For instance, instead of buying flowers as she used to, Hanan Sbeiti plucked a flower from her garden in her hometown in Habbouch, south Lebanon, as a gift for her lover on Valentine’s Day.

Sbeiti told Xinhua that the time is not right now for expensive gifts as people are barely able to make ends meet.

Renowned flower shops in Lebanon posted their prices on their websites with bouquets ranging from 500 dollars to 1,000 dollars.

Young people circulated screenshots of these prices over social media while commenting on the tremendous increase in prices.

“Prices of flowers are shocking,” George Matta, a former bank employee who has become unemployed, told Xinhua while adding that even small flower shops are pricing each flower at about 10,000 Lebanese pounds.

For his part, Jamal Amer, a young man in his 30s who has been unemployed for about a year and a half, chose to buy his wife a red mask for Valentine’s Day since he cannot afford to buy any other gifts.

Over the past years, Lebanon used to celebrate Valentine’s Day with shops all over the country displaying some of their most beautiful products ranging from teddy bears, flowers, balloons, cakes, and stylish clothes to suit everyone’s taste.

But shops, this year, have displayed only a few products given the economic crisis in addition to the lockdown adopted by Lebanese authorities with the exception of a few shops’ owners who have managed to take a permit to open their stores given their dire financial situation.

“We managed to open our shops but sadly lovers of all ages chose to abandon shops this year in light of the dire economic situation,” Edmond Hamra, owner of a perfume and accessories store in Marjeyoun, southern Lebanon, told Xinhua.

Samer Lakis, owner of a jewelry store in Hasbaya, south Lebanon, told Xinhua the demand for his jewelry in the lead-up to this year’s Valentine’s Day is non-existent.

“The smallest gold gift would cost a client around 150 dollars which is equivalent to around 1.3 million so people prefer, in light of these conditions, to spend this amount on urgent necessities,” the jewelry seller told Xinhua.