Re: Traditional practices...
As for the sham countries, "Bilad ash-sham", they are refered to as the Levant, (Levantine countries).
Speaking for syria only, there is definately more of a western influence. While there is a lot of modern moassel smoking, traditional tobacco smoking exists. I still remember smoking my first bowl of Tombak right outside the castle in Aleppo, i was on the floor coughing out of my eyes....
For beverages while smoking, its usually coffee, tea, or water in the Muslim Areas, and of course Arak in the christian areas, although I'm sure John can speak more about that.
As for eating, its really not done so much. In outdoor "grill style" restaurants, one may order a hookah before dinner, but usually its done afterwards, when tea and a medley of fruit for desert is served. Usually wet fruits like melons (lots of watermelon!!) are eaten. When smoking in a private area, the same applies but I've seen dates and nut medleys served as well.
As for sexes and smoking, I cannot speak as a whole, but the only time I've ever seen a man and woman share a hookah is at home...when they are either related or married. Sexual segregation still exists, and if there is a group of both men and women at a public establishment, then the women would smoke together and the men smoke together...however, women smoking is done a lot less in public than men smoking in my experience. there are also "women only" cafe's where the more religious women go to hang out publicly without worrying about covering up. there be a decent amount of smoking there.
there of course a lot of cafe's were men hang out, playing backgammon and chess smoking and enjoying tea and coffee....for the christians i believe arak as well, but again I'm less familiar.
The best places to smoke in Damascus:
On top of Jabal Qasyoun, you can see the entire city and theres a nice cool breeze up there, its just gorgeous, but HIGHLY expensive compared to other locations.
Bloudan and Jabal Younan, technically 30min outside of Damascus, but also a great view, cool breeze, and a bit cheaper than the former.
Your balcony. Most of the residences in Damsacus are flats on decently sized buildings, the higher up the mountain you live or the higher the floor you live on, the more you can see, let me say the 6th floor is enough to give you a great experience. Plus you never have to leave home!
"blu mist rulz dawg an that stuff ain't like it an if youz don't agree you bez a shithead yo" - Hajo Flettner