Living in the Middle East you start to pick up on the many quirks of the culture and eventually you might even miss them, too. Here are a few obvious quirks of Jordanian/Arab culture.
1. Arabs don’t believe in lines.
Everyday during our break my classmates and I would go the University cafe to buy coffee or tea. Everyday we would form a neat and orderly line behind the register. Everyday a group of hijabi women or Arab men would cut us in line. One of my Egyptian classmates summed it up perfectly, “Lines don’t exist for Arabs, unless they are first. Then there is a line behind them.”
2. Change is King
No one likes breaking your 50JD. They will shake their head or refuse to drive you if you are in a taxi. Change is coveted and you should always try to keep small bills on you.
3. Water insecurity
Jordan is the 4th water scarce country in the world. Not just in more developed countries. IN THE WORLD. I would go more into detail about this increasing problem but I am not well versed on the issue. Because of the scarcity, water is delivered to apartments, homes, businesses, etc once a week. This means laundry is only done once a week. This means you have to take military showers. In addition the plumbing is not very good in Jordan so you can’t flush your toilet paper. yep. Hence, every bathroom has a tiny trash can next to the toilet so you can throw away your used paper. This tended to cause bathrooms to smell if they weren’t maintained regularly. Another issue we encountered was the tap water. You can’t drink the tap water so you had to have gallons of water delivered to your apartment. These were cheap but an apartment of three people could destroy a tab of water in a few days.
4. People like shouting at you
No matter where we went people would roll down their car windows and shout “Welcome to Jordan!” at us. Never have I ever been told welcome so much in my life. This is one thing I’ll miss very much about Jordan. Everyone shouted welcome, hello, what’s your name?! People, especially the youths, like practicing their English so they would often say stuff to us.
5. Arabs like to insist
Arabs like to insist on things. They insist you drink tea with them. They insist you come to their home for iftar. Sometimes if you strike a conversation with a taxi driver or shop keeper they will insist that it is free. They will refuse payment two or three times but you must insist back! This is Arab manners. They are very polite and will insist but you should never leave a taxi without paying.
6. Almost everything is cheap!
The currency of Jordan is the Dinar or JD for short. One JD is $1.41 US dollars. But don’t fret, everything is very cheap in Jordan! The food is very inexpensive. Before Ramadan we would eat lunch around campus everyday. You could eat for less than 2JD. You could take a taxi anywhere in Amman for no more than 3 JD on average. Clothes, souvenirs, food, bottled water, and even alcohol are much cheaper in Jordan compared to the other countries in the region. Since being in Jerusalem where everything is roughly $14 US dollars I miss the cheap living standards of Amman.
This isn’t New York this is Amman, and there are some general rules of etiquette when using a taxi. Seating wise, women always sit in the back of the cab unless there are four females. In contrast, a man should always sit in the front seat. Sitting in the back of a cab alone is a sign that the driver is just your chauffeur and that’s pretty rude. Also cabs hate taking more than 4 people so plan accordingly — you may have to split into two cabs if you are with a big group.
Secondly, never slam your car door! Doing this will only upset your driver and might turn your trip sour.
Next, payment. Remember how I said change was king? Well taxi drivers don’t like breaking pills over 5 JD, even then they might not have the change. Always carry ones on you to be safe. Also, if you’re fare is 1.70 JD just give the driver 2 JD and don’t ask for change. It is always appreciated to tip the driver, plus this is their livelihood! They need the 20 cents more than you do so don’t argue about it and don’t wait there unless the driver owes you 50 or more in change.
Lastly, say please and thank you. I should think this is just implied but being polite can do wonders. I felt like I practiced a lot of my small talk Arabic skills in cab rides. Tell them good morning, ask how they are, tell them you are studying Arabic, and say thank you, have a nice day. If you are a foreigner you are automatically an ambassador of the U.S. whether you like it, or not. You might as well be patient and polite. As a result, many taxi drivers will offer you their number so the next time you are planning a day-trip to the Dead Sea you have a friendly driver that will be more likely to give you a good price.
8. The most dangerous thing about Jordan is a Jordanian behind a steering wheel
When I was in the airport on my way to Jordan I read that the U.S. would be shipping missiles to Jordan’s northern boarder because of stuff going down in Syria. Many of my friends and family worried about me being in the “dangerous” “unstable” Middle East. Here is the truth: I was never in danger in Jordan. I was completely safe. If you are looking for an Arabic speaking country to study I highly recommend studying in Jordan. The most dangerous part of Jordan is honestly the traffic. You will have to rely on taxis and public buses to get around town. Drivers don’t really pay attention to road lines and rules of the road aren’t really enforced (if they even exist). Pedestrians cross busy streets and weave in between cars. This is the most likely cause of death in Amman. Car accidents, not kidnapping or terrorist attacks, were the only danger I ever had to worry about while in the Middle East.