Okay, so the norms in one’s life differs depending on where you live in the world. Some of your own cultural norms you will never be aware of, because they are just that – normal (well, normal to you and your culture) – until you live inside and amongst another culture. It is then, that you learn what is normal to you is not necessarily what is normal to others. Some cultural norms you may appreciate in your new cultural and others….well…they may drive you absolutely crazy for a while, and then you learn to giggle about them. Please note: This entry is not to offend or belittle anyone in Jordan…they are simply a list of abnorms (is that a word?!) that myself and my group of expat friends have learned to appreciate as well as those that we giggle about – as, yes, we have lived here long enough to reach that point!
- Signs that read Open 24/7 – it just isn’t true.
- The person on the side of the street you asked for directions – an Arab never says he doesn’t know.
- Sale Pricetags – Today’s ‘Sale’ price is yesterday’s actual price.
- The electrician, plumber, handyman – you have to stand over him and watch to make sure he does what you are paying him to do.
- The car mechanic – you have to watch him to ensure he isn’t charging you for things he didn’t fix.
- The physician – if you have a cough, you will certainly go home with a prescription for antibiotics.
- The live-in maid – never trust her – even though she should be the most trusted person you hire – I repeat, never trust her!
- The police officer at the roundabouts – they are often texting on their cell phones.
- The title ‘Supermarket’ – there is nothing super about it!
- Your weekly water supply – you may or may not receive your weekly water if there has been heavy rains or it is a holiday.
- The government official behind the desk whom you just waited in line for 2 hours to see, who tells you to come back tomorrow with 3 additional required documents – you will return tomorrow, wait another 2 hours in line, see the same guy who will now tell you that you need a 4th document and he will swear to you that he told you about it yesterday – knowing fully that he didn’t!
- Smiling in public – not a chance, Jordanians are proud of their public ‘mad face’.
- Public bathrooms – never clean, never have toilet paper, never have soap, sometimes have water, sometimes they are just a hole in the ground, sometimes they are locked and inaccessible!
- Your guests to arrive on time – for anything! Your party starts at 6:00, guests will arrive around 7:30 – 8:00. –I will be honest, as a mother of 3 who is always late, I don’t mind this when I am the guest 😉
- Appointment is at 10:00am – wait in line, so does everyone elses!
- It’s 10:00pm, your kids are sleeping, you are in your pajama’s watching a movie, and it’s time to relax for the night – Wrong…the whole family decided to drop by for an unannounced visit for dinner, with their 6 kids under the age of 10!
Okay, okay, seriously don’t be upset – you know it’s true, smile – and besides I am writing all for fun. I am sure that those Jordanians who have lived in the USA could write a great list of American cultural norms they experienced (please do by commenting on this entry, I am hopeful you do!) In all seriousness, there are so many wonderful people here and wonderful traditions that people do everyday without realizing it because they are normal to them and within their culture. These are some of the cultural norms that I find wonderful and appreciate dearly:
- Anyone who finds themselves in need, will get more than help from family and friends. Muslims are taught that when someone is need, that we help for the sake of God/Allah and we will be rewarded for our helping, sacrificing and own suffering so that another human can be more comfortable. This help can be car rides to and from the doctor appointments for weeks, preparing and delivering food for days or weeks, stopping by to visit and ensure their needs are met, visiting and caring for the sick in the hospital and/or at home, running errands/shopping/fixing the car/taking care of other family members/etc so the physically needy can relax and heal.
- If a family member is in financial need, the family member who is better off will assist without hesitation or expectation of return. This is also part of Islam and is deeply rooted in the Jordanian culture.
- When someone dies, not only the family mourns, but also the community mourns. When someone passes, the family sets up a tent or opens a home for a movement and constant flow of mourners. The visiting mourners will come for 3 days (sometimes more), they are welcome at all hours, and are fed at certain times of the day. Those who come to mourn are the obvious family and close friends, but will also be distant relatives, friends of relatives, friends of colleagues, acquaintances, neighbors, anyone with any connection to the deceased will come (imagine all your Facebook friends and all the friends of friends…that is who is of the mourners). Also, the entire neighborhood is quiet, without celebrations for the first 3-5 days after a passing of a neighbor…I have witnessed weddings being canceled because the elderly neighborhood passed.
- Respect of elders. Respecting your elders starts at a toddler age. When entering a home or room with your family, everyone including the toddlers should greet each other with handshakes and kisses on the cheeks or hands (unless the person does not shake the hand or kiss those of opposite sex). When someone enters a room full of people, the younger children/people stand up and give their chair to the older person (the person could be only a few days older, or could be generations older..but the young gives up his chair for the older).
- Respect of privacy. Islamically, men and women are not to mingle unless they are blood relatives or are married (essentially, without getting into all the specifics). This is to be respected by both the man and the woman. When it comes to respecting this belief, there is a lot of respect of privacy in the culture. For example, a man will never enter the home or a room where there is only women…this is a cultural norm that this gives her security and safety. For example, when anyone knocks on my door, I answer through the closed door, I never have to open the door, and it is totally normal (in fact it would be strange for me to open the door to a man who I don’t know). If we have an electrician come to the home and my husband is at work…my husband calls the guard to come with the electrician so they can enter the home together and the guard ensures our home is respected and the women and children are safe. It is not that there is a lot of crime against women, because there is not…but it ensure our safety and privacy. I appreciate this.
- Maintaining a family reputation that is good and respectable is important. This cultural norms keeps children, teenagers, and adults from misbehaving for the fear of ruining their family reputation. This leads to a better society. If the teenagers are not caring and cause trouble, lets say fight and hospitalize another teenager…this ruins not only the family reputation but also causes crime in the community…so the problem child family (meaning the respected and tribe leaders) will meet with the other family (ie tribe leaders) to work things out. Working things out depends on the problem or crime that arose…it could take one meeting or weeks of meetings. It is a communal/tribal effort that is known by all other family members…trust me the teenagers learn their lessons and others will keep in line as fear to cause such problems for everyone.
The beauty of Jordan is the family bonds and the sense of community. The cultural norms are not to foster independence – not saying independence is a bad thing, common I am American after all – but there is something beautiful about all having the same ideals, same cultural norms that include caring for and taking care of one another. Depending on where you go in Jordan, depends on the strengths of these beliefs, but no matter where you go, these norms are there.