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.
As promised, I am back to write about what I have learned since living in Amman. I thought to take a serious approach about how much I have learned about myself and the similar. However, as I thought more about it, I think most of what would have come on that list is more related to becoming a mother and not related to living here. Therefore, I have chosen to write about the quirky, the strange, and the silly things I had to learn in order to live here…thankfully they are funny to me now, because some of them were really irritating, frustrating, and annoying at the time. Enjoy!
- Trying clothes on in fitting rooms that are so small you cannot fit in anything more than yourself and your clothes.
- Nescafe = coffee.
- Eating out is a luxury.
- Conserving water. Running the water at half speed, turning off the water while brushing my teeth and while scrubbing the pots and pans, doing 6 + loads of laundry and doing all the ‘heavy’ cleaning (things that require lots of water) during the 24 hours the water is being filled from the city (as I use it it’s being replenished, so it doesn’t take from my weekly supply)…these are now normal and conserving water is always a better habit.
- I have learned which adapter is needed for which plug, in each and every outlet in my home. Seriously, how many different outlet plugs and styles are there and can’t we all just agree to get one kind!
- Using electric converters for my US electronics…not so bad when it is a permanent appliance like the stove or refrigerator, but a big pain in the !@# when it is your vacuum cleaner, blender, hair dryer, electric mixer, etc, etc.
- Counting Jordanian currency. The paper bills are not bad because they are written in English and Arabic for those ‘dumb’ days when you are confused and need to make sure you are giving the right bills you can just flip it over to read the English (which are actually arabic) numbers. It was the coins that got me…I don’t know what my problem was, but I eventually figured it out.
- TV programs didn’t seem to have set times or days…there was no 5:00 news or Sunday football! This totally screwed me up, I had certain programs I liked to watch in the US at certain times of the day or week…they were gone and I couldn’t find them….until we got OSN, things are not normal, but they are better now 🙂
- Where the hell do you buy…anything?!…until you figure out that everything has its place and that word of mouth is the best way to find anything…until then, you have no idea where to get some of your stuff! For example…would you think that baby formula and infant cereal is ONLY sold at the pharmacy?! Well, once you figure it out and quit saying “that’s stupid”, then it’s not so bad, because now you know where to get your formula. Or crafting things…where to get fabric, yarn, buttons, felt, glitter, etc….we do not have JoAnn Fabrics or Micheal’s or Wal-Mart or anything remotely close to anything you are used to in the US. So you have to ask around where to get these things…and you will probably have to go to 5 different stores to get each of them because no one store has a good selection of it all! ——Expat Note: If YOU know of a place that has it all, please let me know!
- Family gatherings are not a social event for those who don’t speak much Arabic (unless you are lucky enough for the family to speak English). It’s a great time to crochet 🙂
- Smiling and small talk with men in the store, on the street, or other places where they are not your husbands relative or your work colleague is off-limits.
- Guards with huge army guns (I won’t pretend I know what kind of gun they are). It took a while, but I eventually got use to it.
- Round-a-bouts in Amman are tricky, chaotic, and difficult to learn, but they are way more efficient than traffic lights. Avoid ALL traffic lights if you can!
- To keep the home cool in the summer (without air conditioner summers are hot in the desert) – open the windows at night to let in the cool night air and then close the window and the blinds early morning to keep the cool air in and the sunshine out.
- To keep the home warm in the winter (cement homes in the rainy winter are very cold in the desert) – central heating is the only thing that works…it will cost 1/2 your monthly salary or more, but your home will be warm.
- Formal Affairs….are you with me Expats!?!….what is with the formal affairs? Every event is formal. Work clothes are business suits. Going to the large grocery store is a reason to dress up. Going to someones home for a visit is a reason to dress up. People wear business casual when going out for ice cream. Weddings, Engagement parties, Graduation parties, other family parties are reason to wear a formal (prom-type) dress, get your hair done, and make-up professionally done. I don’t know about this, it can be fun, but I still prefer my jeans and sweatshirts.
- Driving in the chaotic traffic is difficult, but finding ways around the traffic can be even more tricky! After 3 years, I have finally figured out how to maneuver around all the hills, curves, and one-ways to beat some of the outrageous traffic!
- Shaking hands and kissing cheeks (if same gender as you), saying Hello, asking about their kids, their parents, their health, asking about their work and what is new, are all proper etiquette when seeing someone you know.
- I have learned how to make new friend via social networking and I love it! There is a large community of expats all around Amman with a variety of interests and reasons they live here. I love meeting them, getting to know them, and making new friends!
I hope you had fun reading my shortlist of things I had to learn while living in Amman (it really is just a shortlist). Anytime a person moves they have to learn new things. New roads to learn, find a new physician, where is the post office, where is the park, etc. However, when a person makes a move to a new country…they really have to learn everything new. Nothing is as it was. You can sit around and protest, which we all do for a while, but eventually one must figure it out. They say the first year is the most difficult, the second year gets better, and by the third year you start seeing the benefits to living abroad. I have lived through each of these three these steps and I have to agree with this analysis as truth. Alhumdillah (thank God) for this experience and all experiences in life. After all it is our experiences that help us learn, that help us grow, and that mold us in to better people.
So living in Jordan, living anywhere, has its positives and it’s negatives. In my blog posts, I try to keep things positive; however, as promised I am writing today about the things that make living in Jordan difficult. Here they are in no particular order (and I am sure I forgot a few..ha!):
- Water. Having a limited supply of it and not having hot/warm water always available at a minutes notice.
- Traffic. Traffic here is awful. Complete chaos.
- Parking. Parking is worse. There is hardly any parking lots. People double and triple park on the side of a small road, because there is no other option, and if you are lucky they have left their cell phone number on the windshield for you to call them if you need them to move their car.
- Pedestrians. Excuse me, I am the one with the motorized vehicle and you are the one about to get run over without any protection…seriously, get out of my —– way.
- Electric. I can only run so many heavy appliances at a time or else my electric will cut off. Total pain when I need to run the dishwasher, cook, and do laundry all at the same time.
- This is for all the other women out there: Dishes and laundry. Most women do not have a dishwasher. Most women do not have a clothes dryer. I will never understand why they don’t invest in the things that will make their life easier…I suppose it is expensive and costs a lot of energy, but still ladies…invest in them because you deserve it!
- Unannounced house guests. Guests call 5 minutes before arriving on your door. A good hostess will always have a clean guest room for such unannounced visitors, and there should be always be something available to offer for drink (preferably turkish coffee, tea, or juice) and something to eat (fruit, nuts, dessert, or dinner if you are cooking they must stay to eat dinner with you). Even though I truly enjoy the company…with 3 young kids, just the thought of unannounced visitors makes me anxious…my home is never up to Jordanian standards of ‘perfection’ and we usually eat the stash of nuts, etc.
- Women Expectations. The woman (or her maid) is expected to have a clean home and a home cooked dinner ready…every night.
- Housework. The usual, everyday cleaning in Jordan is like ‘Spring Cleaning” in the USA. Honestly. The dust…OMG…the dust.
- Maids. ‘Everyone’ has one, but me. Maids are everywhere and this is why the woman expectation is so high.
- Everything is Expensive. Anything with quality is ridiculously expensive. I am not exaggerating when I say, that if you were to buy a children’s toy at the dollar store in the USA – you would pay $1.00 for a crappy, ugly toy that breaks probably that day or the next. Now, if you buy that same, crappy toy in Jordan, you will pay what the Fisher Price toy cost in the USA, around $20, and it would still break that same day or the next. Now, if you want to actually buy the Fisher Price toy that would cost you $20 in the USA (or $1.00 at a garage sale), in Jordan you better be willing to pay around $100 for that same $20 Fisher Price toy in the USA. Now that same idea goes for everything…furniture, clothing, you name it. To make matters worse, the average Jordanian makes about 1/10 the average salary in the USA…so imagine the expense!
- Health Care. Health care in Jordan is supposed to be the best in the Middle East. It’s okay, but I am not too impressed.
- Liter. OMG – the liter. Seriosuly, do you people not SEE it?! Please stop littering. Haram!
Okay, that’s enough. I hate to be so negative…unless I am chatting with my expat friends…ha. I have to end on a positive note, because living here even though it has it’s pain-in-the-!@# moments, it does have it’s good things too (read previous blog entry)…and here are a couple more positives about living in Jordan:
- Dead Sea and Aqaba. I LOVE that we can drive 30 minutes to the Dead Sea or 3 hours to Aqaba (city on the Red Sea), stay in a hotel and feel like we took a vacation. The weather is warmer on the Seas all year-long, so in the winter we often go stay in a hotel for the weekend, swim all day, lay in the sun, and feel like we went on vacation.
- The ‘Harris’/Guard. Every apartment has a guard, or harris in Arabic, that lives in a part of the apartment building. He is paid a monthly salary to wash you car every other day, take out your trash, clean the property, help with a heavy load of groceries, he will even go get a short list of groceries for you, etc. He makes life much easier with 3 little ones around!
- Supermarkets. I use to laugh at the name. They are called supermarkets, but they are small Mom and Pop stores. They can be found every couple of blocks, they are filled to the ceiling with merchandise, they have almost everything you need, and they make shopping easier and less stressful than going to the big grocery stores. Your shopping is done in about 1/4 the time.
- Bakeries. I love going to the bakery and watching the bread being made and buying fresh bread. I am talking, fresh out of the oven, warm, moist, delicious bread! Yummmmm.
- Arabian Women at an All Ladies Party. I love the energy the Arabian women have when it is time to celebrate! To me, there is nothing more exciting than kicking out the men, so the women can take off their ‘outdoor’ clothing to reveal their beautiful party dresses/evening gowns, turn up the music, and watch them sing and dance! They have so much excitement, it’s simply energizing!
So there you have it! The difficult and few more positives about this place I am currently calling ‘home’. I am thinking to next write about what I have learned since I move here…what I learned about myself and what I had to learn to get around here. Have a great day!
We have lived in Amman, Jordan for nearly 3 years now….3 years…wow, that seems like a long time, yet has gone so quickly. During this time, I have made some really great friends here This summer I will be losing 2 of those friends and possibly a 3rd as they move out of Amman and on with their lives elsewhere. It seems to be a trend. Each summer, we lose some of our friends who move out of Jordan and we gain new ones who move to Jordan. As my friends and I get together to celebrate the time we have spent together and to wish our friends farewell, the conversation revolves around living in Jordan and moving out of Jordan. It has me thinking of all the things that make Jordan a more difficult place to live, and also the things that I have grown to love about this place that we are currently calling home.
I thought it would be of interest to blog about “Living in Jordan: The Good and The Difficult”, from my personal perspective. However, as I start writing, I realize this needs to be a two-part series. So….I am feeling positive tonight. I will start with those things that I love about living here….next time I will write about the things that make it difficult.
Living In Jordan: The Good
- God is present. I love living in a country where the call for prayer goes off 5 times a day. That you can see people praying on the side of the road, at your place of work, where the store owner stops and takes time to pray near the register, people pray at the bus stop, in the park, you see people praying openly anywhere and everywhere on any day. There are signs posted throughout Jordan, mostly at traffic lights, that say (in Arabic), “Remember God”, “Ask God for Forgiveness”, “God is Great”, and the like. I also love that the people remind each other endless times a day to Thank God for your blessings and to also Thank God for your challenges…as everything comes from God and we should be thankful for everything that he has given us.
- Strong family bonds. Family is family no matter where you live. People all over the world love their family and would do most anything for each other. However, here in Jordan, the family is defined at a much larger level – at a tribal level…yes, Jordanians have tribes…which means that many, many, many family last names belong to a specific tribe and each of those hundreds/thousands of people with those last names then fall under that tribe, and they are all considered to be family and they all help each other. I cannot describe the meaning of family bonds here, but I can give an example. I delivered my son here in Amman via c-section. After my surgery, I was sent to the Recovery Room. The Recovery Room Nurse, saw my (my husbands) last name and said to me that she is from the same tribe; therefore, we are sisters and she will take really good care of me. She took excellent care of me…she went way above and beyond the usual duty of a nurse in Jordan. She then told her colleagues that we are family and to be careful with me and to take good care of me. I appreciated her hard work and help, but honestly, she is not even a cousin of a cousin, of a cousin, of a cousin, of a cousin, or anything near that to my husband – much less me who is an American married into the family. This is common practice here, families not only take care of each other but they go above and beyond the usual call of duty.
- Friendship. The expat friends I have met here are W-O-N-D-E-R-F-U-L! We just get each other in ways that people back home or in Jordan cannot. We live separate, but parallel lives. We have left our families, moved to Jordan from other countries, are converts to Islam, married to Jordanians, are raising by-racial and bi-cultural and bi-lingual children, speak limited Arabic, and face similar excitements and disappointments about it all. Literally, there are an endless number of invitations for get togethers, playdates, and lady nights. Each invite is an opportunity to meet a new friend, as there are so many expats moving in to our neighborhoods. There is a special bond and sisterhood we share.
- Amman is open. The capital and the people of Jordan, Amman, are -in many respects- more open than many American large cities I have lived in. What I mean by that is the following:
- English is the second language spoken in Jordan. You find nearly all road signs written in Arabic and English. Most people here speak some if not fluent English. All schools teach English from K-12 grade at some degree. Many schools and Universities teach all subjects in English 100% of the time. Many businesses and sectors are conducted strictly in English.
- Most people here L-O-V-E people from outside Jordan. There is a certain respect the Jordanians give to expats, especially Americans. Most Jordanians have been to the US or have a brother or sister who live in the US. Jordanians are very welcoming and interested to talk with you, either out of curiosity, because they lived in the US, or to practice their English.
- Jordanians don’t care if you are Muslim or Christian. There are churches scattered all over Amman. Christmas is a National Holiday and Easter is given off to Christians, even though only 10% of the population is Christian.
- Amman is where the Eastern and Western Culture collide. I love that I can grab a falafel, humus, foul, with fresh bread and veggies for breakfast one day, have a shwarma sandwich for lunch, and the next day I can order Domino’s Pizza delivery or go out to TGIF/AppleBee’s/Chili’s. I also love that there is very traditional bedouins would live in burlap tents and live completely off the land, and just down the road from their tent you find a mall with stores like Gap, H&M, Louis Vuitton, etc. There are young farmers herding their sheep across a busy street in the heart of Amman where Mercedes and Hummers are stuck in traffic waiting for the sheep to cross the road.
- I love my kids experience. I love knowing that I am giving my children the chance to not only experience another culture, but to live amongst it – and to not only experience another culture, but a dying culture. So many cultures today, Jordanian included, are looking towards to the west as a model. They are leaving their roots, culture and heritage to live more western. I am happy that my kids are experiencing a Middle Eastern culture, while is still exists. I love that my children are not only learning another language in school, but are required to use the language in daily conversation. I love that my kids can experience both cultures (my husbands and my own). That they are learning and experiencing life differently and uniquely from many of their peers around the world. I hope that they grow and learn deeply from these experiences. I pray that they will be stronger and more wise from the time they spend here. I know today, it is normal life for them, but someday, Inshallah (God Willing) they will benefit.
There are many things that I have always loved about Jordan, there are many things that I have learned to love over the years, and there are many things that I do not love about Jordan. It is what it is. Living here has made me stronger, has helped me learn about myself in ways that I would have never learned elsewhere, has given me character, and has helped me build a better bond with my husband. It is not always easy living so far away, in a culture so different from your own, learning a new method of communication (Arabic). However, it is what it is. We must make the best of our lives and we must Thank God for the good, the great, and the not so great. I am sure that one day, when I am not feeling so positive or simply as promised, I will write Part II to this blog….Living in Jordan: The Difficult.
I miss my family and wish that we lived closer.