Jacquelyn Pitts
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Some Cultural Notes

October 9, 2010 @ 4:14 AM | Permalink


Some Cultural Notes

Ok, so Jordan is in some ways like Morocco and in some ways not. But if anything is for sure, it is that Jordan is incredibly culturally different from the US in many ways. Jordanians have some weird obsession with feet, and not in a good way. Feet should always be clean, and covered. Being barefoot is kind of taboo, which sucks for me because I hate shoes, so I have to walk around the house in my flip flops and then switch shoes when its time to go out. Hands, on the other hand, are perfectly okay. Take eating for example: you eat with the thumb and first two fingers of the right hand and pita bread is your utensil. You have to be careful though that you don't touch your lips or mouth with your fingers considering everyone is eating from the same plate or bowl. It's a skill I have yet to master.

Another thing, and this is for you mom, cleanliness is extremely important and our host mom's are entitled to move any and all of our stuff however she sees fit. We are not to be surprised if we find our clothing re-folded and rearranged, dishes put in different cabinets day by day, or table tops so clean that you can perform surgery. All of this is in case we have visitors, which can come, unannounced, at any point in the day. The morning is spent cleaning so that any time after noon (bada thuhur), the home is ready to receive guests. This level of cleanliness is impressive considering that Jordan is so water poor. All of the water gets shipped to the rooftops of each respective building once a week, so preserving water is a must. Jordanians can wash their cars with a few inches of water. They also don't flush toilet paper- something I'm glad Hannah G told me about before I got here so it doesn't seem all that weird. I'm still afraid of the be-day though.

What else... ah! Taxis- women should never, ever sit in the front with the taxi driver unless you want them to think that its their lucky day. You get in the car, make sure you look at his license and the meter, tell them the name of your destination only, and then look out the window and ignore them the rest of your journey. In the words of our Director- this is how you "fiercely guard your honor"- by being silent. I haven't been out in the street too much to notice any stares or comments but it's important to cover your chest, legs, and upper arms here.

Then there's alcohol, which is taxed at 200% because it is inherently evil, uncommon, and feared by Muslims and Christians alike. So instead of drinking Jordanians smoke like chimney's. Not to their detrament though, the average life expectancy of Jordanians is exactly the same, if not higher, than Americans. So stop drinking and smoke hubbly bubbly (their term for sheesha) everyday and you live forever.

That is, unless, traffic kills you. People simply do not walk around here because the sidewalks aren't the best and the drivers are crazy. I haven't seen any street lights so far. It's funny to think that even though Jordan is surrounded by all of these fairly dangerous places, people here have more to fear from automobiles than attacks. Traffic is the third leading cause of death in the country and 44% of those are pedestrians. Looking both ways was never more important.

Socially, things are pretty different too. As opposed to being straight forward we have been warned to be extra aware of passive agression. Jordanians aren't fans of confrontation. That being said they are very honest and involved in your day to day life. As far as homestays go (it's too soon to tell with mine), there is no such thing as privacy, personal space, or personal information. Not that people will go through your things, but that you can't simply shut your door without expecting people to ask if you are sick, or if something is wrong.

What I found hilarious was that according to Rana, our housing director, we are all going to have a daily battle with food. It is rude not to eat everything on your plate, but if you empty it you will be given more. You can never really be full in the eyes of your homestay mother. If you eat slowly you might get away with eating less, or she might notice that you are eating less and give you more food. If you do accept food and as a result gain weight, do not be offended when your homestay mom says that you're getting fat. However, if you throw this back in her face at a meal time or go to the gym too frequently she will think that she has offended you and, to show her remorse, will feed you even more. In sum, you can't win. Girls have been known to cry due to overfeeding. Luckily the food is amazing otherwise it would be a hard life. 

Ah life in Jordan!


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