29 April 2011

Interview With an Expat: Jordan

John overlooking Amman, Jordan

Today, I present my next installment of "Interview with an Expat." Last month I interviewed my friend Becky who lived in Japan for three years about her time living overseas and her experiences with the culture. (Read here.) This month I interviewed my husband, John, who lived in Amman, Jordan in the summer of 2009. I've divided the interview into two parts- culture and travel.

 Understanding Culture

Why Jordan?
I went there to work with a fair trade organization for the summer.

What was the biggest cultural shock? 
 There are two. The first was getting used to hearing the call to prayer 5 times a day. I was expecting it, but if you aren't used to it the beautiful sound can be a bit unnerving. Second was realizing, once we made friends, that we ran on different timetables. We were bound by the clock and my Arab friends seemed to have no concept of time. People could show up hours past the time you set to meet.

King Abdullah's Mosque, Amman, Jordan

What is your favorite thing about Jordanian culture?
The overwhelming hospitality. When you meet a new friend you are invited over for tea, hookah, and meeting their family the same day.

How did living in Amman for the summer challenge or change your worldview?
I was under the impression that all the women suffered under the thumb of men. This was not the case in Jordan. Though some women had difficult lives, many women chose not to wear a hijab, they held jobs and even owned businesses. Some women had the opportunity to be very successful in Jordan, where they might not in other areas of the Middle East.

Also,my politics changed in many ways. I was awakened to the Palestinian plight. So many people I met weren't angry, they were just so sad that they couldn't live in the land their forefathers had worked for generations. All they wanted was to go home. I also grew a distrust for the way American media portrays the Arab world.

Sign in the desert of Petra

What is your most memorable experience?
After many failed attempts to make friends my co-worker and I were walking downtown at night and got pulled into an alleyway by some local guys. "Are you Americans?" they asked. Being that we were they led us down the alley to group of 50 men, huddled around a small T.V. They were watching the FIFA Confederations cup- Egypt vs. USA. They cheered for Egypt and we cheered for the US. By the end of the game America had won the game and all 50 men were shouting, "America! America!" Hands down, the best night.

Travel Tips for Jordan

Knafeh from Habiba

Where are the best eats in Amman?

1. Reem. Tell a taxi driver "d'war ithnane" (second circle). Once there, look for Reem directly across the roundabout from the big hotel. They serve up the best shwarma in Amman.

2. Hashem's. Many places serve falafel and hummus, but rumor says this place is the best. Supposedly the king eats here. It is downtown in "the ballad" off Al-Amir Mohammed St.

3. Habiba. They serve up the finest knafeh. Don't be fooled...there are Habibas all over Amman, but the best one is downtown in the ballad in a food cart in an alley. Go at night and look for a million people packed in a alley. That's it.

John covered in dead sea mud.

What are a few things you can't leave Jordan without doing?
1. Petra. It's located about1.5 hours south of Amman. For a premium experience hire a donkey up to the monastery. Caution- Bedouin try and rip you off for camel rides...so haggle hard.

2.The Dead Sea. Go float around and rejuvinate your skin in the mud. *Do not put your face underwater.*

3.Wadi Mujib. It's near the dead sea. Hike up a canyon to a huge waterfall. You will get very wet, so don't bring a camera unless it is waterproof and be sure to buy watershoes.

4. Camp with Bedouin in the Wadi Rum desert.

5.Aqaba. The southernmost point of Jordan has the best snorkeling in the world. I hear the coral is even more beautiful than the great barrier reef.

John with his camel at Petra.

Anything else travelers should be aware of?
1. Only shake hands with people of the same sex. I got rejected many a time trying to shake a woman's hand.

2. Greetings are very important in Arab culture. You always ask how they are doing and how is their health. Only ask how someone's family is doing if you know them well. Otherwise this common greeting is considered rude.

3. If Arab coffee is served after some time visiting at someone's home this is a sign that they are ready for you to go. When the coffee comes out, drink it up, wrap up the conversation and say goodbye.

Have you ever been to Jordan? What are your culture and travel tips?


  1. Wow, what an incredible experience! I love how you use this blog as a forum for sharing other cultures and encouraging interest in people and place outside the USA. You make the world seem like one big opportunity to make friends, which is lovely. :)

  2. Love this! Never been and always wanted to go. This may have to wait now for a little...but still, it's always great to hear stories!


  3. Very interesting interview. Especially since it was your hubby. Thought that was all great advice. I remember the stern warnings at the dead sea admonishing you not to put your head underwater. We painted ourselves with the dead sea mud, and looked just like he did. :)

    Thanks for posting.

  4. it's very nice interview
    just i want to say
    you all welcome in Jordan :)

  5. Leslie- Yes, we like to make friends... a lot. It's our primary agenda when traveling.

    Selma and Deborah- GO! I can't wait to check it off my list. I'll get there some day.

    My Beautiful Life-So fun that you went there. He tries to explain what the dead sea is like but I just can't imagine it.

    Amer- Hello! Everyone meet John's friend Amer from Jordan! :) Thank you for inviting us. We want to visit very badly! Thank you, Amer.

  6. Hannah, I LOVE this series! It's fantastic to get insider knowledge! I could have used this knowledge when I moved to the UK! Jordan sounds like an amazing place!

  7. This is so great! I love reading first hand accounts about travelling, and Jordan sounds wonderful:)

  8. I want to go to Jordan! It's on my list to visit someday and see Petra.

    Your husband was lucky to have spent some time there.

    I love love knafeh! It's sooo yummyyyy.

  9. I have nominated you for a Lovely Blog award. Small and humble it may be but it's jolly well deserved for being utterly splendiferous and a great read!


  10. im dying to go to jordan, its next on my list, thanks for this great post!

  11. Wow I loved reading this post! What an experience that must have been for your husband.

  12. I did ride a camel in Morocco, and it hurt my butt.
    His experience sounds amazing. I love reading about other people's experiences abroad.

  13. It is always so fun to get first hand accounts of far off places...heaven knows you can't trust the news (c; hehehe! Sounds absolutely amazing...I lived in Brazil for two years and it was the best experience of my life! Traveling is always a fantastic opportunity to broaden horizons! Have a great weekend!

  14. Loved the FIFA story and thanks for the coffee tip.

  15. Wow this is a great story! Just found your blog. I am a new follower :)

  16. Super interesting interview! I'm an expat too, and i love reading about other expats. x

  17. Wow, this was very interesting. I too love other cultures. It's great to be culturally aware and I really appreciate that there are people like you out there.

  18. I would love to visit Jordan. Neat idea to share this interview. Thanks!

  19. Oh I love these posts :) How wonderful that you were able to interview your husband! You two are a well traveled pair.. with many more adventures in your future, I am sure!

    I love what John said about coffee being served. ... Sometimes I wish that was a universal sign, hehe ;)

  20. Keep these posts coming! Jordan is on my must-travel-to list, and when that time comes, I'll definitely be referencing this post :)

    p.s. the paint color is my kitchen is Ralph Lauren Paint Sunwashed Blue in their Island Brights collection. we love it!

  21. Hi! Came across your blog via one of our friend's -- really enjoyed reading about the Jordan experience! very interesting.
    Mind if I follow you?