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An American in Amman: In Which I (Somewhat) Successfully Move to Jordan

April 21, 2012

The Amman skyline, as seen from Rainbow Street.


On the plus side, I had my wallet; my laptop; my camera; a visually, if not olfactory, clean sweater; and my guidebook.  Tilting my situation towards an overwhelming negative doom panic spiral, however, was that I didn’t have any electronic chargers or a change of clothes, and I was wearing my only pair of undies.  Yep.  I rationally decided that FlyDubai having ‘misplaced’ my bag could not be construed as a positive first step towards establishing myself in Jordan.  I decided (again, oh so rationally) to lose it.  Incomprehensible mutterings and jagged incessant crying ensued.  In other words: I was not a happy camper, and I missed my mommy.

All’s well that ends well: five days later my bag finally made it to my door, a roommate and a co-worker were saints and lent me the completely necessary items for day to day living, and my various people helped me coordinate and bully the offending airline into finding my luggage and delivering it to me.

The reason I am sharing this little incident at all is to put what I say next into the proper context.  For, so far, mashallah (the local equivalent to saying ‘knock on wood’), I love being in Amman.  Though, there are differences.  Boy, are there differences in the way people live, think, work and interact here in Jordan, when compared to America.

Some of the most obvious and basic ones include:

This is what happens when there is no public transit system!

The ratio of taxis to personal cars is astonishing; that the traffic isn't worse is a miracle.

People take cabs everywhere, and they are dirt-cheap. Amman has very few busses, and they are primarily the domain of men.  If you don’t have a car, you take a taxi with very few exceptions.  But, guess what?  A taxi ride from my house to downtown, for example, a 15 minute excursion, costs 1.5JD. That’s less than $2US.  Taxis have replaced busses, and account for one third of all vehicles on the road in Amman.  Taking a taxi is sometimes an amusing experience; I have been asked if I was married on numerous occasions, and once a cabby expressed surprise that I didn’t have any children.

Oh, and locations?  Use landmarks to direct cabs, rather than street names.  The street names were only created a few years ago by the government, and most taxi drivers don’t know them.  I say, “Sifara Britainnee, fi Abdoun” (British Embassy, in Abdoun) when I want to get home, and direct them with hand signals and the like when they are close to my place.

Everything is word of mouth.  Want to find an Arabic language course?  Ask a co-worker or friend- most aren’t advertised online, and telephone numbers are hard to come by.  Same thing applies to finding out where the party is at, which company has a job opening and how to get to the Dead Sea.

Smoking is rampant and socially encouraged. It’s alive and well as a practice here, and people smoke cigarettes indoors frequently.  Shisha, hookah, hubbly-bubbly (the most common local term for it) is common too, offered everywhere, and very inexpensive.  Some shisha shops are male havens only, but many cater to everyone.

I have seen only two kids put a piece of trash in a bin.  I have seen over a dozen throw something into the street.

An all too common site/sight.


Everyone litters.  Over 50% of Jordanians freely admit to littering, and I’ve seen people in cars toss out the usual such as cigarette packets, napkins and empty juice bottles, but also a toy action figure, a towel, and a Turkish coffee pot.  Trash middens are everywhere, and people think very little of it.  In fact, I heard one Jordanian explain it as follows: “I litter because it is good for the economy.  Because people litter, the government hires people to pick up the trash.  I am employing people.”  It must be noted, however, he said this with a sheepish smile, as if he knew he was spouting bullshit that simply wouldn’t fly.

Work.  The work-week here is officially Sunday – Thursday.  Everyone gets Friday off, and many get Saturday off as well, though this is in no way guaranteed.  Also places close early here: for instance, I currently work 9:00 to 4:30, and this is considered by many to be a very long day.  Most typical office jobs here are 9 to 3pm, with long lunches and periodic smoking breaks enjoyed by all.

"Itneen, Itneen," the hawkers call, to indicate their shoes are cheap.

The Abdali market on Thursday evening, ladies shift through shoes.

The shopping experience, the relationship between customer and shop owner, what is expensive, and what is cheap is all different.  Cucumbers, shwarma, falafel, tomatoes, local ice cream, bottled water… all cheap.  I can get a huge falafel sandwich for .60JD, a shwarma for 1JD, six huge bottles of water for 1JD, and a pound of cucumbers for .30JD.  On the other hand, electronics, imported anything… crazy expensive.  Also, the buyer/seller relationship is less harshly defined; it is not uncommon for a shop-owner to share a Turkish coffee with you, or engage in witty banter, or ask for your number.  Oh, and want to have ‘normal’ American coffee or yogurt that goes well with granola and honey?  Forget about it; somehow Nescafe and slightly salty yogurt are de jour, much to my chagrin.

But the two biggest differences between living in Amman and Washington DC are the differing lingua francas, and the way women are regarded, treated, dressed, etc.  Both of these differences are expansive and somewhat complicated, so I will save going into depth about them to later posts. But, suffice to say, being a woman who speaks English informs my experience here a great deal, and my perspective would undoubtedly differ if I were an Arabic speaking man, or some other combination of demographic traits.

I have now been in Amman for almost two weeks; the learning curve is still steep.  But inshallah (hopefully) I will continue to enjoy and learn from my time here as an expat.  James Baldwin ‘found’ himself while an expatriate in France, and, not to have too swelled a head and compare myself to Baldwin, I plan to do the same.

Picture taken by my lovely roommate, Tsou-Tsou.

Happy at a Lebanese restaurant off of Rainbow Street, in a post-shisha, hummus and kebab euphoria.

Please note that most of my posts until September will be travel/Amman focused; there will be a hiatus, likely, from childhood memories and posts related to the amusing instances of shared humanity in the States.

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28 Comments leave one →
  1. Philip permalink
    April 21, 2012 10:53 AM

    Good luck with the continuing transition. We miss you back in the States. That said, I’ll be very impressed if you manage to find “amusing instances of shared humanity in the States” while still in Jordan…

  2. Anonymous permalink
    April 21, 2012 1:24 PM

    Hi, Lauren. I enjoy your writing. Amman is far from DC and I’m sure very different, and the experience has to be enlightening. Happy to see the photo, and learn of your pleasure at the Lebanese restaurant with kebab euphoria. In the past there was a while when I was very into Lebanon’s history, and problems and interactions with Syria. Since you are in that general area, I think I will send an email to you re a talk I gave in 2005 about Lebanon.

    Love from Papa Bert.

  3. Mom permalink
    April 21, 2012 8:55 PM

    Hey sweetheart; love the post and the pictures….of course you look beautiful in your photo. Can’t wait to read more. Much love, Mom

  4. bmmayer1 permalink
    April 23, 2012 4:13 PM

    JEALOUS!!!

  5. Anonymous permalink
    November 12, 2013 7:27 PM

    I am an american going to live in amman jordan with my finance for 2years, I speak a little arabic but mostly Aramaic, I have always lived in Detroit MI, I am reading alot about amman jordan but still a bit nervous going to a different country…

    what advice can anyone give me to make it a little less stressfull…

    I would really appriciate it.

    thank you

    • November 17, 2013 11:14 AM

      What specific questions do you have? Ask me specifics and I’ll try to allay your fears. 🙂

  6. Anonymous permalink
    January 7, 2014 8:03 PM

    Still in amman

  7. Matt Gallagher permalink
    January 27, 2014 7:06 PM

    Luca,

    I am planning on being in Amman starting end of September. I am looking for a real good Arabic language course that is not going to break the bank. Your post said that word of mouth is the way to go, so if you have ideas, please let me know. My email is thrivesimple@gmai.com (that is misspelled here to discourage Nigerian investment opportunities).

    Thanks!

    Matt
    Anchorage, Alaska

  8. James G permalink
    March 2, 2014 10:55 PM

    Hi to all,

    Thank you for your interesting blog. I have been offered a job in Amman with UNRWA and am seriously considering taking it, but must confess that I know very little about either Jordan or Amman.

    Would you be willing to share some of your experiences in greater detail with me, and perhaps recommend an arabic language school? The working language of the field office I will be at in Amman is English, but I obviously want to learn as much arabic as possible while there.

    Thanks,

    James G.

    you can reach me at jagood90 at gmail dot com

  9. Marta permalink
    April 19, 2014 1:12 PM

    Hi 🙂
    This September I’m moving to Amman for one year (as volunteer). I am 24-years old woman from Poland. I wonder how different will be my relations with men there (I mean, I heard that former volunteers were accused of prostitution because a man – another volunteer actually – entered their flat), because of course normally I surround myself with men and women (maybe I even prefer men’s companion). I guess it will have to change there, in Amman? Also, I wonder what do you wear in Jordan? Should I change my wardrobe completely? Or maybe they understand that European/American woman comes from different culture and can wear shorts or T-shirts? Can a woman put herself in danger wearing things like that?

    • April 22, 2014 3:48 PM

      Hi Marta, excited to hear that you are headed to Amman! To answer your questions: you can still hang out with men socially, especially in cities (like Amman) without people thinking twice about it. The home is different; I lived with two Lebanese chicks, and i could not have male friends stay the night over (even as a friend, crashing on the couch) because of ‘what people might think’ but having a male friend over for dinner was fine, as long as he left before too late… other people don’t care. It is partly where you live, and with whom. I was in Abdoun. So, basically, being friends with men is okay, as long as there is no touching or sleeping over involved.

      As for clothing, I covered my arms and chest area at all times, and wore pants and long skirts that went down to my ankles. In touristy areas like petra, I dressed in Western style, and that is considered okay. Basically, you will get lots of male attention no matter how you dress, but you get a little less if you are more modest. I did not cover my hair, but I recommend wearing it in a ponytail as hair is considered alluring. Additionally, sunglasses make it harder for men to engage with you as they always try to make eye contact.

      Please let me know if there is any other information I can give you, and good luck!

      Regards,
      Luca

  10. Abdullah permalink
    April 27, 2014 11:55 AM

    Hi,
    I am interested in finding a job there. I am an american with middle eastern background and am graduating with management degree in project management. How do i go about finding jobs there.

    • April 27, 2014 3:08 PM

      Sorry, this isn’t my expertise area- I don’t know how to get a management degree. Sorry I can’t be of more help.

  11. Janiel permalink
    June 29, 2014 11:58 PM

    I’m a Physician Assistant in Las Vegas Nevada, looking to see if I would be able to move to Amman. I was in Jordan a few months ago and just fell in love with the whole country. I have kept in contact with some people from there as well. Any advice on where to look?

    • June 30, 2014 4:23 PM

      In terms of Amman? Abdoun is a lovely area, albeit expensive. Lots of people live near seventh circle as well. But ask your local contacts; they’ll have much more current and specific advice.

      So glad you fell in love with the country, and good luck on your move!

  12. Salim permalink
    July 23, 2015 7:38 AM

    Hi all,

    I am American/Jordanian lives in Amman. I am very familiar with the country including businesses, universities, hospitals, governments , hotels, restaurants, etc. I would be more than happy to help anyone moving to Jordan to find the right place to live and get around the country. Please contact me at szsa83@gmail.com

  13. Amber Fisher permalink
    July 25, 2015 6:12 PM

    I am also new to amann jordan I would love to ask you alot of questions and exchange experiences with each other. I’ve been here a little over a month. My stay is so so it has its good and bad definatly. I feel I have No one here I would love to speak with someone!

    • Salim permalink
      October 16, 2015 2:17 PM

      Hi Amber,
      Welcome to Jordan. Please feel free to contact me if you need any help while your staying in Amman.

  14. January 28, 2016 7:25 AM

    I am Mohammad from Jordan, lives in Petra. I am the one of the leading tour operators in Jordan. I would be more than happy to help anyone about anything . Please contact me via E-mail address is: tourist_service78@yahoo.com

  15. Andy permalink
    March 16, 2016 8:16 AM

    Good morning how are you,

    My name is Andy and I currently live and have lived most of my life in the Boston area (USA).

    I had a few questions about moving to Jordan as an American and was wondering if you could email me so that I could ask you directly.

    My business email is andy@legacydesign.us

    Hope you can help, thank you.

    – Andy.

  16. Sarah permalink
    July 17, 2016 6:43 PM

    Hi there,

    Ive been given an opportunity to go to Jordan to do some volunteer work but Im the only female on the team. Is it socially acceptable for a female to stay with a whole group of men? Im not keen to stay alone in an unfamiliar place and I need to feel safe. Are you aware of other options for accommodation? Thanks for your help.
    Sarah 😊😊😊😊

    • July 18, 2016 4:23 PM

      I need a little more information to help you! Are you and your team living together? How long? Are you staying with an Arab family/unit or in a hotel? Basically, most locals do not think it is acceptable for men and women to live together unless they are family, but if you are staying in hotels or other Westernized lodging, they have seen it all and it isn’t unusual for this to occur. It all depends where you are staying.

    • Mohammad permalink
      July 19, 2016 12:45 PM

      Dear Sarah,

      welcome to jordan!
      I wish you nice stay in Jordan!

      Mohammad

  17. Khader permalink
    January 1, 2017 6:42 AM

    Hello if you know you miss the secret side of jordan if you want some nice angels to take some nice pics if you want to see the hidden amazing places here in jordan i can show you

  18. Jamie permalink
    June 25, 2017 12:45 AM

    I have been scouring the internet for ideas to send a gift to Jordan. My son’s best friend (11 years old) lives in Jordan. We are in the USA. We want to send him a few treats/gifts from here and I was wondering if you could give me any ideas of what you were homesick for if anything? What treats or items are hard to find there that are common here??? Any ideas would be helpful..

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