Expats relocating to Jordan will likely find that the culture differs quite significantly from their own. The effects of culture shock in Jordan can make it difficult to settle into a new life, but the all-pervading hospitality and friendliness of Jordanians do a lot to ease the burden of a potentially tricky transition.
Religion in Jordan
The dominant religion in Jordan is Sunni Islam, with more than 90 percent of the population practising this faith. There is some Christian presence in Jordan, but this is very much in the minority, with Christians making up only six percent of the general population. Despite this disparity, Christians are free to practise their religion and there are plenty of churches available for them to attend. Members of lesser-known religions have a slightly higher risk of being discriminated against, but this is rare.
Religion plays a vital role in shaping the daily lives of Jordanians and, by extension, the lives of all who live there. For instance, scheduled prayers are held five times a day. Prayer times are publicly signalled by mosques and devout Muslims will put everything on hold to pray, bringing business to a standstill. The opening times of restaurants are also affected by religion – during holy occasions such as Ramadan, restaurants will accommodate traditional fasting practices by opening just before sundown.
Members of other faiths are not obligated to fast alongside Muslim friends or colleagues during Ramadan but should refrain from eating and drinking in front of them as a sign of respect. In addition, eating or drinking in public in daylight hours during Ramadan is technically illegal and could result in a fine.
Women in Jordan
Women in Jordan are afforded more rights and privileges than those in most Middle Eastern countries. One of these is the right to work and even earn equal pay and benefits to that of their male peers. Even so, life for women in Jordan is greatly influenced by the value that the Islamic religion places on patriarchal power.
On a daily basis, expat women will be affected most by how they are expected to dress. Although it isn’t necessary for a Western woman living in Jordan to cover her face or hair, she should be sure to keep her shoulders, legs and chest area covered.
It is an unfortunate fact that Western women are sometimes targeted by Jordanian men on the street and expats should be prepared for this. Usually, this behaviour is limited to bothersome catcalling and staring. If not discouraged, though, it can escalate into stalking and sexual harassment. This kind of unwanted attention may be avoided by travelling with a companion, particularly when out at night, and dressing conservatively.
Public displays of affection such as hugging, kissing and hand holding are frowned upon.
Language in Jordan
The dominant language in Jordan is Arabic, a notoriously difficult language to master. Most Jordanians are able and willing to speak English, but expats should try to pick up as many common Arabic phrases as possible, especially with regard to navigating social situations.
Food and drink in Jordan
In Jordan, expats are likely to find themselves often being invited to drink tea with locals. A shop owner or stranger is just as likely to offer a drink of tea as an old friend. Jordanians take great pride in their hospitality and will go out of their way to make sure their guests are comfortable.
Social gatherings, when not centred on tea drinking, are all about sharing a meal or enjoying a sweet treat together. Expats should be aware that eating utensils are generally not used in Jordan – rather, bread is served with almost every meal and is used as a spoon to scoop up one’s food. A common faux pas to avoid is eating with one’s left hand, as it is considered by Jordanians to signify uncleanliness.