Culture Shock

We have now been in Jordan for four weeks, or one month, or 28 days; however you choose to look at it.  And in this past month we have experienced a degree of culture shock.  Now let me say here that culture shock isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I see culture shock as generally positive, with a few exceptions.  So with this in mind, here is my version of culture shock, Jordanian-style:

1.  Driving:  I had heard that driving in Amman was crazy, but I didn’t understand just how crazy until about 12 hours ago.  Today was the first time I drove in Amman.  I have taken taxi’s and ridden with various other drivers, but today I got behind the wheel of the car for myself.  You see, most large intersections in Amman don’t have traffic lights. Instead, they are giant circles.  I’ve taken plenty of circles in my day, I can handle circles, I told myself.  But after driving them for just one day, I’ve decided that these circles are the Circles of Hell from Dante’s  Inferno incarnate.  They are three to four cars wide.  The cars in the center try to get out of the circle by driving straight across the other lanes.  I swear I lost a good five years off my life trying to get around 8th Circle today.  By the time I exited the circle I had sweat beading on my forehead and I was experiencing heart palpitations.  The most aggressive drivers win, and they win at all cost.  Jostling around in those circles is an art form that I’m going to have to perfect if I expect to survive here for two years.

2.  Jordanian sleep schedule.  We arrived in Jordan during the last two weeks of Ramadan.  Many Muslims change their sleep cycles during the holy month so that they are asleep during the daylight fasting hours and awake during the nighttime eating hours.  As a result, many locals are awake and active during the night.  So it was understandable that the streets were noisy during that time.  However, Ramadan ended over two weeks ago and the Jordanians are still partying it up all night long.  Our street is practically a ghost town during the day, but at night it’s like a circus.  The family that lives in the apartment above us doesn’t quiet down until around 4:00 a.m., and they have very small children.  We can hear them running around, knocking things over, playing, crying, laughing, talking, running water and flushing toilets all night long.  But we have never actually seen them, because they seem to sleep all day.  I’m seriously considering the possibility that they are really vampires.

3.  Sheep in the street.  On most days we see shepherds around our neighborhood with their herds of sheep, very often blocking traffic.  We live in a really posh neighborhood and it’s such a strange contrast to see shepherds that look like they came straight out of the Old Testament walking down streets that are lined with Range Rovers, Bentleys and Porches.

4.  Bedouin camps.  I knew there were Bedouin in Jordan, but I didn’t expect to see them around the city.  I imagined they all lived far out in the countryside.  No, they live throughout the city. They set up small makeshift neighborhoods along the highway or in empty lots around town.  Most of their dwellings are either tents or makeshift huts.  And they generally have a few goats or sheep along with a donkey and sometimes a camel or two.  And very often there is a large satellite dish set up beside their dwellings.  We occasionally get Bedouin children riding their donkeys right outside our gate.

5.  Bread shock.  I am not used to eating a lot of bread.  The Taiwanese, for all they did right, did bread wrong, wrong, wrong.  But the Jordanians are master bread-makers.  They have perfected the culinary art of flatbread.  It is so utterly delicious, that I often go entire days subsisting on nothing but flatbread and hummus. (And don’t even get me started on the fabulous hummus.)  I know it’s not good to eat nothing but bread, but I really can’t help myself and I’m afraid that my heart might stop beating one day because of bread shock.  Especially when they sell flatbread the size of a steering wheel.  Heavenly!

6.  Internet.  If you don’t want to hear me complain for a minute, move right on to #7.  The Internet in Jordan (for lack of a better word) S-U-C-K-S. (If I spell it, it loses some of it’s uncouthness, right?)  The government has mandated a cap on Internet usage for private homes.  This cap makes streaming pretty much impossible.  We can’t even download a one minute funny cat video from Youtube.  And I ask, who can live like that?  I wanted to include a number of awesome photos in this blog post, but I can’t upload simple photos onto my blog.  I can tell that this is going to be the bane of our lives in Jordan.

7.  Weather.  We moved to Jordan from the rain forest of Taiwan.  Talk about a contrast in weather patterns.!  We came from the land of humidity, typhoons and daily umbrella usage to the land of blue skies and dust.  It hasn’t rained a single drop since we arrived.  In fact, I think I have only seen about three clouds.  It is blue skies 24/7.  With those blue skies, I expected it to be unbearably hot, but it isn’t.  In fact, it has been very comfortably in the ’80s every day.  And the evenings cool down and the sunsets are out of this world.  The weather in Amman in one word: Fantastic!  The dust, not so much.

8.  Shisha pipes.  I honestly had no idea what a shisha pipe was before coming to Jordan.  I know, I’m naive.  In twenty words or less:  A shisha pipe is a glass contraption that is filled with water, tobacco and often some other flavoring (apparently watermelon is big here) and smoked.  OK, that was twenty-five words.  Most restaurants have shish pipes available to use while patrons eat dinner.  Last week, Jason and I were at a nice restaurant for dinner and we were the only people in the place not smoking shisha.  Having never smoked a shisha pipe, (or anything else for that matter) I don’t really get the allure.  In fact, it’s a little creepy. But, it’s not nearly as smelly as second-hand cigarette smoke, so I probably shouldn’t complain.

9.  Gunshot sounds.  Throughout the evening, and occasionally during the day, we hear loud banging sounds.  We are told that they are sometimes bottle rockets, but more often gunfire.  This sounds scarier than it really is, because the gunfire isn’t being shot at people, but rather at the sky for various celebrations.  But it’s unsettling, nonetheless.

10.  Call to Prayer.  The Muslim Call to Prayer may be my favorite thing about living in the Middle East.  It’s beautiful.  I don’t think I’ll ever tire of it.

7 thoughts on “Culture Shock

  1. The key to navigating the traffic circles is to stay completely focused on what is happening in front of you. The drivers behind you will be doing the same thing–focusing on what is happening in front of them–not behind them. You are responsible for not running in to cars in front of you, so keep your eyes forward and be prepared to stop at any second. The cars behind you are likewise responsible for not running in to you.

    Learn to use polite little taps of your horn as friendly communication to indicate your presence (if necessary) as opposed to only using the car horn to signal loud annoyance.

  2. Loved your post! I lived in Amman for a BYU semester abroad. Brought back memories. Not much has changed. And I miss the flatbread and hummus. Also the baba ganoush (sp?). Wish you all the best!!!

  3. Just to clarify, the little encampments around the city are gypsies, not Bedouin. There is a huge difference, so I’m told. 🙂

  4. Couldn’t agree more with #10. I never tired of hearing the call throughout the day when I was in the ME. Sometimes I’ll watch old videos I have just so I can hear it 🙂

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