The First 8 Things I Learned in Jordan

Photo: Copyright Claire Thong

Living in Jordan was a massive change for me, I’d never lived abroad, I didn’t know any Arabic and I’d never even been to the Middle East and as my roommate said:

‘Claire, you knew nothing.’

It’s true! I didn’t know anything about living in Jordan or living in the Middle East but fortunately I had a lot of help . I recently found my attempt at a diary of my Arabic progress and time in Jordan, I only managed to write two entries (I was never any good at keeping a diary) and it's hilarious. Firstly I’ve spelt my own name incorrectly in Arabic, but more interestingly I’ve written a few things that I’d learnt so far about life in Amman.

1. Know your landmarks and place names
The vast majority of people and taxi drivers don’t know street names so you need to be able to direct people via landmarks and place names. This was a very important lesson that I learnt on my first day living in Jordan. I had, by some miracle, managed to get to my Arabic school by myself but when it was time to go home I discovered that it wasn’t going to be as easy to get back.

I had the address but no one knew where it was, and I certainly couldn’t describe it to them. I didn’t have anyone’s phone number, so I just had to keep flagging down taxis and showing them the address. I was starting to wonder what the hell I was going to do when someone who had seen me struggling came over to help, and eventually he found a taxi driver who knew the street names. When I got back my roommate wrote down the directions home for me and you can tell from how grubby it is that this was my most treasured possession for a significant amount of time!

2. Make sure you know what your building looks like

Most buildings in Amman are very similar looking beige coloured apartment blocks. The first time I went to the shop I walked back and kept walking until eventually the road turned into a dirt road. Realising that I must have walked straight past my building and cursing my lack of awareness I turned around and walked back but, even though I was paying attention, I still managed to walk past my building several times before I finally made it home! Another crisis averted.

3. Beware of cats in bins
You put your rubbish out in an open dumpster that’s on the street and for some reason, when I was out walking, I’d get an urge to look inside these dumpsters and then get a big fright when some insane cat jumped out at me. Street cats in Amman are ker-ray-zee, don’t mess with them.

4. Own the road
Sometimes the roads have pavements, but they will just randomly disappear and reappear further down the road, and even if there are pavements there’s no guarantee that you will be able to walk along them. So I had to get used to walking in the busy road, which felt wrong and scary so I’d walk really close to the edge but you’ve got to be confident and just amble along like you own the place!

5. Pay for your sandwich first
When I arrived I didn’t know any Arabic at all so I would go for lunch at the falafel shop and just stand by the bit where they make the sandwiches looking pleasantly bemused until the man served me, and then I’d pay for it. After a few weeks I realised that you pay first and get a little ticket that you then give to the sandwich guy who then makes your sandwich. They didn’t seem to mind though, it was by my Arabic school so they probably get a lot of confused foreigners walking in!

6. Tea is half sugar half tea
I’m a milk no sugar kind of gal so you can imagine my surprise after my first Arabic tea! It’s tiny, there’s no milk and it’s full of sugar… but it’s worth it

7. Mensaf
Mensaf is the Jordanian national dish, it’s lamb, rice with a kind of hot yogurt-y sauce, it’s an acquired taste but stick with it and you’ll get used to it

8. When driving just relax!
As one of my friends said:

‘It’s quite liberating once you realise that you don’t
have to drive between the lines.’

Which really says all you need to know about Jordanian driving!

9. That’s not an ice cream van
Where I lived I would hear this tune a lot and I thought it sounded like an ice cream man but it’s actually the gas man. You have to hook up your own gas canister to your cooker and heaters so they’re always driving around playing the same song so you can run out and flag them down. 

There are so many more things I could say. If anyone else has got any good stories about their first few weeks living in the Middle East then please share them below in the comments!

P.S Massive thank you to everyone who looked after me and helped me out when I first got to Jordan because I was clueless!