Jordan’s existence as a state is relatively new since it was created in 1948 when Britain (and France) divided the Fertile Crescent region and drew borders to create the Middle East as it looks now. But the area itself has been a crossroad for centuries and thus it is hard to tell where each tradition originated from.
Jordan’s culture cannot be defined as homogeneous as the population is mostly made of people from different origins: Jordanian (east of the Jordan River), Palestinian (west of the River) if we are to exclude the refugees that have poured in from different parts of the region. But one could say that the culture is generally based on Islamic and Arabic roots but also influenced by Western practices.
Let’s have a look at some of Jordan’s traditions and practices in different social occasions:
The guest is the king of the house, the host is obliged to make him comfortable and feed him abundantly. And the guest is to stay for as long as he wants. The host and his family may even not eat if there is only food for the guest. When entering a Jordanian home, you will never be hungry, thirst or be asked to left. You easily might leave with one or two extra pounds on.
Jordanians greet in a warmly manner, shake hands and people of the same gender kiss on the cheeks. Greetings are quite long and people ask each other several questions on how they are doing, feeling, how the family is doing .. When someone enters the room, everyone – but the elderly – stand up out of respect.
Jordanians are famous in the Middle East for their frown (just google Jordanian Frown if you don’t believe me) which are just apparent so don’t let it scare you; once you exchange a word or two with them, they will show you a whole set of teeth. Jordanians love joking, but their humour is mostly black or ironic which is not always understood by others.
– Bedouin weddings: Bedouins favour weddings between cousins in order to keep properties (mostly lands) in the family. Once a man is ready to marry and a suitable candidate is identified, then the two meet several times before they decide whether they would like to be wedded. The agreement is sealed over a cup of Bedouin coffee.
The wedding festivity lasts between 5 to 7 days, and they grow in size as the days pass by. Men gather in the groom’s tent where they dance and shoot with their rifles, and women in the bride’s whereon the last night they paint her hands with henna.
On the day of the wedding, the bride is taken to the groom’s tent, and after seven days of marriage his family dresses and grooms her as to announce that she is officially a married woman and part of their family.
– Non-Bedouin weddings: it is normally the mothers that start looking for a bride for their sons, by meeting other women in social gatherings. The two families then meet to agree – the bride is not necessarily present – and then a big engagement party is organised. The weddings used to last up to a week, but due to financial constraints nowadays the wedding celebration only lasts one day. The night before the wedding, women paint the bride’s hands with henna; the groom is taken on the morning of the wedding to a bathhouse to be cleaned and a shave. The bride is driven in a big caravan of honking cars across the city until the celebration hall (normally in hotels) or to the groom’s house. The party may or not be gender mixed. The bride and groom enter the hall accompanied with music, dancers and percussion players.
Music is played all evening until all guests have left the dance floor and the ceremony hall.
– Circassian weddings: Circassians are a minority in Jordan and are originally from the Caucasus (nowadays the region of Kabardino-Balkaria in Russia). Circassians normally get married by kidnapping first; the man and the woman agree that they want to get married, the man’s friends kidnap the bride (voluntarily) and hide her in the home of one of the groom’s female married relatives. The bride’s family is then informed of the kidnapping and normally agrees to the marriage proposal, if not then the bride has to return to her home.
The party involves a lot of dancing with some rules: the dances start with only one pair (man and woman) dancing together, where only women can stop the dance. Or another such as that married women cannot dance. Probably because it is an opportunity for unmarried women to find a husband.
Muslim funerals and condolence giving last 3 days. Men gather in a separate home or hall, and women do the same. If the family cannot make available two homes to receive those wishing to pay their condolences, then mornings are set for women and afternoons and evenings for men. Emotions are not to be shown in front of others, and there are small rooms reserved for those who need to grieve in private and compose themselves before going back to the main condolences room.
The family of the deceased offers tea, coffee and refreshments, in addition to lunch and dinner to those present at the gathering.
Weird things for outsiders:
– it is common that men when shaking hands kiss to greet each other, 3 is the number of kisses, 1 on one side and then remaining two on the other.
– seeing men holding hands while walking on the street.
– women and men sitting separately on public transportation
Each country is different and so are its people and their habits, so do not be judgemental and keep your mind open!
Advice: Although in Jordan, travellers may often feel like they are in a European country they should not forget that they cannot behave as in a Western country. Jordanians are quite conservative at least outside their homes. Public displays of affection, are frowned upon, and adultery is defined by law as sexual relations with anyone you aren’t married to. So make sure to keep the kissing and hugging to the privacy of your hotel room. Always do your homework before visiting another country and get acquainted with their laws, culture and traditions!