12 Things to Know Before You Go to Jordan

by Haneen Nofal
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 Jordan is generally considered a carefree country with very few rules and regulations, but as in any Arab country, there are still certain cultural norms you should be aware of. Here’s a list of things to bear in mind while travelling to this beautiful nation.

Be aware of dress codes

 Jordan is quickly becoming a modern cultural hub, and this is reflected in its increasingly modern clothing styles. However, freedom in terms of dress code will always be limited; it’s important to know that there are still certain codes for both genders, and misunderstandings about what’s appropriate to wear is the biggest cause of friction between locals and tourists. In order to respect cultural norms, women should wear loose-fitting clothing and avoid wearing anything revealing. As for men, it is important to bear in mind that it isn’t acceptable to walk around topless at any point in time.

Always pack a scarf

 Aside from dress codes, a scarf can come in handy for totally different reasons. On a hot day, it might be a good idea to cover your head to avoid getting heat stroke – this is especially the case when visiting a desert tourist site like Wadi Rum or Petra. Female visitors might need a scarf when visiting a religious site, like the spectacular King Hussein Bin Talal Mosque.

Vegetarians, be alert!

 Vegetarianism is widely accepted and catered to in Jordanian culture. However, those who don’t eat meat will still be left with very limited choices when it comes to traditional cuisine. Almost all Jordanian dishes contain animal products in one way or another. So be prepared – say, if invited to lunch – to stare down at a table full of meat dishes, and be aware that it is very disrespectful to show disgust for food in Jordan.

Good news for smokers

 Many Jordanians enjoy smoking, and it’s a custom that’s allowed almost anywhere and everywhere, including taxis, public transport, streets and shopping malls. And who hasn’t heard of the people’s most favored smoking apparatus, the hubbly bubbly – or the argeeleh as it is called in Arabic. You’ll find an argeeleh at almost every café in Jordan. Choose your favorite flavour and smoke away.

Don’t drink water from just anywhere

 Tap water is not drinkable in Jordan. Unlike in Western countries, tap water in Jordan is only used to wash things. Nonetheless, you can get drinkable water delivered to your doorstep at any time of day, or you can bottles in corner shops or big stores.

The Arab ‘five minutes’ rule

 Jordanian people love being spontaneous and easy-going, specially when it comes to making plans and appointments. People might simply show up and hang out, invite you to come over at a specific time, or plan a road trip and leave immediately. Punctuality, on the other hand, is disregarded. When you’ve made plans with a local and they say they’ll be with you in ‘five minutes’, it is best to presume they’ll be at least 20 minutes late – so you might as well be late yourself!

Never say no to food

 Jordanians are very generous and hospitable people. They take their guests’ comfort very seriously, and go to great lengths to make them feel at home. It is also a known fact that they enjoy sharing their meals with everyone. Always smile and accept the food offering, as repeatedly telling them you’re full will likely offend them.

Photography permissions

 Jordan is undoubtedly one of the most photogenic regions in the world. The locals are often happy to pose for your photographs as well. But before attempting to take any pictures of them, always ask for permission first, especially when women are present.

Love is not in the air

 You might be surprised to see male locals greeting each other with hugs and kisses on the cheeks – the same goes for females, as this is a socially acceptable method of greeting. On the other hand, it is frowned on for couples to show affection in public, from holding hands to kissing. It is worth bearing in mind that homosexuality, while legalised in 1951, is still a taboo concept.

Taxis are cheap

 The famous yellow taxi can be found everywhere in Jordan. It operates on a meter that counts the amount of the required fare to pay until reaching your destination, they are considered to be very cheap. Unfortunately, it common for drivers to play on the naivety of foreigners and have them pay double or triple the price, or simply faking a broken meter. To avoid these situations, simply ask them to turn the meter on and when arriving, indicate the you want to see the numbers on the meter before you pay them.

Avoid the rush hour

 Traffic jams reach their peak between 2 pm–5 pm. It is almost impossible to find a taxi at that time, and if you do, the taxi driver will often be hesitant to take you anywhere in order to avoid the traffic. Always plan your movements through the city in advance, or choose to walk to closer destinations on foot during those times.

Use your hands

 Table manners are carefree in Jordan. Eating food with your hands is a common custom, and also indicates that you are enjoying the food on offer. Mansaf, Jordan’s famous traditional dish, for example, is usually eaten with your hands.