Cultural Helps for Jordan

You’ll find the Arab people usually very polite, kind and hospitable.  Thankfully they are also very gracious and forgiving of our ignorance of their culture.  None the less we should avoid being offensive.

Some common mistakes westerners make are:

  1. Immodest dress (see Trip Rules & Covenant)
  2. Ladies being too ‘forward’ with men, showing to much exuberance or animation in conversation is often seen as flirting.
  3. Touching – with members of the opposite sex, things like hugging, putting your hand on their hand, or their shoulder are not appropriate.  A hand shake is usually appropriate.  However many conservative Muslim women do not shake hands with men, some will not speak at all to men.  When you are introduced to a Muslim lady (I am speaking to the men) nod and say hello, but wait for her to extend her hand before extending yours.  Having said this, do not get the idea this applies to all Muslim women.  Many will shake hands with men and are very friendly and chatty.  In general avoid jealous husbands (men) by addressing at least 60% of your conversation to the husband, and addressing the husband frequently while talking to the wife. (same rule would apply to the women when speaking to the husband)
  4. With members of the same sex, things are completely different.  There is a lot of touching.  The traditional affectionate greeting is a kiss on both cheeks.  A hand shake is generally fine, but don't be surprised if someone leans forward to kiss you on the cheek. There a lot a variations on the kiss (Iraqi’s are left, right, left, right while Jordanians are left, right right right) so just let them “lead”. Generally just the cheeks will touch, so it’s not a true kiss in the western sense.
  5. Two men or two women are often seen walking arms linked or holding hands.  This is not a sign of homosexuality. 
  6. When you interact with children showing affection and touching is normal, same sex or opposite sex.  (hugs, patting or rubbing their head, leading them by the hand)
  7. Avoid being left alone on the same room with a member of the opposite sex, even one of your colleagues, if you are not a married couple.  Don’t go off on walks or car rides alone with a member of the opposite sex. (bring a third person)  Avoid sitting beside members of the opposite sex in cars, restaurants etc. unless it is your spouse.
  8. You must always receive guests even if you are busy.  (unless you are alone and the guest is a member of the opposite sex)
  9. Showing the bottoms of your feet is considered rude.  As such be careful if you are in the habit of crossing your legs when sitting. (generally Arabs do not cross their legs) Again grace is given for you as a foreigner and guest, but avoid this if possible.  We don’t need unnecessary distractions from the message we are presenting to them.
  10. If you compliment them on an object, such as a necklace or a lamp, many times they will try to give it to you!  Thank them but don’t accept!  The only time where you might accept is when you are saying goodbye to someone you’ve made a special bond with, and where the offer was not prompted by your compliment.  Even then it’s polite to refuse once before accepting. Best to avoid this entirely by complimenting them or their children and not things.

Now for some DO’s:

  1. Be friendly
  2. Give sincere compliments
  3. When visiting a family, brag on the children
  4. You will always be brought a drink.  If it’s a hot drink or a Pepsi type drink it will be safe to drink and you should drink it, or at least some of it. If it’s water pretend to take a sip and leave it on the table.
  5. They may invite you to stay and eat with them.  Usually this is only a polite offer, so you should thank them but indicate that you’d love to another time.  If they continue to insist, and you have time, then it is ok to accept.
  6. With invitations, if a firm date and time is suggested then it is a sincere offer, otherwise you can conclude it is politeness only.

Other Information:

The Iraqi refugees are all in very desperate circumstances. 

    1. If they ask you for money you should usually refer them to the church. However if you feel Jesus would have you give them something then by all means do it.
    2. If they ask you for help with immigration, keep in mind that there is probably nothing you can do.  If they have relatives in your area you might offer to contact them.  If you feel there is something tangible you can do then I would not want to discourage you from trying to help them. When in doubt talk to Jody.
    3. Pray for them, at the conclusion of the visit. (and in the future).
  1. *Pay attention during home visits and don’t chat with your teammates. This is rude. If your translator is doing a good job he should keep you in the conversation. Don’t hesitate to ask the translator what they are saying if you are feeling left out. Also keep your phone in your pocket. No texting, tweeting, etc. Yes, believe it or not, I have had to reprimand someone who was tweeting during a home visit.
  2. Don’t go off alone.  Go in twos or threes or with your host.
  3. Write down your local address and your hosts phone number and keep this with you at all times
  4. Jordanian law requires you to have your passport with you at all times

Romance (with an Arab)

Any kind of relationship between a team member and one of the locals is not something we recommend or allow our guests to get involved in.  Nowhere are the cultural differences more apparent than in the area of male/female relations, courtship, dating and marriage.

In this culture there is no dating, and there is a very limited concept of courtship. Public displays of affection, kissing or holding hands, are forbidden, even for married couples.  Marriage is more of a business proposition.  Parents may push behind the scenes or may approach you directly about a marriage to their son or daughter.  Others (guys) may try to woe a girl they way they’ve seen in western movies.  Or (as is common in this culture) they may enlist the help of a matchmaker.  You may find yourself being coaxed to speak on someone’s behalf, to arrange a meeting, etc.  Be polite but cut this line off firmly as soon as you see where it is headed.

Sometimes it is hard to see things coming.  If you are invited to dinner it is fine to accept, but if there are eligible young men or women present be careful if the subject of marriage comes up (even in a very casual way).  Make is clear that you are not interested in marriage at all, at least not for a long time.

Be friendly, but with members of the opposite sex keep a good distance between you and them, especially if you are single.


P.O. Box 117, Blue Ridge, VA 24064 | 540-765-4300