The Middle East is no way like the West…

I’m nearing the end of my journey and it has been one heck of an epic experience… I came in with the assumption that because Jordan receives aid from America and has ties to the West that it would be a more like a conservative America.  I couldn’t be more wrong.

It is amazing to see a Middle Eastern country with peaceful ties to the United States which still maintains and practices its faith, tradition, and culture. Everything from the traffic laws to the university and child care are nothing like the States, but it is a quite intriguing lifestyle here. The United States is all about systems and rules; here in Jordan the rule is there is no system…it is pretty much a street smart and common sense society.

I will list differences that I noticed and let you gather your own conclusion of how you feel about countries systems that are not like the West…


In the US we have corporate stores and fixed prices.

In Jordan there are Ma & Pa shops and bargaining with the shop owner about what you are willing to pay is the norm.

There are street markets every Friday such as, Friday Market and Market of Thieves…

These market often have brand name, refurbished, or stolen items for ridiculously low prices. I went to the Friday market and found legitimate Ugg boots for 7 JD (~10 US dollars)! They cost a solid bill in the states.

Driving/ Transportation

In the States we have speed limits, street lights, highway patrol, designated lanes, and right of way.

In Jordan there are no freeways, traffic lights are only in more wealthy areas or near schools, speeding is not enforced, only wealthier neighborhoods or newly constructed roads have designated speed limits. Seat belts are not used and highway patrol directs traffic in case it is bumper-to-bumper; but you are not ticketed for speeding, no seat belt, loud music, etc…

Driving Language

  •  Hazard lights are used during heavy traffic to signal to the car behind it that there is either a traffic accident or that the car in front of it is braking abruptly.
  • Honking tells they car to hurry up or get out of the way.
  • Flashing high beams while driving translates to, ‘I am speeding and there is not time to brake so move over into the next lane.’
  • Flashing high beams at a stop gives the person the go ahead to go and pass you.


  • Transportation is insanely cheap in Jordan; 35 qirsh for public bus and Taxi’s doesn’t cost more than 2JD(~$4 US) to get anywhere in Amman.
  • To get where you need to go you state a place, not a street name or address.


In the US we have our sports teams, student body, open campus, frats, sororities, a huge emphasis on student life. Private schools are better than public schools and we protest against higher fees. In Jordan…

  • There is no community college.
  • There is an exam you take after high school similar to the SAT/ACT that determines not only the school you can get into but the majors you are allowed to choose from. For instance, if you ace the exam you can have the option of studying Law, Medicine or Engineering. If you get a B grade you can only choose majors such as Accounting, Business, Math etc…
  • Public schools are better than private schools.
  • The private school students at my university, Al-Ahliyyah, protested for higher fees to maintain the status quo!
  • Campus closes at 5 pm and students and employees ride the bus home because cars are far more expensive in Jordan than they are in the States.
  • A student ID is required to enter on to campus and there is immense security everywhere.


In the US, our neighbors tend to keep to themselves, get togethers are usually planned in advance, family is seen only on the holidays, and when we shop at stores service greetings are generic and repetitive.

In Jordan…

  • People are friendly on the streets and sometimes overly friendly.
  • Family is deeply rooted in this society and visits are made without appointment. As the say, “Ahlan Wa Sahlan,” or “Always Welcomed“.
  • You make enough food for your family, neighbors, and their family.

Night life

I can’t really speak for every state, but in California everything closes early and you have to drive to the designated downtown to have a good time. Good times usually consist of bars, clubs, and late night restaurants. In Jordan…

  • Instead of an array of clubs and bars there are cafes on every corner usually open for 24 hrs. In the States it can be easier to find a bar than a cafe and in Jordan it is the exact opposite.
  • There is no age limit for smoking cigarettes, hookah, or drinking- but they wouldn’t give alcohol to a child.
  • No one sleeps in Jordan, it reminds me of New York though I have never been.

The most western thing about Jordan is pretty much the restaurants here: Burger King, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, etc… They are actually more elaborately designed than those in the States.

Despite everything we hear about Middle Eastern countries avoiding ties with the States to avoiding assimilating into Western ways, are you surprised by the Jordanian system? Do you think the system is liberal or more conservative in certain ways than the West?

Looking forward to your thoughts,


One thought

  1. Salam.. I have really enjoyed all your posts. And the photos have added such a sense of your journey. The food looks fabulous. I suspect many middle eastern countries maintain a good relationship with the West for the benefits it brings them. Not giving up their cultural ways and yet having some ties to the power and money of the west is probably the balancing act. All the best in the rest of your journey and a very Happy New Year. Pamela Ives

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