Middle Eastern Hospitality: Tea, Dessert and Dancing

Lydia Shippen is a student at University of North Carolina, Wilmington and is an ISA Classmates Connecting Cultures  blogger corresponding with her Arabic professor at UNC Wilmington. Lydia is currently studying in Amman, Jordan on a Fall 1 program.

Before coming to Amman, many people told me that Jordanians are some of the most hospitable people that they have ever met.  Following that news, I came expecting people to be nice and welcoming, but I honestly did not expect the sheer amount of hospitality that I have experienced!  Within the first few weeks here, my friends and I met a man who owned a hotel in downtown Amman.  He invited us over for tea and we enthusiastically accepted his offer.  The night turned into one of the best nights in Amman as we drank tea on the roof of his hotel that overlooked the ruins of the Roman Amphitheater.  Then we went downstairs where he hosted a Dabkeh dance party.  The Dabkeh is a traditional dance from Jordan, Syria, and Palestine.   Below is a YouTube video of the guys showing us their skills.  Later they taught us all how to dance and we continued the festivities late into the night.

Since those first few weeks, the amount of hospitality has not showed signs of decreasing.  If anything, the more I get to know people the more I am welcomed into their lives.  I am continually overwhelmed and touched by the love that is expressed to my friends and I as we venture out into the community.   I have had tea with multiple local families and each time I feel as if I am new member of their family.

The most common way to drink tea is to steep it with fresh mint or sage with a little bit of sugar.

The other night, my roommates and I were invited to our neighbor’s apartment.  We arrived with smiles and a gift of baklava.  Even though the family did not know us, they welcomed us into their house with hugs, kisses, and exclamations of joy at our attempts to speak Arabic.  The many “ahlan wa sahlans” (welcomes) never get old and every time I am awed by each individual’s pure joy and enthusiasm to make us feel at home.  We sat with the family for a few hours drinking hot tea, eating pistachios, and exchanging stories.  It truly is amazing to feel this welcome in such a foreign environment; it makes the transition between cultures a little bit easier.

Last week, my friends and I were invited to a photography exhibit in downtown Amman.  Almost immediately upon arrival, we were lavished with more Middle Eastern hospitality.  The building was located right above Habibeh, a famous dessert stand that sells some of the best local Kanafeh (a Palestinian dessert made out of cheese and syrup).  The host wanted to show his hospitality by lowering a tray down to Habibeh. When he pulled the tray back up, Kanafeh had magically appeared!  He did this multiple times throughout the night to impress his guests and show his welcoming character by offering the free dessert.

As proof, here is the golden tray with the equally golden Kanafeh.

I have learned that the best way to make people feel welcome in your life is to show that you accept them.  This is an act that involves a lot of food and tea! It is also a quality that I hope to adopt and bring home with me.

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